7 Best Diabetic Cat Foods: Our 2019 Guide to Feeding a Diabetic Cat

Learn what the best diabetic cat food is

Cats are, by nature, meat eaters. Because they’ve evolved from the hunt to the food bowl, it’s now their owners’ job to ensure that their diet includes a lot of protein.- Stephanie Watson @ WebMD.com

If your cat has diabetes, you’re not alone. According to estimates, diabetes mellitus in cats is on the rise. Cats that have this condition aren’t able to produce or correctly respond to the hormone insulin. This leads to raised levels of glucose – the body’s main source of energy. With Type I diabetes, glucose levels are high because the body doesn’t produce enough insulin. With Type II diabetes, glucose is high because the body’s cells don’t respond properly to insulin. Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in cats. Veterinary sources estimate that between 0.2 and 1 percent of pet cats have diabetes, but sources say that it’s probably underdiagnosed. Diabetes is not usually “cured” but it can be managed. Managing your cat’s diet and feeding a good diabetic cat food or a food that is appropriate for a cat with diabetes is one part of controlling your cat’s blood glucose levels and weight.

Stay tuned to see which 7 foods we highly recommend feeding a diabetic cat…

What causes diabetes in cats?

The current increase in diabetes seen in cats is usually attributed to lifestyle changes for cats today. With more cats living indoors they tend to get less exercise than they did 20 or 30 years ago. At the same time, many cats have access to all the cat food they can eat. Even when their food intake is monitored, they may eat food that packs on weight. Cat food high in carbohydrates is also a problem. Many dry cat foods – even those highest in quality – can have a lot of carbohydrates compared to canned or wet foods or a juicy mouse. A suburban cat back in the 1970s, even fed a dry cat food, usually had plenty of access to the outdoors and got lots of exercise hunting squirrels and mice. Cats are less likely to live that kind of lifestyle today.

While obesity, lack of exercise, and a high carbohydrate diet are risk factors for diabetes, there are other reasons why a cat may develop diabetes.

  1. If your cat has been taking glucocorticoid medictions such as prednisone, prednisolone, dexamethasone, or methylprednisolone for allergies, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease or another feline problem, long-term use of these drugs at high doses can result in diabetes.
  2. Pancreatitis can also lead to diabetes if the pancreas is not able to produce enough insulin to maintain the cat’s blood sugar levels.
  3. Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), where the adrenal glands produce too much cortisol, causes the body to be less able to respond to insulin. If the body has too much cortisol it can result in diabetes. This is rare in cats.
  4. Cats can also develop diabetes because of a condition called acromegaly. In this condition a tumor in the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone. Everything about the cat is too big including its internal organs. The growth hormone eventually affects the cat’s insulin levels and leads to diabetes.
  5. Some breeds of cats may also be more prone to developing diabetes than other cats; other breeds seem less likely to develop diabetes. This 2015 study, “Incidence of Diabetes Mellitus in Insured Swedish Cats in Relation to Age, Breed and Sex,” of over half a million cats also refers to “domestic cats” as having a high likelihood of developing diabetes but it doesn’t provide a definition of “domestic cats,” though it does seem to differentiate them from purebred cats. Domestic cats here may refer to mixes.

Diabetes millitus is seen more often in middle-aged and senior cats than in younger cats. It’s also more common in male cats than female cats. Neutered male cats have also been listed as having a higher risk.

Is a Low Carb Cat Food Best for a Diabetic Cat?

Most sources today consider a high protein/low carbohydrate cat food to be the best diet for a diabetic cat. At one time it was believed that a diet high in fiber was better for a diabetic cat but that approach is no longer recommended.

There are some cat lovers with diabetic cats who are dedicated to feeding a raw diet. The idea with this approach is that a raw diet is closer to the cat’s natural diet; therefore it should be healthier. These diets also tend to be very high in protein with very little or no carbohydrates. However, it can be difficult to make sure these raw diets are balanced and nutritious unless you consult a feline nutritionist for guidance.

While most cats can’t be cured of diabetes, there are cases where a cat can go into a long-term remission and stop needing insulin after he is changed to a low carbohydrate diet.

The thinking behind the low carbohydrate approach is that carbohydrates break down into sugar. By feeding a diet that is low in carbs, it reduces the amount of insulin needed and prevents the ups and downs in the cat’s blood sugar level. With fewer carbs, there are more fats and proteins in the cat’s food. These nutrients metabolize more slowly so the cat doesn’t have dangerous blood sugar spikes after eating.

Cat foods with the most carbohydrates tend to be found in dry foods with grains. This can include prescription or veterinary cat foods. A diabetic cat can respond better if fed a canned diet that is high in protein with moderate fat and low carbs. It doesn’t seem to matter if you feed a canned food that is a prescription diet or just a regular canned cat food.

Since dry cat foods nearly always have more carbohydrates than canned/wet cat foods, there is a definite preference for feeding diabetic cats a canned or wet food diet today.

7 things to look for when picking a Cat Food for Diabetic Cats

We always want to feed our cats a healthy diet with good quality ingredients. Most people know that cats are obligate carnivores. They need plenty of meat in their diet. More than dogs, cats need meat. Taurine comes from muscle meat and cats need plenty of it. It’s not essential to dogs and humans but it is for cats. You can’t get it from grains. Dog foods and some cat foods often add a synthetic form of taurine to their recipes but it’s best if it comes from meat. In the 1980s pet food companies found out about this the hard way after tens of thousands of cats died from heart disease attributed to a lack of taurine in their cat food.

For other ingredients, like Vitamin A, cats need a special form of the vitamin because they don’t have the enzyme to convert regular Vitamin A into a form they can use the way dogs and humans do. The active form of Vitamin A only comes from animal sources.

Here are the basic things that all cats need in their diet:

  • Lots of meat protein
  • Active form of Vitamin A (may say retinyl palmitate)
  • Arachidonic Acid (essential fatty acid)
  • Arginine (amino acid)
  • Linoleic Acid (fatty acid)
  • Niacin (a B vitamin)
  • Taurine (amino acid)
  • Low carbohydrates

When choosing a cat food for any cat you should look for meat protein; low carbs; and avoid artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.

Healthy adult cats need a minimum of 26 percent protein and 9 percent fat in their diet, though many people like a higher protein percentage. (A mouse has about 53 percent protein, in case you’re wondering, so you can see why many people like to feed their cat a higher meat protein percentage.)

If your cat is diabetic, here are things you should look for in a food:

  1. Feed a canned food if possible;
  2. Feed a food with plenty of moisture;
  3. Feed a food that is high in protein;
  4. Feed a food that is low in carbohydrates;
  5. Feed a food that is moderate in fat;
  6. Feed a food that is low in fiber;
  7. Make sure the food has the basic nutrients that all cats need in their diet (see above).

A food for a diabetic cat should have even more meat protein and lower carbohydrates than a regular cat food. The food should have 10 percent or fewer carbs. Most canned cat foods tend to have more meat protein content and fewer carbs than dry cat food, so they are often recommended.

Many cats with diabetes are overweight. If this is the case with your cat, you should work with your veterinarian to help your cat lose weight. This can mean a diet for your cat. You will need to help your cat lose weight gradually, keeping in mind that you have to watch your cat’s blood sugar levels. Losing weight can make your cat’s diabetes easier to manage. If your cat loses weight it should help his body use insulin better.

However, some cats that have diabetes that has gone untreated for a long time may be underweight. These cats often need to gain weight. Your veterinarian can help you adjust this kind of diet, too.

It’s important for your cat’s meals to be coordinated with his insulin shots so you can manage his blood sugar levels so no free feeding! Don’t leave a bowl of food sitting out for your cat to nibble on all day.

Finally, meat is so important in a cat’s diet that many cat experts are willing to overlook the source of the meat. Meat by-products can be okay in some canned foods. You don’t want to feed your cat garbage but in order to give your cat a higher meat protein percentage, you may want to consider some of these foods. An inexpensive canned cat food that contains meat by-products is preferable to an expensive food that’s full of plant-based protein. This is true for all cats, but especially for diabetic cats.

Best Dry Food For Diabetic Cats

Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DM Dietetic Management Formula Dry Cat Food

If you really want to feed your diabetic cat a dry cat food – say you have a lifestyle that doesn’t allow you to be home to feed canned food, or your diabetic cat is addicted to dry food and demands it – the best dry food for cats we know is Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets DM Dietetic Management Formula Dry Cat Food. This is a prescription formula for diabetic cats so you will need a prescription from your veterinarian to buy it. It’s high in protein and it does have relatively low carbohydrates – 53 percent protein and 15.79 percent carbs (as fed). The carb percentage is lower than any of the other diabetic veterinary formulas we checked. It’s said to have a taste that appeals to cats. Some cats just refuse to give up eating dry food, so this food would be a good choice. It has over 200 reviews on Chewy.com and most of them are 5 stars. Available in 6-lb and 10-lb bags. The 10-lb bag is $59.99 on Chewy.com or $56.99 with autoship.

Best Canned Food for Diabetic Cats

Tiki Cat King Kamehameha Luau Variety Pack Grain-Free Canned Cat Food, 2.8-oz, case of 12

We love Tiki Cat, and so do cats. The Tiki Cat King Kamehameha Luau Variety Pack Grain-Free Canned Cat Food case contains 6 different recipes (two cans of each recipe). All of the recipes are high protein and low carb. The formulas are Bora Bora Grill – Sardine Cutlets in Lobster Consommé: 11 percent protein, 0.1 percent carbs; Hana Grill – Ahi Tuna with Crab In Tuna Consommé: 16 percent protein, 2 percent carbs; Hawaiian Grill – Ahi Tuna: 16 percent protein, 0 percent carbs; Lanai Grill – Tuna in Crab Surimi Consommé: 17 percent protein, 0.7 percent carbs; Makaha Luau – Mackerel & Sardines in Calamari Consommé: 11 percent protein, 0.6 percent carbs; Tahitian Grill – Sardine Cutlets: 13 percent protein, 0.6 percent carbs. Cans are 2.8 ounces so it’s easy to use each can for one feeding and manage your cat’s meals. All foods contain 2-3 percent fat and no fiber with 78 percent moisture. Some of these foods contain twice as much protein as other brands. No grains, wheat, corn, soy, GMO ingredients, MSG, carrageenan, or anything artificial. Low-glycemic and gluten-free. This is not processed food. It has real chunks of fish. Tiki Cat has lots of other recipes for cats. Chewy.com has this 12-pack case for $11.99. Sorry, no autoship.

5 More Options to Feed your Diabetic Cat

Here are five more high protein, low carb foods that would be good choices to feed your diabetic cat. Please check with your veterinarian about your diabetic cat’s diet so you can coordinate his treatment.

Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food

Instinct by Nature’s Variety Original Grain-Free Real Chicken Recipe Natural Wet Canned Cat Food is high in protein and low in carbs, making it a good choice for a diabetic cat. It has 11 percent protein and just 1.82 percent carbohydrates, with 7.5 percent fat, 3 percent fiber, and 78 percent moisture. The first ingredients are Chicken, Turkey, and Chicken Liver so there’s lots of meat and organ meat for your cat. These first three ingredients make up 95 percent of the food. No grain, potato, corn, wheat, soy, by-product meal, artificial colors or preservatives. Also comes in rabbit, duck, salmon, and other popular formulas. This is a pâté. Chewy.com has a case of 24 3-ounce cans for $31.29 or $29.73 with autoship; or you can buy a case of 12 5.5 ounce cans for $23.93 or $22.73 with autoship.

Weruva Cats in the Kitchen Variety Pack Grain-Free Canned Cat Food, 3.2-oz, case of 12

Weruva is another great brand we love for cats. Their Cats in the Kitchen Variety Pack contains four formulas, each with three 3.2 ounce cans. Recipes include: Chicken Frick ‘A Zee: 12.54 percent protein; Funk in the trunk: 10.15 percent protein; Kitty Gone Wild: 10.02 percent protein; and Lamb Burger-ini: 10.96 percent protein. Carb percentages for all of the foods are less than 2 percent (as fed). These foods have no grains, gluten, potatoes, GMO ingredients, MSG, or carrageenan. Chewy.com has the case of 12 for $13.92. Sorry, no autoship.

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Liver Formula Canned Cat Food

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Chicken, Turkey & Chicken Liver Formula Canned Cat Food has 12 percent protein and just 1 percent carbohydrates so it’s another good high protein, low carb food that would be a good choice for a cat with diabetes. The first ingredients are Chicken, Turkey, and Chicken Broth. It’s grain free and gluten-free with no wheat, corn, or soy. Also comes in Turkey & Duck and other recipes. Chewy.com has a case of 12 3-ounce cans for $19.27 or $18.31 with autoship. You can get a case of 24 5.5-ounce cans for $45.62 or $43.34 with autoship.

Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Chicken Pate Canned Cat Food

With a protein percentage of 10 percent and a carbohydrate percentage of just 0.6, Merrick Purrfect Bistro Grain-Free Chicken Pate Canned Cat Food is another food to consider for your diabetic cat. The first ingredients are Deboned Chicken, Chicken Broth, and Chicken Liver. It has no grains, glutens, wheat, corn, soy, artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives and contains yucca schidigera to promote gentle digestion. Merrick Purrfect Bistro has many other appealing flavors on the Chewy web site. Chewy.com has a case of 24 3-ounce cans for $23.52 or $22.34. You can also buy a case of 24 5.5-ounce cans for $30.72 or $29.18 with autoship.

Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat & Kitten Food

We’re also happy to recommend Nulo Freestyle Turkey & Chicken Recipe Grain-Free Canned Cat & Kitten Food. This food has 11 percent protein and 2.5 percent carbohydrates. The first ingredients are Turkey, Chicken, and Turkey Liver. No grains, carrageenan, meat by-products, corn, wheat, soy, or artificial preservatives, colors or flavoring. Nulo has a lot of high protein, low carb recipes that could work for diabetic cats. Chewy.com has a case of 24 5-5 ounce cans of this food for $40.56. They also have a case of 12 12.5-ounce cans for $35.88. Sorry, no autoship.

Conclusion

With diabetes on the rise in cats today, it’s important for cat owners to learn to manage the condition. Feeding a diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates is part of an effective treatment strategy. All cats can benefit from eating a diet that is high in protein and low in carbs but it’s especially important for diabetic cats. Most cat lovers don’t realize how many carbs are in cat foods until they start looking at the numbers and percentages in the foods. Fortunately, there are some good foods that will work for diabetic cats. We hope the foods we have suggested here will help your cat.

we found the best foods to feed your diabetic cat

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