Pet Diabetes – Diet and Nutrition

To keep your animal free of pet diabetes pay attention to their diet and nutrition. Even though our domesticated dogs and cats are gentle and loving, they are bred from wild carnivores. As such, they have a very low need for carbohydrates, and the diets of wild canines and felines that most closely resemble our domestic pets contain very few carbohydrates.

Too many carbohydrates is one of the largest factors in pet health, contributing to a variety of health problems from digestive disorders to variable blood sugar, obesity and diabetes.

The problem with carbohydrates is that, in the body of a cat or dog, they are recognized as sugars and easily stored as fat. Carbohydrates from grains are inexpensive, readily available and easily processed into pet foods, so most pet foods exceed 40% in total dietary carbohydrates (that’s almost half!).

So it will be important to read the label on your pet food. Carbohydrates are neither “natural” or “holistic” for dogs and cats, yet they can be the largest nutrient in “super premium” or “holistic” pet foods.

Understanding carbohydrates

There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. An example of a simple carbohydrate is lactose (found in milk); pasta and bread are examples of complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates are rapidly converted to glucose and promptly raise blood glucose levels. The liver takes longer to convert the complex ones into glucose, and so they raise blood glucose levels more gradually. This is important to know when choosing foods for our pets with diabetes.

There are two other important terms for carbohydrate classification: soluble and insoluble. The terms refer to how easily they are broken down in the digestive tract.

Soluble carbohydrates are grains, such as wheat, rice, barley, oats and corn. When cooked and present in pet foods, digestion is easy and rapid.

Insoluble carbohydrates are also referred to as fiber, which pass through the intestinal tract without being digested. Bran, corn (and its by-products), soy fiber, and beet pulp are some examples found in pet foods.

When switching to a lower-carbohydrate food, do it gradually, while home testing blood glucose, and lower the insulin dosage appropriately, with your vet’s help.

A sudden switch can lower insulin needs dramatically and risks hypoglycemia. This is important enough that Dr. Greco, in a lecture at the District of Columbia Academy of Veterinary Medicine, suggests reducing insulin 25%-50% when switching to a high-protein, low-carb diet. But your veterinarian will advise you regarding any changes in insulin therapy.

Raw food with proper nutritional supplements are often best for both cats and dogs.

Dogs

When your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, there are many things that you will need to change. Your choice of food will be an important one. As with humans, avoiding or replacing sugars and carbohydrates for dogs is crucial.  There are two options for diabetic dog food, in order to maintain balance in the dog’s diet. One is to prepare homemade dog food or to find the best dog food available on the market, which is meant for diabetic dogs.

Certain types of carbohydrates have a bigger glycemic effect than others. Rice (again just like humans) is one of the big culprits, and is far worse for diabetic dogs than sorghum or corn. Avoid diabetic dog foods that contain rice, unless they’re otherwise well balanced.

Most studies on dogs eating diabetic dog food have focused on how caloric density of the food and nutrient ratios. New studies have also examined whether the amount and source of fiber can affect dog health, whether dietary supplements or different types of carbohydrates can affect health. Moderate fiber diets are definitely helpful for diabetic animals, but extremely high fiber diets may not make a difference. Right now, the biggest factor affecting blood glucose and insulin is carbohydrate content. High carb dog foods can be bad.

So, what do you need to look for in diabetic dog food for your pet? The studies tell us that dogs with diabetes should eat high protein foods with a minimum of carbohydrates and a moderate level of fat. These types of foods help manage insulin and glucose levels.

You can refer to the comprehensive website Dog Food Advisor for detailed information and reviews of a wide range of dog foods. You should also to talk to your vet before you make a final decision.

Cats

The right cat food and diet is important regulation tool when your cat has diabetes. Choosing a healthy cat food is tough work since cat food reviews are often subjective, and ingredient information is scarce. All pet food varies greatly in nutritional content, carb values, low or high protein, ash content, etc.

For some time, it was customary to feed diabetic cats with a high-fiber, medium carbohydrate diet. It was believed the high fiber content would slow down carbohydrate absorption in the feline body. Recent studies do not bear this theory out. Veterinarian’s Greco, Bennett, Pierson, Hodgkins and Rand all now exclusively recommend a low-carbohydrate diet for uncomplicated diabetic cats.

Healthy cats have even been shown to have improved insulin sensitivity and better weight control when eating a high protein/low carbohydrate diet, which may mean less tendency to become diabetic in the first place.

If your cat is on a special diet for pancreatitis, chronic renal failure, or any other condition, consult your vet for the appropriate diet for that condition plus diabetes.

Cat Food Comparisons & Recommendations

The famous Janet & Binky’s Food Charts

Canned Food Charts

Dry Food Charts

Non-U.S. Foods

Treats

Many options of homemade and store-bought treats are available for the carb-sensitive cat.

Low Carb commercial treats

For cats, it is not necessary to buy a prescription low-carb diet for uncomplicated diabetes. Choose a food you can afford with carbohydrate content between 4% and 10% calories from carbohydrates. Some cats do well with even lower, others find less than 4% too low and their cats experience paradoxical high blood glucose levels.

Note: The carbohydrates shown on the label (if they exist at all) will be by weight, not by calorie content.

Cat Food Advisor from GoodGuide

Special considerations/complications. Some other conditions that may occur with diabetes, including pancreatitis, liver problems, or chronic renal failure, may be incompatible with a low-carb diet. In that case, many animals are forced to use a specially-tuned medium-carb diet with special ingredients/restrictions for their condition. Consult your veterinarian.

Supplements

Certain dietary supplements can help with diabetic cats and dogs. Antioxidants can help reduce or reverse damage from hyperglycemia. Chromium can help lower blood glucose levels, L-Carnitine plus a calorie-restricted diet can control weight, and Methyl-B12 can help reverse diabetic neuropathy.

Sources

CatNutrition.org – Feeding cats for health
CatInfo.org – The basics of feline nutrition by a veterinarian
Holisticat.com – Raw diet recipes
Dry food analysis – from a breeder of Maine Coons
“Feeding the Diabetic Patient” presentation from Ohio State University’s Endocrinology Symposium in 2006.
Janet & Binky’s Food Charts