Fit Cats NOT Fat Cats – Feline Diabetes And High Carbohydrate Diets
Diabetes is not uncommon in dogs and cats, however, feline diabetes is more commonly observed than canine diabetes. Feline diabetes mellitus is believed to be present in around 1 in 230 cats in the UK, with obese and older cats being at higher risk of developing the disease1. It is closely linked to pancreatitis and it is not uncommon for cats with pancreatitis to then develop diabetes as a result. A by-product of pancreatitis is the decreasing of beta-cells in the pancreas, which results in the amount of insulin being secreted to drop2. Similar to diabetes in humans, without appropriate amounts of insulin being produced by the pancreas a cat cannot successfully break down glucose and carbohydrates in its diet, causing the cat’s blood sugar levels to increase.
Some signs that your cat may be diabetic include3:
• Increase in appetite
• Unusual weight loss
• Increased drinking and urination
If you have observed any of these symptoms in your cat it is advisable to seek the opinion of a veterinary surgeon.
Recent studies have made links between feline diabetes and the level of carbohydrates present in some commercial cat foods. Cats are obligate carnivores so are evolutionarily designed to digest high levels of protein and fats, and low levels of carbohydrates. Cats require 22 essential amino acids to be healthy and can only synthesise 11 of these themselves. The rest of these amino acids are present in protein so it is vital that the protein included in your cat’s diet is of a high level and good quality.
Some cat foods contain large amounts of carbohydrates such as potato, cereals and rice. These are often used as ‘filler’ ingredients that bulk-up the cat food but provide minimal nutritional value. Cats do not have the ability to break down and digest carbohydrates for several biological reasons. Firstly, they do not have salivary amylase present in their saliva. This is the enzyme required to begin the digestion process of carbohydrates4. Secondly, cats lack intestinal and pancreatic amylase, meaning that the small intestine cannot break down carbohydrates as efficiently5. Feline digestive systems can break down the elements of cat foods that contain low quantities of carbohydrates and high quantities of protein more easily.
Commercial pet foods containing high quantities of carbohydrates are believed to be in part responsible for the rise in diabetes in domestic cats6. Foods without these high levels of carbohydrates allow cats to release blood glucose at a healthier and steadier rate, thus reducing the risk of diabetes7.
This has led to the conclusion that dry and wet cat foods that include good quality protein and little to no carbohydrates should be considered as a superior diet for cats already diagnosed with diabetes as well having the potential to be a preventative diet8.
To distinguish between low and high-quality protein you need to examine the pet food label on your cat’s food. Good quality, easily digestible protein will be labelled as ‘fresh’ or ‘dried’ meat and will state the animal meat used in the food. Meats labelled as “meat meal”, “animal by-product”, “meat and animal derivatives”, or, ingredients labelled as “meat” without stating what animal the meat came from are more likely to contain lower quality proteins, and are likely to contain less digestible proteins.
Other factors have the potential to be an influence for diabetes, including age, neutering, and weight9. Obese cats can have as much as four times greater risk of developing diabetes than cats of a healthy weight10, so maintaining your cat’s weight is vital to help prevent the onset of diabetes. Alongside feeding a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, an increase in exercise and the use of sensory enrichment can aid in weight loss and weight management. Interacting with your cat through toys, using interactive feeding bowls, and providing structures to climb and play on are just a few examples of how you can help prevent your cat piling on the pounds.
If you have any concerns about your pet and diabetes, you should consult your vet who will be able to advise you on your pet’s health and treatment. If you wish to read more about the importance of high-quality protein in your pet’s diet we have provided an article on the subject: