If your veterinarian tells you your dog or cat has diabetes, your mind initially jumps to insulin shots. There is another key component to managing diabetes, and that is diet!
In cats, diet can play a huge role! By getting their blood sugar under control with insulin and switching them to a low carb, high protein diet, some cats can actually go into remission! Unfortunately, this remission is often temporary, but take it and enjoy it while it lasts!
Most veterinary / prescription diets have a version designed just for diabetes. In cats it’s a dyslexic nightmare! One is called DM, one is m/d, and one is (thankfully) just called “diabetic.” These all have the similar features of being what I call “atkins-like.” They are available in both dry kibble and in canned versions. And yes, prescription foods can be pricey. I have several owners who have researched the protein and carb content of regular, over-the-counter canned cat foods. When owners feed only these canned foods and leave out the dry, their diabetic cats do very well! (here’s my article busting the myth that canned cat food is bad for fat cats).
With cats, I sometimes will not change the food right away. When giving insulin shots, we need the cat to be eating, or we risk their blood sugar dropping to dangerously low levels (called hypoglycemia). Sometimes changing foods can rock a cat’s world, so let’s keep them eating, get used to giving insulin, then slowly change food.
Portion control is huge here, especially if doing the dry prescription diets. Because they are so protein-packed, they are also very high in calorie! A cat who eats 3/4 cup of regular dry food a day would likely need about 1/3 cup of the diabetic prescription food, or less!
Dogs are generally less picky. And, interestingly, their special diabetic foods are not the protein and calorie bombs that the cats need. Instead, dogs are omnivores (cats are carnivores, so need much more protein). With dogs, we focus on quality fiber. A healthy, low-fat, high-fiber diet will help a dog’s blood sugar regulate much better.
With dogs, we often recommend feeding twice a day, timed with the insulin shots. Cats are more grazers, so do a meal with each insulin shot, but an additional mini-meal or two in between is ideal. For both species I recommend, if possible, letting them have access to food (most likely dry) throughout the day. This allows them to eat if they are experiencing low blood sugar while everyone is at work. Of course, this will not work for all pets! My dogs eat every morsel put in front of them, so attempting to leave food out all day would result in my dog eating a bag of food a day! So, it’s not for everyone, but worth mentioning. Those pets that are naturally “grazers” will benefit.
Low fat treats are ideal for dogs as well. I love carrots, but they can tend to be an acquired taste. Other veggies, such as frozen peas or corn, can be enjoyable. Also, Cheerios are very budget friendly, low fat, and delicious!
Diabetes is complicated! Check out the rest of the series: