Cat Diabetes: My independent research over several years has convinced me that most cats are being fed the wrong food and it is to blame for many of their physical woes, with the potentially fatal disease diabetes at the top of that list.
However, once my radio show CAT CHAT® began on the Martha Stewart Channel of Sirius Radio, I was contacted by a cats-only veterinarian, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, who was excited to learn that I was getting the nutritional message she believes in—“wet food only”—out to a larger audience.
I discovered that she is “the cat’s meow” where cat diabetes is concerned: known as the “savior of diabetic cats” by the many cat lovers whose kitties she has cured of diabetes (when found early enough) or helped live a long, healthy life with the disease.
Dr. H. became the Official Vet of CAT CHAT® and I, and my listeners, will always be grateful for her generosity of time and spirit in teaching us all the right nutritional path for all cats—wet food only—with diabetic ones benefiting the most.
Some of what you will read in this article may contradict what your own vet tells you. Although I have no desire to interrupt a good relationship between anyone and their veterinarian, I urge you—I beseech you—to ask your vet to look at Elizabeth Hodgkins’ Web site, and then contact her directly since she is eager to explain her theories, describe her clinical experience and give support in following it to any vet. Cat Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine (or glandular) disorders in cats.
Cat Diabetes can strike a cat at any age but it generally affects middle-aged, obese, neutered male cats. The only breed of cat more susceptible than others is the Burmese, 1 in 10 of which get diabetes after 8 years of age.
WHAT CAUSES CAT DIABETES
Although no one knows the cause of it for sure, some of the suspected reasons for a cat becoming diabetic are because she is genetically predisposed, has a hormonal imbalance or has disease of the pancreas, or it is the result of taking certain medications.
However, one of the prime—and completely preventable—causes of Cat diabetes is that most people are mistakenly serving their cats a fundamentally incorrect diet of dry food.
Feeding a carbohydrate rich diet to an animal who is an “obligate carnivore”—which simply means she must eat meat—is undoubtedly the cause of type II diabetes in cats.
This is a health epidemic that we have created for cats in the past decade or two, by giving our feline companions an endless supply of dry bagged kibble to crunch on.
CAT DIABETES SYMPTOMS
The following are symptoms shown by your cat that may suggest cat diabetes:
- Thirstier than normal resulting in more urinating
- Losing a lot of weight
- Eating less
- Bad skin condition
- Bad coat/fur condition
- Abnormal breathing
HOW DIABETES FUNCTIONS
When your cat has diabetes, her pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, the hormone necessary to control glucose (sugar) levels in the blood.
The process begins as food is digested and sugar enters the bloodstream. This blood sugar, as it is called, is essential for the body’s energy, growth and repair, but it is the insulin from the pancreas that allows sugar to get from the bloodstream into the tissue cells—like those in muscles—where the cat’s body needs it.
If there isn’t enough insulin, the sugar remains in the bloodstream, where it is useless to the body, and then gets filtered out in the urine. A lot of water goes out with the sugar, which is why diabetics produce a large volume of urine. All of this is true of diabetes in humans, too.
THE EFFECT ON A CAT’S BODY AND METABOLISM
Because they are producing so much urine, cats who are diabetic (or borderline diabetic) drink an excessive amount of water to avoid getting dehydrated.
And because the body of a diabetic cat lacks the insulin to convert the sugar in the bloodstream into usable fuel for the muscles, the body automatically switches to using its own fat and protein as a source of energy.
This is why diabetic cats usually lose weight as a result of the disease—yet overweight cats are more likely to get Cat diabetes in the first place (the same is true with people).
DIAGNOSING CAT DIABETES
This disease is actually easy to catch because the classic signs are so obvious: The cat drinks enormous amounts, urinates copiously, has a good appetite and loses weight.
If you notice any of these symptoms, particularly all at once, you need to make a vet appointment right away. The vet will do blood and urine tests, which will show a high sugar level in the blood and the presence of sugar in the urine if your cat is diabetic.
Once in a while, the classic signs aren’t so clear and even the lab tests aren’t definitive, but there are further tests the vet can do to make the diagnosis.
TYPES OF CAT DIABETES
Three types of diabetes are seen in cats.
1- Type I diabetic cats are insulin dependent and need to receive daily insulin injections because the beta cells of their pancreases are not making enough insulin.
2- In cats with type II diabetes, the cat’s pancreas may make enough insulin but the cat’s body does not use it properly. This is the most common type of feline diabetes. Some of these cats will require insulin as well, but others may get by on oral drugs to control blood glucose and dietary changes. About 70 percent of all diabetic cats will require at least some insulin.
3 -The third type is known as transient diabetes. These are type II cats who present as diabetics and require insulin initially, but over time, their system re-regulates so they can go off insulin—especially with a change to a high protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
TREATMENT FOR CAT DIABETES
Many doctors believe that diabetes cannot be cured, but Dr. Hodgkins would disagree because she has done just that with many cats. If diabetes is caught early enough while the pancreas is still healthy, the disease can be stopped in its tracks by feeding wet food exclusively.
More advanced diabetes can be treated and kept under control with a combination of diet and the correct type of insulin in the correct amount (see below), not unlike the way people control their diabetes.
In many cats, switching to a high protein diet along with a daily insulin injection can actually cause a remission in the disease within weeks. In the early stages of treating the disease, your vet may also want you to monitor your cat’s blood sugar to see how she is responding.
Many cats who need insulin shots in the beginning may no longer need them after the first few weeks or months, so it will be important to check the cat’s blood glucose level, as explained below.
Diet: High Protein, Low Carbohydrate
The fastest route to controlling cat diabetes is to eliminate all dry food from your cat’s diet, which gives her system the correct ingredients to function properly.
By feeding a diet of no more than 20 percent carbohydrates you will also reduce the amount of fat on your cat’s body, a very good thing since obesity is another trigger for cat diabetes, along with other health problems.
While there are commercial diets sold by vets that are specifically formulated for cats with diabetes, you may be surprised about the quality of the ingredients—furthermore, feeding any dry food to a cat only exacerbates the problem of giving an incorrect food.
you should decide to switch to a good canned food since really we’re just talking about feeding lots of protein, which is what a cat would be eating if guided by her own instincts.
What If Your Cat Is Hooked on Kibble?
Some cats get so accustomed to dry food that they are known as “carbo-junkies” by Feline Foodies (as I lovingly call those cat lovers who are dedicated to getting the word out about the dangers of dry food).
Whether or not your cat has learned to love carbohydrates, they are an unnatural ingredient for a cat’s metabolism.
Dry cat food can contain up to 50 percent carbohydrates from rice, corn, wheat and soy, none of which belong in any cat’s optimal diet, which should be little more than a simple mouse.
With so many cats relying on kibble as their main food, it may be a radical change to switch your diabetic cat to canned food.
We have been misled by cat food manufacturers into believing that dry food is healthier, when the only health it really promotes is that of the pet food company’s balance sheets. As you will see, the fact is that cats are carnivores who need real protein—either raw, cooked or in a can—as their main food. In the nutrition section you will also find a checklist of how to wean your cat off kibble and onto canned food if she doesn’t seem to like it at first.
Just remember that with a diabetic cat you should always consult with your vet about any changes you want to make in her diet to accommodate her diabetes.
What Kind of Insulin to Use?
Despite the fact that many vets use a synthetic human insulin called Lantus, or glargine, for cats, Dr. Hodgkins has found that PZI (protamine zinc insulin) is by far the most effective medication for a diabetic cat since it is formulated from beef and pork insulin molecules, which are closer to a cat’s natural insulin than the human version.
She believes it is because of this that Lantus gives unpredictable effects and is not as effective in controlling the cat’s blood sugar levels. To learn more about this—and Dr. H’s methods for keeping a cat’s blood sugar lower than other practitioners are doing—go to www.yourdiabeticcat.com.
Giving the Insulin Injection
Many people are squeamish about the idea of giving an injection to their diabetic cat, but once you get the hang of it you’ll see that the injection is easy to give and causes no discomfort to your cat.
Checking Your Cat’s Sugar Levels
Most cat lovers will tell you that going to the vet’s office is a nerve-wracking experience for their kitty, so having to make frequent trips there to check a diabetic cat’s blood sugar levels is both stressful to the cat and time-consuming for her human companion.
Therefore home-testing is the best way to go when managing your cat’s diabetes. Dr. Hodgkins recommends using a glucometer made for human diabetics to check their own blood sugar levels.
She has a link on her Web site that will teach you how to check your cat and maintain the low blood sugar levels she recommends, which she has found can lead to getting a cat off insulin entirely. See www.felinediabetes.com/bg-test.htm.
Dietary management for cat diabetes
1- Dietary management: In the past, diabetic cats were placed on a high-fiber diet that was thought to slow the absorption of nutrients, with the goal of stabilizing blood glucose levels. However, recent research has shown that this is not the ideal diet for diabetic cats.
2- Because cats primarily metabolize protein, not carbohydrates, for glucose, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have proven to be more efficiently metabolized and of great help in controlling diabetes. Prescription diets for diabetic cats that fit this profile include Purina DM Feline, Royal Canin Diabetic DS 44, and Science Diet m/d Feline.
3- Some veterinarians also advise their clients to add meat to the cat’s diet, and some prefer to avoid dry foods because a carbohydrate source must be added to make the kibble. Consult with your veterinarian for specific guidelines for your cat.
4- Occasionally, an obese diabetic cat responds to dietary management alone and does not require insulin to keep his blood glucose well controlled. Obesity greatly reduces tissue responsiveness to insulin and makes diabetes difficult to control.
5 -Accordingly, overweight cats should be put on a diet until they reach their ideal body weight. Prescription diets are available for weight reduction. These diets may or may not be suitable for diabetic cats. Consult with your veterinarian.
6- Daily caloric requirements are determined by the weight and activity of the individual cat. Once this is established, the quantity of food offered each day can be determined by dividing the daily caloric requirements by the amount of calories per cup or can of food.
7- To prevent high levels of blood glucose after eating, avoid feeding the whole day’s calories at one meal. Divide the daily ration into a number of smaller meals.
8- For cats on once-daily insulin, feed half the food at the time of injection and the rest at peak insulin activity—8 to 12 hours later, as indicated by your cat’s glucose curve. With two injections daily, the ration can simply be split in half and fed at the time of the injections. Cats on oral medications should be given small meals throughout the day.
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