Transitioning Your Cat To a Low Carb Diet: Part 1

By Dr . Joi Sutton|2016-12-29T11:46:52-05:00Updated: July 12th, 2012|Pet Care, Pet Diabetes, Pet Diet & Nutrition, Pet Newsletter|0 Comments


For my dog-owning readers, I apologize. The next 2 articles are geared toward diabetic cats. As one internist once told me, “cats are from a different planet”. Diabetic or not, cats have very different nutritional needs than dogs and humans. Cats are carnivores. Cats eat very few carbs in nature. When I interact with our readers, they often tell me that their diabetic cats are eating dry food or a mixture of dry and canned food. I will invariably recommend canned food for their diabetic cats. I often get resistance.

Veterinarians have had better success obtaining diabetic control in cats when using low carbohydrate diets. Most vets think of low carb as diets less than 7% to 10% carbohydrate. This means feeding diabetic cats canned food rather than dry food because canned food in general has a much lower carbohydrate content than dry pet foods. Some stubborn cats refuse to eat anything but dry kibble, so companies have tried to make low carb dry food. Two such “low carb” dry foods are Science Diet M/D and Purina DM for diabetic cats, but they still contain 15% carbs and 18% carbs respectively.

When veterinarians tell clients that they not only have a diabetic cat but now also need to change the way they feed the cat, clients may revolt. Particularly when cats are used to eating dry food, we meet resistance with the suggestion of feeding canned food only. I have recently gone through such a diet change for one of my own kitties (who is not diabetic but is quite tubby) because I just wasn’t able to get her to lose weight with a low fat / high protein dry food and portion control. She’s not a huge fan of exercise unless it involves chasing a lizard on the lanai. Last winter I even tried getting her a harness to force her to go for walks. It was cute: pink with white polka dots. I thought it emphasized her femininity. I feared my neighbors would think of me as some crazy cat lady, but she needed to lose weight. She wanted no part of cat walks on a harness! Last month I finally bit the bullet and changed her to canned food only, but I’ve left my other (thin) cats on dry kibble (one of my other cats is a kibble addict and doesn’t really recognize canned food as food).

Why have I changed my chubby cat to canned food? Canned food is lower in carbs and stimulates less of a spike in blood glucose. For a non-diabetic a glucose spike stimulates insulin which drives sugar into the cells. This is the theory behind the Atkins Diet and the South Beach Diet for weight loss. More importantly for chubby cats, canned food contains approximately 5 times more water than dry food. A cat likely won’t eat as many calories of canned food in a single feeding as a cat might pack away in caloric dense dry food.

That’s it for the WHY portion. Next week we will discuss the HOWs. Perhaps my experience can help others transition their diabetic or tubby cats to canned food only.

NOTE: Consult your Veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your special health needs.

About the Author: Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work though Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida. Connect with Dr. Joi on LinkedIn

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