What Do You Feed Your Non-Diabetic Cats?

By Dr . Joi Sutton|2023-09-26T09:46:31-04:00Updated: May 15th, 2014|Pet Care, Pet Diet & Nutrition, Pet Newsletter|4 Comments

Why has the incidence of diabetes in felines increased in recent years?

This week we had a client write in about why a diabetes company would sell feline Greenies, which are not a low carbohydrate cat treat. My answer to her was this: cats are like potato chips, in that few of us manage to have “just one”. We sell Greenies because so many of us have non-diabetic cats, and word on the cat street is that Greenies are delicious! This got me thinking about what we feed our cats, and to offer some suggestions for feeding our non-diabetic cats.

When my now 9-year old cats were kittens, I wish I had fed them differently. I wish I had offered them both canned and dry food instead of only kibble. I now have a cat that looks at me like I’ve lost my marbles if I put canned food down in front of him. His look suggests, “What is this slop you are giving me?!?” Should I ever need to have him on a canned only diet (as we suggest for diabetic felines) I’d be in big trouble. If your cats are kittens, do yourself a favor and be sure to offer canned food in addition to kibble.

In addition to offering a variety of food textures to cats, we should be cautious when we offer a new food. Cats not only form strong food preferences (such as flavor and texture), they also form strong aversions to food. Food aversion is one reason why I never start a cat on a new prescription diet while a pet is hospitalized. I figure a patient may associate the taste of the new food with being hospitalized. You can bet I wait until a pet feels safe and sound in his own home before I offer a new diet choice.

Okay, we’ve harped on our readers enough about feeding diabetic cats canned only, low-carb diets. But what about feeding non-diabetic cats? The incidence of diabetes has risen dramatically over the last 2 decades. Certainly the higher population of indoor only cats and subsequent obesity from the lower activity level plays a role. So what can we do regarding the diet of these indoor only cats who are now predisposed to obesity secondary to a sedentary lifestyle? Obesity is a big risk factor for type 2 diabetes in felines!

Let’s stop feeding ad lib. Most dogs are fine with meal feeding. Cats may prefer to constantly have food available and to nibble a bit all day long, but if your cat is chubby, free feeding (meaning food is always available) is a big No-No. Again, I am a cat lady who bends over backwards to please her felines. The motto in my household is, “If kitty ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Nonetheless, if they can’t push away from the table on their own, we must do it for them. Trust me, I know how hard it is. One of my cats has been “on a diet” for 7 years! I swear she thinks I am trying to starve her.

Back to the carb issue if your cat is not diabetic. There are a few generalities regarding dry versus canned food. Kibble (extruded food) requires a certain amount of carbohydrate to keep the shape. Canned food tends to be much lower in carbohydrate than dry foods. Kibble that is low in fat tends to be higher in carbohydrates. Kibble that is lower in carbohydrates tends to be higher in fat. Canned food can contain higher protein content than kibble, and protein provides a feeling of fullness. A high fat content also provides fullness, but fat is much higher in calories than protein and carbohydrates.

If you have a non-diabetic yet tubby feline in your house, you are probably better off with at least part if not all of the diet being canned food. Additionally, canned food has a higher water content than kibble, so the pet feels “full” sooner than when eating a comparable calorie portion of dry food. If your cat is not diabetic, we don’t need to be so cautious with the carbohydrate limitations, but a canned, lower carb, lower fat, high protein diet (such as those we feed diabetic felines) may help your cat lose weight. Proper body weight may in turn decrease the chance of your cat getting diabetes.

Now, what if you have a svelt energizer-bunny non-diabetic cat in your household along with a diabetic kitty? That cat can probably eat dry food ad lib without issue, but your diabetic cat should be kept away from the slim cat’s kibble. Your slim cat will likely do just fine on your diabetic cat’s low carb canned food. Heck, the low carb, high protein canned food we suggest for diabetic cats is much like cats would eat when hunting in nature, being the little carnivores that they are.

I hope today’s article has helped you. If nothing else, perhaps you will feel less alone when you orchestrate feeding schedules and diets in a multi-cat household. As always, you must consult your veterinarian regarding diet choices for your pet.

NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets 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


  1. ADW Customer May 22, 2014 at 4:55 pm - Reply

    Dear Dr. Sutton,

    Once again, you are timely in my life and give clear and useful
    information. I have three out of five cats with moderate weight problems, two
    big girls and one big boy. My only question is about teeth health. I usually
    feed them a little Science Diet Dental along with dry Evo and canned Friskies, or if I can afford it, canned Tiki Cat. Arthur and Eartha Miel both have lousy teeth and with a strictly wet food diet, what will scrape their teeth? I give Arthur Greenies also, but Eartha had ten teeth pulled and doesn’t really like to have to chew Greenies or the Dental Diet. The dry Evo is smaller so she eats that with her wet food. Arthur is seven and Eartha Miel, twelve. Arthur is also sure I am starving him.

    • Dr Joi May 22, 2014 at 4:57 pm - Reply

      I agree: canned food is more likely to get in the nooks and crannies of their tweet compared to dry food. Canned food results in quicker tartar buildup. Still, we can clean teeth, brush test and give greenies and CET cat chews to combat this.

      The right choice isn’t set in stone unless you cat develops diabetes, then canned is definitely the way to go.

      Thanks for your continued support. Have a fabulous weekend!

  2. Dr Joi May 20, 2014 at 9:45 pm - Reply

    George, thanks so much for your comments! I’m definitely in the canned food camp for diabetic kitties. You, my friend, have a lot of putty tats! ;). Joi

  3. George Spadea May 15, 2014 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    Hello, Dr. Sutton! Happy Spring!

    I remember reading a few things
    over the years and also a word of advice from one of my Cat’s
    Veterinarians…they are: “You don’t control Diabetes, it controls you!”
    ; “Each Cat Is Different (ECID)” and “Treat the Cat and not the
    disease”. I have learned through the years and thousands of injections
    that getting carried away can do more harm than good especially to the
    Cat’s Caregivers. I can go on with this in great detail and example, but
    I’ll stick to the subject and list what I do for feeding a crew of
    fifteen, two being Sugar Cats.

    First off, let me say, I use four
    Veterinarians, all with different strengths and manner. Two say feed
    only dry to Sugar Cats and two say feed only canned. Most authorities I
    have read about the subject say make your own or feed canned. If you
    have a Cat who has been on a dry food diet be aware that if you feed it
    canned, switching quickly can make the BG’s drop alarmingly fast putting
    your cat In a low and dangerous BG level. If you do or don’t home test
    see your Vet before attempting this.

    In my particular case, I
    feed both. I let them graze on Kibble and feed canned twice a day. I
    don’t give snacks. I do this because some cats are food hounds and will
    eat everything in site leaving the others starving while they turn into
    blimps.So, putting food out allows all to feed to their need. Also,
    remember that Calories put on weight. It is a balancing act and budget
    has a lot to do with it.

    I feed Wellness canned Chicken mixed
    with 1/3 warm water. I will add a bit of Fancy Feast Salmon pate’ for a
    kicker if they dwell a bit. Both are less than 2% carbs. For Dry I feed
    Dr. Wysong’s Epigen 90, 1% carbs and Natures Variety Chicken Meal
    Formula, 12 % carbs.

    When I indicate Carbs it’s “As Fed” and not
    “Guaranteed Analysis” as stated on the food bag. It is the percentage of
    Calories as related to the Carb content.

    Other low Carb foods
    are available from Natura Pet in the form of EVO products.
    Unfortunately, the whole Pet Food Retail industry shuddered when they
    were bought out by P&G. The fear proved real as they have had many
    recalls. They are claiming they are back to healthy food again. I used
    to feed EVO exclusively before P&G. Use your own judgement as the
    food formulas are right on, or at least they were.

    In the
    meantime stay tuned to Dr. Sutton and her column as her advice is much
    needed and always right on. She would be my Vet of choice if you lived
    in her vicinity.

    Good luck to all you Kitty lovers and many thanks to Dr. Sutton for her love and dedication to our furry families.

    George Spadea
    Cape May, NJ

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