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Feline Diabetes & High Carbohydrate Diets

Diabetes is a known disease in both dogs and cats, however feline diabetes is more commonly observed. Feline diabetes mellitus, as it is medically known, is believed to be present in around 1 in 230 cats in the UK.

Sadly, obese and older cats are at higher risk of developing the disease and it is closely linked to pancreatitis as well. Cats with pancreatitis produce less beta-cells in the pancreas, which results in a drop in insulin production. Similar to diabetes in humans, without appropriate levels of insulin in the body our cats cannot successfully break down glucose and carbohydrates, causing their blood sugar levels to increase.

Some signs that a cat may be diabetic include:

• 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.

Carbohydrates In Cat Food

Some studies have made links between feline diabetes and carbohydrate levels in cat foods. Cats are obligate carnivores, so are evolutionarily designed to digest high levels of protein and fat. Cats require 22 essential amino acids to be healthy, but can only synthesise 11 of these themselves. The remaining 11 amino acids must be obtained through their diet, specifically through meat protein. As a result, it is vital that cats are provided with a diet high in quality meat with adequate protein levels.

Many brand of dry cat food contain carbohydrates such as potato, cereals, and rice. These can often be used as “filler” ingredients that bulk up the food while providing minimal nutritional value. Cats do not have the ability to break down and digest carbohydrates for several biological reasons.

Firstly, cats do not have salivary amylase present in their saliva. This is an enzyme that is required to begin the digestion of carbohydrates in the body. Second, cats lack intestinal and pancreatic amylase, meaning that the small intestine cannot break down carbohydrates as efficiently. Our cats' digestive systems are able to break down small amount of carbohydrates, but are much better suited to breaking down protein and fats.

Commerical pet foods containing high quantities of carbohydrates could be partially responsible for the rise in diabetes in domestic cats, although we cannot say for sure. What we do know, however, is that food that is lower in carbohydrates allows cats to release blood glucose at a steadier (and therefore healthier rate), thus reducing the risk of diabetes.

Based on this, cat foods high in good quality protein with little to no carbohydrates should be considered a better diet for cats already diagnosed with diabetes. This sort of diet could also have the potential to reduce the risk of diabetes in healthy cats.

Diet, Exercise & Lifestyle

To distinguish between low and high quality protein in cat food, we need to examine the label. Good quality, easily digestible protein will be labelled as “fresh” or “dried” meat and will state what animal meat is used. Meats labelled as “meat meal”, “animal by-products”, or “meat and animal derivatives” are more likely to contain lower quality protein and therefore be harder for our cats to digest.

It is important to note other factors that can influence diabetes outside of diet. Age, neutered status, and weight are all important factors to consider. Obese cats can have as much as four times greater risk of developing diabetes compared to cats of a healthy weight, so maintaining our cats' weight is incredibly important!

Alongside feeding an appropriate diet, increasing exercise and providing enrichment can aid in weight loss and weight management. Interacting with our cats through toys, interactive feeding bowls, sensory enrichment, and providing climbing structures for them to play on are just a few great example of how we can keep our cats fit and healthy.

Remember, if you have any concerns about your cat's health, including diabetes, you should always consult your vet. They will be able to advise you on your cat's health and recommend treatment if necessary.

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