Will My Diabetic Cat Need Prescription Cat Food? Proper Nutrition for Cats with Diabetes

Will My Diabetic Cat Need Prescription Cat Food?
expert or vet photo
vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

One of the biggest and most important factors when treating a diabetic cat is nutrition. Your cat will not only need a brand new diet, but they may need a prescription diet. Learn more here.

Was your cat recently diagnosed with diabetes? Even if you’re just delving into the best strategies for managing this disease, you’ve probably gotten a sense of the importance of your cat’s diet to managing feline diabetes. Find out what you’ll need to know about prescription cat food, and tips for feeding your cat after this diagnosis.

Will My Cat Need a Presciption Diet?

In general, a prescription diet is not always necessary after a cat’s diabetes diagnosis. It can, however, make feeding simpler. For some cats, even ones on a non-prescription diet that follows all the recommendations, it can be tough to regulate their glucose levels. And for you, it can be a challenge to figure out how ingredients are balanced. Prescription diets remove this guesswork and the need for research. Prescription cat food is more costly, though -- you can expect to pay around $40 to $50 for two dozen cans of wet food.

When Not Using an Rx Diet: Go With Wet Cat Food

If your cat is currently on a dry food diet, a diabetes diagnosis is a cue to switch them over to wet food. As well as helping to keep them hydrated, wet food generally has less carbohydrates and more protein. For diabetic cats, the right diet is low in carbohydrates and high in protein so wet food more often fits the bill. Remember: cats are carnivorous creatures, and thrive on meat-based foods, so a protein-focused diet is the best option.

If you do have to switch your cat from one food to another, do it slowly, since cats deal poorly with dietary changes. Try serving smaller and smaller amounts of the original food, while mixing in larger and larger amounts of the new food, to ease the transition.

And if you or your cat is set on dry food, take heart -- although it is often recommended to switch to a wet food, in today's market there are dry cat foods that are appropriate for diabetic cats. It can take a little searching to find one high enough in protein, but your veterinarian can help.

Consistency Is Key in a Diabetic Cat’s Diet

When it comes to diabetes, a consistent diet can sometimes be almost as important as what’s being served. Unless your cat has a weight problem, it’s generally acceptable for them to graze on food, rather than being served distinct meals with portion sizes. However, feeding them the same type of food, and avoiding any high-carbohydrate treats, is important for their health.

Also aim to put out food for your cat at the same time each day. Let your cat eat shortly before their insulin shot is administered.

What About Remission?

As you may be aware, unlike dogs or humans, cats with diabetes are capable of entering a remission-like state if the disease is caught early on and the glucose levels are stabilized through insulin treatment and dietary changes. Oftentimes this will happen in an overweight cat who loses weight as part of diabetes treatment -- weight loss can help in the remission process.

If your cat is lucky enough to enter remission or a partial remission, that’s wonderful! You’ll need to continue to feed them a diet that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates, but will no longer need to provide daily insulin shots. If your cat enters partial remission, they'll require far less insulin to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels.

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More on Cat Nutrition

Cat Nutrition for Male Cats
What To Feed a Cat: Female Cats
Is Your Cat a Picky Eater?
Maintaining a Healthy Cat Weight

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has however been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board certified veterinary nutritionist and graduate of Cornell University's program for Veterinary Medicine.

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