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Feeding your diabetic pet

Feeding your diabetic pet

If your pet has just been diagnosed with diabetes you’ll certainly want to know what you can do to help them. After managing their insulin therapy, managing their diet is the most important way that you can impact on your pet’s quality of life. Both the food that you use and the manner in which you feed it are important. It is also vital that your pet’s activity level remains as constant as possible, so that it uses approximately the same amount of energy per day. Managing your diabetic pet’s diet and exercise regime well will make your vet’s job as easy as possible, in terms of stabilising your pet on a regular regime of insulin therapy.

What exactly does “consistent diet” mean, and why is it important?

There are several aspects of your pet’s diet that must remain as consistent as possible; the brand and type of food fed, the amount fed, and the times at which it is fed. These factors must remain constant so that your pet is receiving the same number of calories at the same time(s) each day. This enables your vet to establish an insulin therapy regime that matches your pet’s blood sugar levels as closely as possible throughout the day. A consistent daily routine will also make it easier for you to spot abnormal behaviour in your pet, which can be an indication that it is having a hypoglycaemic attack. A handy hint for diabetic cat owners; have a collar tag made which states “Diabetic – DO NOT FEED” if your neighbours have been known to offer your cat extra treats.

Your choice of food is also important, especially in cats – some cat’s diabetes can even be controlled with dietary management. There are several foods now available that have been specially formulated to encourage a consistent blood sugar level throughout the day.

What foods are available:

There are several special diabetic foods available. These may be of benefit to your pet, but care must be taken when making ANY change to the diet of a diabetic. In many cases a change in diet will mean a change to the insulin regime. This means that no dietary change should ever be made without first consulting your vet.

For dogs:  Royal Canin Diabetic Special Wet food,

                Eukanuba Veterinary Diet Dog Weight/Diabetic Control dry food for diabetic dogs.

For cats:   Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Diabetic D/S 30 dry food

                Purina Veterinary Diet DM (diabetes management) wet and dry food

                Hills Prescription Diet m/d wet and dry foods

How are they different to regular pet foods?

Diabetic foods often contain more complex carbohydrates which take longer to be broken down and so slowly release glucose into the bloodstream. Foods that are broken down by the body in this manner are called “Low Glycaemic Index (GI)” foods. They are also often higher in fibre and tend to contain limited fats.

Current research shows that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is best for cats in particular. The digestive system of the cat is designed to eat meat only; they are what vets term “obligate carnivores”. This means they cannot readily digest plant-based protein, so avoid any foods that use plants as the primary protein source. Examples of these are foods high in corn and soya. The diabetic cat foods that are available contain a higher level of animal derived proteins and fats, and less cereals and plant-based proteins. This not only makes them better for your cat, but makes them taste good too!

Why a consistent level of exercise is important:

When your pet eats its body uses that food to produce glucose (sugar) which then finds its way into your pet’s bloodstream. Glucose in the bloodstream is like the body’s currency, it is the first substance that your pet’s body uses when it needs energy. Therefore, if your pet exercises, it uses up this glucose to produce energy and this means that there is less glucose left in the bloodstream, that is, lower blood sugar levels.

You should also exercise your pet at the same time(s) everyday, and for approximately the same length of time. The intensity of these periods of exercise also needs to be kept constant.  In the same way that feeding the same amount of the same food at the same time each day ensures that a constant amount of energy to produce glucose is being supplied to your pet, consistent frequency, duration and intensity of exercise ensures that same amount of energy is used up by your pet. As a precaution, you should always carry glucose, sugar or honey with you in case you end up walking for longer, or your dog becomes unusually active. Any scenario which means that your pet has used up more energy than usual will cause its blood glucose level to drop, resulting in hypoglycaemia. The symptoms of hypoglycaemia include disorientation, wobbliness, collapse, unconsciousness, seizures and, if not promptly treated, even death. In the event of a hypoglycaemic episode sugar, glucose or honey should be given immediately – the easiest way to administer it is to rub a liberal amount onto the pet’s gums.

Of course, this is more easily manageable in dogs than it is in cats. If you are the owner of a diabetic cat that lives both in and outdoors, the best that you can do is aim to be consistent in your habits by allowing the cat approximately the same amount of time outdoors each day.

Keeping track

Whilst diabetes can be a daunting diagnosis for a pet owner, the disease can be successfully managed in a large number of cases. It’s important that you join forces with your vet, to make sure that your pet is getting the best possible treatment both in and out of the clinic. Many owners find it helpful to keep a diabetes diary on a daily basis, at least in the immediate period after the diagnosis has been made. This may be instrumental in helping you and your pet adjust to the new routine. An example of a diabetes diary is below:

Day: …………………..

Date: …………………

Insulin dose

Food given




12iu Caninsulin


500g Royal Canin Diabetic Special Wet


20 minutes brisk walk


Vomited once after meal



12iu Caninsulin


500g Royal Canin Diabetic Special Wet


10 minutes run in park


Didn’t eat whole meal

More information is available on diabetic foods at http://www.medicanimal.com/Dogs-Diabetes/c28_11/index.html for dogs and http://www.medicanimal.com/Cats-Diabetes/c29_51/index.html for cats.