Does Dry Cat Food Really Cause Feline Diabetes? Part 1

Guest Post from Lorie Huston from Pet Health Care Gazette.

Part 1 of a two-part article.

The link between food and feline diabetes is a subject that we’ve talked about before but it keeps coming up so I think it’s a good idea to revisit the subject.
One of the concerns surrounding dry food is the carbohydrate content in the foods. Dry foods tend to have moderate to high levels of carbohydrates. Many sources on the internet will tell you that feeding dry foods that contain high levels of carbohydrates will cause your cat to develop diabetes. But is this true and what is the real relationship here?
We know that feeding a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet can be effective for controlling the glycemic response in diabetic cats and many diabetic cats fed this type of diet will actually go into diabetic remission. Many people make the claim that since feeding these diets to a diabetic cat is beneficial, then feeding a healthy cat a high-protein low-carbohydrate diet should prevent diabetes. However, the situation is actually much more complex than that.
In 2011, at the World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress, Claudia A. Kirk, DVM, PhD, DACVN, DACVIM presented a session entitled Cats and Carbohydrates – What is the Impact? These are some of the highlights of her presentation:
Several studies have evaluated the potential role of carbohydrates in the pathogenesis of DM (diabetes mellitus) in cats.

Cat patiently waiting to eat his food. Summarizing key findings:

An epidemiological study of cats from the Netherlands found indoor confinement and low physical activity and not amount of dry food were associated with DM. High carbohydrate intake was not considered a risk factor for feline DM. But recent reports from these investigators have suggested an association of high carbohydrate foods with calcium oxalate urolithiasis. (Reference: Slingerland LI, Fazilova VV, Plantinga EA, et al. Indoor confinement and physical inactivity rather than the proportion of dry food are risk factors in the development of feline type 2 diabetes mellitus. Vet J 2009 Feb; 179(2) :247-53.)
In cats fed a high carbohydrate/low fat (HC/LF) versus low carbohydrate/high fat (LC/HF) food, cats eating the LC/HF demonstrated reduced insulin responsiveness during glucose tolerance testing compared with cats eating the HC/LF food. Dietary fat appeared to be related to insulin resistance and weight gain more so than carbohydrate intake. (Reference: Thiess S, Becskei C, Tomsa K, et al. Effects of high carbohydrate and high fat diet on plasma metabolite levels and on i.v. glucose tolerance test in intact and neutered male cats. J Feline Med Surg 2004;6:207–218.)
A study comparing the effect of a HC/low-protein food vs. a LC/high-protein food on glucose and fat metabolism in lean and obese cats before and after weight loss. Obesity, but not dietary protein or carbohydrate content, led to severe insulin resistance in cats. (Reference: Hoenig M, Thomaseth K, Waldron M, et al. Insulin sensitivity, fat distribution, and adipocytokine response to different diets in lean and obese cats before and after weight loss. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 2007;292:R227–234.)
Effects feeding different amounts of carbohydrate and fat were evaluated in 24 cats before and after gonadectomy. Cats were fed either 4%, 27%, 45%, or 56% carbohydrate (DMB) by free choice. 1) High concentrations of dietary carbohydrate did not induce weight gain or increased plasma glucose and insulin concentrations prior to gonadectomy, 2) gonadectomy resulted in increased food intake and weight gain, in which high dietary fat appeared more important. (Reference: Backus RC, Cave NJ, Keisler DH. Gonadectomy and high dietary fat but not high dietary carbohydrate induce gains in body weight and fat of domestic cats. Brit J Nutr 2007;98:641–650.)
Another study comparing a traditional high carbohydrate fiber enhanced weight control food with a low carbohydrate diet found similar weight loss when caloric intake was restricted to the same level. (Reference: Michel KE, Bader A, Shofer FS, et al. Impact of time-limited feeding and dietary carbohydrate content on weight loss in group-housed cats. J Feline Med Surg 2005;7:349–355.)
Current published evidence does not support a direct cause-and-effect relationship between increased carbohydrate consumption and DM or obesity in cats. (Reference: Buffington C. Dry foods and risk of disease in cats. Can Vet J 2008;49:561–563.)


lorie huston
Guest post from Lorie Huston | Pet HealthCare Gazette | Does Dry Cat Food Really Cause Feline Diabetes?, May 24, 2013


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  1. Hmmm…never knew this was a big problem in cats. Kidney and urinary problems are often blamed on dry food, but that wet stuff stinks, is messy and causes extra stinky cat box odor, so we only feed our meowers dry regardless.
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    • I guess if you make sure they are hydrated it should be okay.
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  2. I think what you really you have to watch out for is the water intake. While we generally tend to measure (or have a feel for) the amount of food our pets eat, often water is just not in our focus. I could well imagine that the above bladder stone study for example may not have been controlled for water intake and maybe these cats would have had a higher stone incidence anyways because it may have been related to water intake rather than food composition alone.

  3. Gweat posty.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi
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  4. We feed mostly dry, and I didn’t even know that there was a potential connection there. We’ve started adding some canned too, and I add a little extra water to it as well.
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