Special Tips for Diabetic Pets

Food For Thought™ Technical Bulletin No. 92R

Innovative Research in Dog and Cat Nutrition™

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes (complete name is diabetes mellitus) is a disease caused by deficiency of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is needed to move sugar (glucose) and other nutrients into the body's cells to supply energy. A lack of insulin can cause increased urination, drinking, and eating, as well as weight loss. Without proper treatment, diabetes can lead to severe illness and even death.

Diabetes occurs in both dogs and cats. Obese and older animals are more likely to develop this disease. Veterinarians diagnose diabetes by finding abnormally high levels of glucose in an animal's blood and urine. Most animals with diabetes require treatment with insulin injections to decrease and stabilize blood glucose levels, as well as feeding management.

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What Should a Diabetic Dog or Cat Be Fed?

A diabetic pet should be fed a food that supplies optimal amounts of all required nutrients. A veterinarian may recommend a special food that contains ingredients to nutritionally manage diabetes. Otherwise, a dog or cat with diabetes should be fed a complete and balanced dry or canned diet that is appropriate for lifestage and body condition.

  • Feeding a food that contains consistent types and amounts of essential nutrients is important for diabetic pets, especially if they are receiving insulin treatment. Only pet foods that are prepared using a fixed formula should be fed to diabetic animals. If information on formulation is not available on the package of a commercial pet food, contact the manufacturer. Diabetic pets should not be fed homemade diets because of the problems in maintaining nutrient consistency.
  • Semimoist pet foods should be avoided, because these foods often contain sugar and have been associated with high blood glucose levels and problems in regulating insulin treatment in dogs.
  • An overweight diabetic pet may benefit from eating a low-calorie, low-fat food designed to promote weight loss, but this type of diet is not recommended for underweight diabetics.
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How Should a Diabetic Dog or Cat Be Fed?

A veterinarian will usually recommend a feeding schedule for a diabetic pet that takes the medical treatment schedule into account. Although feeding multiple small meals throughout the day may help in controlling blood glucose levels, diabetic animals may do well on 2 daily meals and many diabetic cats can be managed with free-choice feeding. Maintaining a consistent feeding schedule (timing and amount of food) is an important component in the feeding management of diabetic pets.

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What About Fiber in the Diet?

Some types of fiber can be beneficial in the diet of dogs and cats. Certain types of fiber can be broken down (fermented) by bacteria that normally live in the intestines of dogs and cats. One of the effects of this fermentation is to provide energy for the cells of the intestines, thereby helping to maintain intestinal health.

Veterinary-exclusive diets may include moderate amounts of fermentable fiber and other unique fibers that can be specifically helpful in the nutritional management of diabetic dogs. Excessive levels of fiber, however, especially fiber that cannot be fermented, can cause problems in dogs and cats. Adverse effects of high dietary fiber levels include:

  • Poor skin and coat quality
  • Flatulence
  • Increased frequency of defecation
  • Increased amount of stool
  • Excess fiber may also interfere with absorption of essential nutrients, which may be a significant concern in diabetic animals.
  • High-fiber diets are generally too low in calories to be fed to underweight diabetics.
  • Adding supplemental fiber to a higher-calorie complete food (designed for maintenance or all life stages) may dilute those calories and unbalance the diet, increasing the likelihood of nutrient deficiencies.

Diets containing a normal level (less than 5% on a dry-matter basis) of a moderately fermentable fiber (like beet pulp) are appropriate for feeding diabetic, as well as nondiabetic cats and dogs.

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What Does This Mean to Iams and Our Customers?

  • Feeding management is an especially important consideration when dealing with a diabetic pet.
  • Our products provide optimum nutrition for dogs and cats, with fixed formulas suited to various lifestages and lifestyles. These foods can be used to nutritionally manage glucose impaired pets with your veterinarians help.
  • Veterinarians can prescribe one of our appropriate veterinary diets, which contain unique ingredients for specific dietary management of impaired glucose metabolism in normal-weight or overweight dogs.
  • We also have a formula for underweight glucose impaired dogs or cats.
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