How to Manage Diabetes in Cats – working together to achieve remission!

by Kate Harding Smith, B.Sc, DVM
Professional Consulting Veterinarian, Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a common condition seen in veterinary practice. In fact, it has been estimated to affect as many as 1 in every 100 cats (1). Does this sound right to you? The good news is that it can be a very manageable disease, and cats in particular can actually achieve remission. But what’s the best way to manage these patients? Let’s take a look at what we know about diabetes in cats, and the best options for management.

Cats are not small dogs!

While dogs tend to have Type I diabetes, an absolute loss of insulin production, cats typically have a form of diabetes resembling Type II in humans. The cells of their bodies become resistant to insulin, and therefore unable to take up glucose effectively. Although the exact mechanisms are unknown, this tends to lead to a dysfunction of the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin, in turn leading to a loss of insulin production. There are many potential causes of insulin resistance; with obesity being the most well known in both humans in cats. Overweight or obese cats have up to a 4 times greater chance of becoming diabetic (2)!

Diabetic Remission is our Goal!

Now that we know the mechanisms behind the disease, it makes sense that these patients should be managed with both insulin therapy and nutrition. The goal of treating feline diabetics is always diabetic remission and although this won’t always be the outcome, the most likely way to achieve this is to treat early, use long-acting insulin therapy twice daily, and feed an appropriate food. As we work towards diabetic remission, insulin therapy will be required to control the insulin resistance. The right food can also help. For example, in obese patients, successful weight loss can encourage a more normal response to insulin release and potentially lead to diabetic remission.

Nutritional Management

The cornerstone of nutritional management of feline diabetics is the use of a low carbohydrate food such as Prescription Diet® m/d.  Low carbohydrate foods can help reduce fluctuations in blood glucose and reduce the instances of hyperglycemia, such as after a meal. Prescription Diet® m/d, is also clinically proven to promote fat and weight loss in cats while maintaining lean body mass (3). And we’ve already touched on the importance of promoting appropriate weight loss in our diabetic patients to help minimize insulin resistance. Feeding the low carbohydrate food should continue even if remission occurs to reduce the risk of requiring insulin therapy again and to maintain an appropriate body weight.

Role of the Pet Parent

Don’t forget the most important factor in managing diabetics – the pet parent! Committed owners make a huge difference.   It’s also important to remember that in the end, our job is to find the best management regime possible for both our patient and their owner. Not all owners can do it all, so let’s ensure we’re working together to achieve the best possible quality of life for everyone. Together, we can achieve diabetic remission!


  1. Sparkes A et al. ISFM Consensus Guidelines on the Practical Management of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2015); 17: 235–250
  2. Scarlett JM and Donoghue S. Associations between body condition and disease in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc  (1998); 212: 1725–1731.
  3. Schoenherr WH. Effects of a low-calorie, high-fiber food versus a low carbohydrate, high-protein food on weight loss in obese cats. Unpublished data. Hill’s Science & Technology Center, Topeka, Kansas, 2003.
  4. Bennett, Greco, Peterson et al.  Comparison of a low carbohydrate-low fiber diet and a moderate carbohydrate-high fiber diet in the management of feline diabetes mellitus.  Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.  (2006); 8: 73-84.  

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Dr Kate Harding Smith graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. After graduation she practiced small animal general medicine in Canada and the UK for 10 years before joining Hill’s Pet Nutrition Canada. Kate is a proud member of the team of Professional Consulting Veterinarians working for Hill’s worldwide. She lives in Ontario with her family, including an 8-year-old Foxhound, Morgan.