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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 7-year old Siamese mix cat who came to my house as a starving kitten. She was terified of humans, but hunger won out, and after many weeks she allowed me to pet her. I brought her inside where she has stayed since then. She only likes dry food, except for tidbits of chicken which I give her for good behavior. She was drinking lots of water and peeing massive amounts, so I took her to the vet about two weeks ago and had a metabolic panel done. It turns out she is borderline diabetic, and the vet put her on Hill’s Prescription diet m/d for weight loss, low carbohydrate, diabetic — I’m feeding her 3/4 cup per day. She currently weighs 16 pounds. I had a cat that lived 16 1/2 years and died from kidney failure. He didn’t show symptoms until about a year and a half before his death. Is my current cat headed in that direction? Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

~ Carol

Fat cat lying tummy-up on the floor

Obesity can put cats at risk for many health problems, including diabetes. (This is not Carol's cat, by the way; it's a photo we found in a random Google search.)

Siouxsie: Carol, it’s a good thing you took your cat to the vet when you did. If she’s borderline diabetic, there’s a very good chance you and your vet can work together to manage her care and perhaps even get her back to remission — a non-diabetic state that could last for weeks, months, or even the rest of her life!

Thomas: You didn’t say your vet put your cat on insulin. That’s a good sign: it seems that your vet believes your cat’s diabetic symptoms are due to her obesity, and that if she loses weight she may well go into remission.

Dahlia: Sixteen pounds is quite heavy for a cat. It’s more or less the equivalent of a 5’6″ woman weighing 250 pounds when her ideal weight is somewhere between 135 and 155 pounds.

Siouxsie: So your vet prescribed the m/d food not only to control your cat’s blood sugar but to help her lose weight. If you feed her an appropriate amount of food and spend more time exercising her with interactive toys, the weight will come off, and at a reasonable pace.

Thomas: We visited the Hill’s Pet Nutrition website to get more information on m/d food. According to the chart on that page, 3/4 cup per day is a maintenance dose for a 16-pound cat. For weight loss, they recommend half a cup a day (of course, their chart is trumped by your vet’s orders, so if he or she recommended 3/4 cup a day, take your vet’s advice).

Dahlia: But the thing that really stunned us about m/d dry food was the ingredient list! Most vets agree that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is the best way to manage diabetes and correct problems like obesity. But the m/d food’s second ingredient is corn gluten meal. Ingredients 5, 6 and 7 are powdered cellulose (plant fiber), brewers rice, and whole-grain corn.

Siouxsie: Although we’re sure that the carbohydrate levels in this food are lower than they are in most dry cat foods, which is why they can call it low-carbohydrate food, we would encourage you to think about switching her to a canned food.

Thomas: Canned foods have more meat protein by volume and fewer carbohydrates than many kibbles. The reason for this is that kibble needs to be made with carbohydrates or plant products in order to be shaped into those little crunchies, but canned foods don’t.

Dahlia: You say your cat likes tidbits of chicken, so we think you might be able to convince her to eat canned food if you use a product that features chicken. Of course, you may have tried this before, with no luck. But fear not, veterinarian Lisa Pierson has written a great guide on how to transition a dry-food addict to a canned diet.

Siouxsie: We think it would be a great idea for you to do some research on diet and nutrition, and diabetes management in cats, and we’re going to give you some great places to start.

Thomas: Little Big Cat is an award-winning website written by veterinarian Jean M. Hofve and celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. Mama’s learned lots of cool stuff from Doctor Jean, and she highly recommends you check out the Health and Nutrition sections of the site.

Dahlia: We’re big fans of a species-appropriate diet for cats. Cat Nutrition has information on species-appropriate diets and about obesity and diabetes.

Siouxsie: Veterinarian Lisa Hodgkins runs Your Diabetic Cat, a website dedicated to information on the management, treatment — and prevention — of diabetes.

Thomas: The Feline Nutrition Education Society has information on species-appropriate diets, and how to read pet food ingredient labels. You should know, however, that FNES advocates a raw-food diet, and this is still very controversial among veterinarians.

Dahlia: That said, we eat a raw diet at least half the time. Our vet knows this, he knows Mama uses recipes from highly qualified and experience-tested sources, and he’s fine with it, especially because we’re such healthy cats.

Siouxsie: In any case, Carol, you don’t have to make drastic changes and turn your and your cat’s life upside down for her to be okay. Just start educating yourself about diet and do try to transition your cat away from dry food. Canned food — any canned food! — is, in our opinion, better for cats than kibble. Exercise your kitty every day and work with your vet to make sure she’s losing weight at a proper pace.

Thomas: We’re certain that your sweet girl will stay healthy for a very long time to come because you’ve discovered her health condition early. Your quick intervention will ensure that she’ll be a part of your life for many years to come.