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Bella with her home blood glucose testing supplies

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

We found out our cat was diabetic last October. We have made some changes but things aren’t going to well. When we give him his needle — 3 units twice a day — I hold him while my son gives him his shot. Freeway tends to jump as soon as the needle goes in, upsetting my son so badly that he would rather miss a dose then put him through that. If there were some miracle out there that would help our cat go into remission so he doesn’t have to take any more needles, it would be amazing. Please understand this cat is our life and there is nothing that we wouldn’t do for him. I noticed that cats shouldn’t really eat dry food. So my question is this: If no dry food, how often should he eat and is Fancy Feast and Iams delights OK?

~ Zonia

Thomas: Well, we happen to have a little bit of experience with feline diabetes here at Paws and Effect HQ, which maybe you found out when you were searching the web for advice on helping Freeway with his diabetes.

Bella: That’s right. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was just a kitten — that’s me up there at the top of this post with my home testing supplies — and I went into remission, so there is hope.

Tara: You are right that dry food is absolutely not a thing you want to feed any diabetic cat, but the good news is that there are good canned and raw foods available at a whole range of price points.

Bella: At HART of Maine, the shelter where I lived until Mama met me, they fed us diabetic kitties Friskies classic pate and Fancy Feast Classic. These foods were inexpensive and very low in carbohydrates, which was crucial to keep us healthy and maybe even get us into remission.

Tara: The reason you want the pate foods instead of the foods in gravy is that the gravies are often made with ingredients that increase the carbohydrate count. And be careful, because foods labeled grain-free are not necessarily low in carbohydrates: often they have “substitute carbs” like potatoes, tapioca, peas and the like.

Thomas: Before we get too much into making recommendations, we do need to make a disclaimer: We are not veterinarians or trained veterinary professionals. We are simply offering this information for educational purposes and we’re sharing what worked for us. Every cat is different, and it’s super-important when you have a diabetic cat to work very closely with your vet.

Bella: That said, some vets are more experienced with feline diabetes than others. If your vet is one of those, or if she or he is willing to learn more about feline diabetes so they can work with you to keep Freeway healthy, then you’re in a very good situation.

Bella at the vet, January 2013

It’s crucial to work closely with your vet when you have a diabetic cat.

Tara: There are a few things we’re going to recommend in order to help you help Freeway. The first of these is that if you haven’t already, you should join the Feline Diabetes Message Board (FDMB). This is a group of very knowledgeable people who have been caring for diabetic cats for decades, and they can give you lots of tips and support to keep Freeway healthy.

Thomas: You don’t mention whether or not you’re testing Freeway’s blood sugar at home, but if you’re not, you will want to start doing that. Giving insulin without testing blood glucose, especially if you’re changing your cat’s diet to a lower-carb food, can create problem like hypoglycemia.

Bella: The folks at FDMB can help you learn about home testing, and there may even be an FDMB member in your area who can show you how to do it. Your vet should be able to show you how to test at home, too.

Tara: They might even be able to show you how to give Freeway his shot in a way that minimizes his (and your) stress!

Thomas: Most people who have diabetic cats get the kind of glucose meters you can buy at your neighborhood drug store or superstore, so you don’t need to get the super-fancy veterinary-only model.

Bella: To learn about the carbohydrate counts in various foods, we recommend this chart compiled by Dr. Lisa Pierson, who has gone through every dry, canned and raw cat food currently on the market and listed the protein, fat and carbohydrate percentages of all of them. For a diabetic cat you want a food that gets less than 10 percent of its total calories from carbohydrates.

Tara: There are lots of wet foods with less than 10 percent carbohydrates, although we’re not seeing any Iams formula on Dr. Pierson’s chart that meets that criteria.

Thomas: We know it’s hard to give shots and to poke cats for home blood testing, but it gets easier as you build your confidence. The less nervous you are, the less nervous your cat will be. I know, I know: Easier said than done, right?

Bella: Good luck to you, Zonia, and thank you so much for wanting to do the best you possibly can for your sweet Freeway kitty.

Tara: How about you other readers? Do you have a diabetic cat? What do you feed your cats, and how do they like it? What other tips and moral support do you have for Zonia as she and her son get used to taking care of their “sugar kitty?” Let’s talk in the comments!