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A black cat lies on a blue and green comforter enjoying the sun pouring through a window.

Bella in the sun. Photo CC-BY-ND JaneA Kelley

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

Hi. Just found your blog and the great information on diabetic cats…thanks! Mars is our 18 year old gray/black/white tabby that we’ve had since he was about 6 months old. Mars was getting skinny so I took him to the vet and he was diagnosed with diabetes — he’s on two units of Lantus twice daily and doing extremely well. He is 15.5 pounds and would be better if he lost a pound or maybe two. I don’t know why but he sometimes suddenly bites/chews his back feet. I have read there can be feet issues for human or animals with diabetes and some numbness. He doesn’t cut the skin or draw blood but it worries me. Have you heard of this? I started to give some kibble with the canned food recently as our old orange cat, Simba, has explosive diarrhea if he eats only canned food. I have a new cat recipe book and supplement from completeandbalanced (dot) com author Hilary Watson. I make my dog food from her recipes — she was recommended by a vet internist and is amazingly knowledgable (even returns emails, which was great while I was trying to keep weight on my Siberian Husky during his senior years). I’m going to try making the cat food too to see if it helps with Mars’ diabetes and Simba’s “explosions!” Thanks for your great blog.

~ Shane

Thomas: Well, Shane, thank you for the compliments. *purrrrrr*

Bella: You are correct that cats can develop diabetic neuropathy (numbness and tingling) in their back legs as a result of diabetes, but usually that’s when the diabetes is not controlled for a long time and the cat’s blood glucose levels are very high. My friend Angus back at HART of Maine had neuropathy for that reason.

Tara: But didn’t you say Angus got better, Bella?

Bella: Yes, he did. The people at the shelter gave him Methyl-B12 shots regularly, under the guidance of their vet, and his neuropathy gradually cleared up.

Thomas: If Mars’ blood sugar levels are consistently within the normal range, the chances that he has neuropathy are pretty slim. Usually foot chewing is not a symptom of neuropathy; you’re more likely to see weakness in the back legs and then, as the disease progresses, you would see Mars walking on his “heels” instead of his toes (which is called a “plantigrade stance” by vets). We definitely recommend asking your vet about his biting and chewing of his back feet, though.

Tara: As you know, we’re not vets, and that’s why we always say that the best person to ask about health questions is your vet!

Bella: Just out of curiosity, Shane, are you home testing Mars’ blood glucose levels? We think it’s really important to do that for diabetic kitties because that will help you and your vet take the best possible care of him.

Thomas: If you need some help figuring out how to home test — or, in fact, if you need help and support related to anything about feline diabetes, we strongly recommend that you visit FelineDiabetes.com and make use of the Feline Diabetes Message Board. There are lots of people who have lots of experience living with diabetic cats, and they can be a lifesaver, for sure!

Tara: Sometimes cats chew their feet because they’re itchy, which could be due to allergies. Stress can also cause strange behaviors.

Thomas: As for the food issue, we think it’s a great idea to use well-vetted home-made diets, and we’re delighted that a veterinary internist actually recommended home-made diets for your dog and for your cats. I had really bad diarrhea until Mama switched us to raw diets, and then the change happened literally overnight.

Bella: And low-carb, high-protein raw food has kept me in remission for almost three years now! (Mama uses freeze-dried raw food, but it’s the same idea.)

Tara: But any high-protein, low-carb canned food will help diabetic cats stay fit and trim and keep their blood glucose in a healthy range.

Bella: It’s true. At HART, they fed us Friskies Classic Pate and some other pate-style canned cat foods (chunks-in-gravy type cat foods have more carbs because of the way the gravy is made). So you don’t have to spend a fortune to keep your diabetic cat healthy!

Thomas: So, Shane, if you’re home testing and making homemade diets for Mars, you should see a good change in his blood sugar numbers, and we’re guessing it will help with Simba’s digestive woes as well.

Tara: Like we said, go ahead to the feline diabetes message board for support and help, and talk to your vet about Mars’ paw chewing behavior. We think it’s unlikely that the paw chewing is related to neuropathy, particularly if he’s doing well, but your vet is the one who knows Mars and will be able to examine him so you know for sure what’s going on.

Bella: Do any of you other readers make homemade diets for your cats? If your kitty is diabetic, did you see changes in his blood sugar levels or general health as a result of using homemade diets? Please share your experiences in the comments.