As pet parents, it can be concerning to find out your cat has a potentially serious health issue. While feline diabetes requires immediate attention, the disease is thankfully manageable over time through a combination of diet, insulin treatments, and glucose monitoring. A large percentage of cats may even go into remission with timely care.
Given this importance of providing the right diet for your diabetic cat, we researched hundreds of options to find the 7 best diabetic cat foods available on the market. We’ve also paired it with a comprehensive guide to feline diabetes so you can make the most informed decision.
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What is Feline Diabetes?
Feline diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is the second most common endocrine disorder in cats, and is more common in older and overweight cats. It’s estimated that 0.5% to 2% of the feline population has diabetes, although the real number may be even higher.
Similar to diabetes that affects humans, feline diabetes occurs when a cat isn’t able to produce enough insulin, or can’t properly use insulin, to regulate their blood sugar — aka glucose. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas that allows glucose to be absorbed into cells to be used for energy. Diabetes leads to an excess of glucose in the bloodstream (high blood sugar).
When the body can’t make energy from using blood sugars, it resorts to breaking down vital fats and proteins as an alternate source.
Types of Diabetes
Type I: The rarest form, Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas either can’t produce insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin.
Type II: Type II diabetes is the more common type, with up to 90% of diabetes falling under this form. It’s characterized by a resistance to insulin, leading your pancreas to produce too much. Obesity is a large risk factor for type II diabetes.
Lastly, there’s gestational diabetes, which is diagnosed during pregnancy, and occurs from insulin resistance by other hormones present during pregnancy.
Because feline diabetes is associated with a number of health issues, it can decrease a cat’s life expectancy. However, many cats can live a full and happy life when their diabetes is managed through treatments and proper nutrition.
Symptoms of Feline Diabetes
The following symptoms can indicate feline diabetes, but you should visit a veterinarian to confirm.
- Excessive urination
- Excessive thirst
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Change in activity
- Vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite
If your cat is vomiting, lethargic and/or displays a loss of appetite, they should be taken to the vet as soon as possible. These are symptoms that occur later in cats with diabetes and can be dangerous if left untreated.
How to Manage Feline Diabetes
Feline diabetes is a manageable condition but requires a combination of insulin treatments, glucose monitoring, and diet change to keep the disease in check. With treatment, you should be able to get your cat’s blood sugar levels back to the normal range, and potentially even enter remission.
About 50 to 75% of cats will need insulin injections at some point to help regulate their blood sugar levels; however, they may not be needed permanently. With proper diet and nutrition, you may be able to transition your cat off of insulin treatments over time. Before beginning insulin therapy your veterinarian will do blood and urine tests and a physical evaluation to establish dosages.
Although owners are able to inject insulin at home, you shouldn’t adjust the amount without first talking to your vet. Too much insulin can cause blood sugar to drop dangerously low.
In the beginning stages of feline diabetes, pet owners can expect to spend around $20-30 per month on supplies and insulin. That cost can decrease as the disease is better managed.
Monitoring your cat’s blood sugar levels at home is becoming more common. It likely won’t replace periodic visits to your vet’s office, but can help in tracking your cat’s progress and treatments.
Here’s a sample of items to be tracked when monitoring glucose:
- Time and amount of insulin injection
- Time and amount of food eaten
- Amount of water drunk
- Weight of cat (weekly)
At home urine tests for cats are also available. While it won’t help with insulin tracking, these tests can show the amount of glucose found in the urine. You can also monitor blood sugar with a portable glucose meter or continuous glucose meter.
Low Carbohydrate Diet
Putting diabetic cats on a low carb, high protein diet can help control glucose levels. Whether your cat is overweight or underweight, you’ll need to use their diet to help maintain a healthy size. Luckily, these low carb diets aren’t far off from how your cats should already be eating! You’ll just have to pay a little more attention to nutritional labels when selecting their food.
The type of food and feeding time varies from vet to vet, so there may be some trial and error when finding the right times for your cat. Some vets recommend feeding cats right after an insulin dosage to avoid a drop in blood sugar. If your diabetic cat is underweight, they need feedings multiple times a day or access to food all the time.
Advice from Other Diabetic Cat Owners
It can feel overwhelming at times trying to establish new routines, treatments, and monitoring for your diabetic cat. There’s a popular message board — Feline Diabetes Message Board — for owners of diabetic cats that can be a helpful resource: https://felinediabetes.com/FDMB/. Discussions include announcements, insulin support groups, feline health and frequently asked questions about feline diabetes.
Remission in Cats
While feline diabetes isn’t curable, a large percentage of cats have the possibility to enter remission with proper treatment. Remission occurs when a cat’s blood sugar remains normal without insulin for a period of four weeks or more.
To increase the chances of remission, you should immediately start insulin therapy after the diagnosis, monitor and adjust insulin doses over time, and feed your cat a strictly low carb diet. Act quick; the longer you wait to start therapy, the less chance your cat has of entering remission.
How to Use a Glucose Meter
A portable glucose meter will require you to draw a drop of blood from the ear, paw pad or other area (consult with your vet before choosing) and then read with the monitoring device. These are easy to use and worth the investment.
To test a blood sample, follow these steps:
- Make sure your cat’s ear (or other area you’re pricking) is warm. It will make collecting the blood easier. Use your fingers to warm up the area if needed.
- Lightly prick a hairless part of the ear with a clean, sterile needle.
- Once a drop of blood appears, collect the sample on a glucose test strip (check the instructions on your kit for specifics).
- Press cotton or gauze on the puncture until it stops bleeding.
- Read the test strip according to the directions of your glucose monitoring device.
- Record the reading and share with your veterinarian.
Here’s a helpful video that shows these steps in more detail.
A continuous glucose meter is mostly used in hospitalized patients and needs to be put on cats by a vet or vet tech. It’s a device attached to the cat’s body that will continually monitor glucose levels for about two weeks.
What to Look for When Buying Diabetic Cat Food
With the correct nutrition, your diabetic cat can lead a healthy, long life. Once you find a diabetic cat food that ticks the appropriate boxes and works for your cat, consistency is key. Make sure to feed them the same amount of the same food every day. The same goes for treats. Diet plays a big role in the management of feline diabetes so consider the following when choosing foods for your cat:
Wet Cat Food
There’s a long-running debate among vets, nutritionists, and other pet professionals about whether cats should be eating wet food, dry food, or a combination of both.
In the case of diabetic cats, wet food is critical. Wet foods are typically lower in carbohydrates, easy to portion control, and can leave cats feeling fuller for longer (which is good if you have an overweight diabetic cat). Wet food also contains about 75% water, which helps keep cats, who naturally don’t drink much, hydrated.
If cost prohibits feeding 100% wet food, be sure to give a heaping scoop on top of all dry food meals.
Proteins From Meat
Cats are obligate carnivores that require meat to survive. Their systems aren’t great at digesting plant proteins, so look carefully at the nutritional label when choosing foods for your diabetic cat. Purchase foods that list meat, poultry, or seafood as the first few ingredients.
Low Carbohydrate Content
For diabetic cats, a low carb diet is critical to their sustained health and wellbeing. When a cat eats carbs, their blood sugar level spikes, leading to a need for more insulin.
This is also why wet cat foods are better for a diabetic cat. Many dry foods are higher in carbs due to added plant-based proteins and grains in their recipes.
Calculating the Carb Percentage in Food
Some cat food labels will include the amount of carbohydrates in the Guaranteed Analysis section. Ideally, you’re looking for wet cat food with less than 10% carbs for diabetic cats, although some cats may require less than 5%. If carbs aren’t included on the label use the below equation to figure it out.
100 – (Crude Protein % + Crude Fat % + Crude Fiber % + Ash % + Moisture %) = Carbohydrate %
If “ash” isn’t included on the label use an estimate of 3% for canned foods and 6% for dry foods. Veterinarian Lisa A. Pierson compiled a chart of wet foods along with their protein, fat, and carb percentages. This can be a useful tool when trying to figure out which type of wet foods are good for a diabetic cat. (note: this chart is a few years old, so double check with your own calculations)
If your diabetic cat is overweight, it’s important to monitor their calorie intake so they can lose the excess weight gradually. Additionally, sometimes low carb cat foods — particularly dry foods — can be high in calories which make it hard for your cat to shed pounds.
If your cat is underweight, you can choose a food that is higher in caloric count in order to help them bulk up. If you aren’t sure about the right diet for your cat, consult your veterinarian.
What to Watch Out for When Buying Diabetic Cat Food
Avoid cat foods that list liver as the first ingredient; it’s fine in small quantities but can cause problems when eaten in larger amounts. Tuna should also be minimized in your cat’s diet.
Gravy and Sauces
Look out for foods with “gravy” in the name or description. That’s usually an indicator that the manufacturer has used starch thickeners (flour) in the recipe that are high in carbohydrates.
Specialized or Prescription Diet Foods
While some vets may recommend a prescription diet for your cat, there are many commercial foods available with the proper carb and protein balance (6 out of 7 options on this list aren’t prescription). In fact, some prescription foods don’t even contain special medications designed to treat diabetes and can have high carb levels.
Making Your Own Diabetic Cat Food
If you want to make your own diabetic cat food, be sure to do some research first. Ensure that the recipe you’re making is providing a balanced and nutritious meal for your cat.
Making your own food can be a labor and cost intensive process, only to find that your cat doesn’t like the food! There are other considerations including: raw or cooked meats, supplements, bones/no bones, storage, and more that should be researched.
Transitioning Your Cat to a New Diet
If your cat isn’t on insulin, you could switch up their food in a few days by slowly transitioning to the new food. Once your cat has adjusted to the new diet, you can see if there’s an impact on their blood sugar. Just don’t wait too long to get them started on insulin; you should speak with your vet about exact timing.
If your cat is already taking insulin, you’ll need to incorporate home glucose testing and monitoring to ensure your cat’s blood sugar stays level. It’s safest to discuss a switch to a new diet with your vet first, to avoid putting your cat at risk for hypoglycemia or other life-threatening side effects.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are diabetic cats treated?
Diabetic cats are typically treated with a combination of insulin therapy and a modified, low carbohydrate diet.
What is diabetic cat food?
Any food that is low in carbohydrates, high in animal-based protein, and contains low/moderate fats is considered suitable for a diabetic cat. Wet cat foods are ideal. Some brands offer veterinary formulas, but this isn’t always necessary.
Is diabetic cat food healthy?
Yes, as long as you do your research. Finding the right food that is low in carbs and high in animal-based protein is healthy for cats.
Can I switch my cat to a low carb diet immediately?
It depends. If your cat isn’t already on insulin treatments, you can safely switch their diet to something with lower carbs over a few days. If your cat is already on insulin, it can be dangerous to abruptly switch and may cause hypoglycemia. Consult your veterinarian before making the change.
What is the best diet for diabetic cats?
A diet low in carbohydrates, and high in protein — particularly animal-based proteins such as meat, poultry or seafood. Also be sure to read the nutritional labels as some food makers will substitute extra fat instead of carbohydrates.
Will I have to monitor my cat’s glucose levels?
Yes, it’s important to monitor your cat’s blood sugar levels in order to see if their insulin therapy and diet modifications are working. Continually monitoring/adjusting therapy also increases the odds of entering diabetic remission.
Can feline diabetes go into remission?
Yes, remission is possible for many, but not all cats. To have the highest chance of remission, start insulin therapy soon after a diabetes diagnosis, and feed your cat a strict low carb diet.
Our Picks for the Best Cat Food for Diabetic Cats
1. Tiki Cat Queen Emma Luau Wet Cat Food
The Tiki Cat Luau line of wet cat foods is a best bet for diabetic cats. It has some of the lowest carbohydrate content of any food we reviewed (with multiple flavors having literally zero carbs), and is grain free, preservative free, and affordably priced.
- Wet cat food with shredded meat in broth
- Very low carbohydrate content suitable for diabetic cats (0-8% depending on the flavor)
- Complete and balanced diet with essential vitamins, minerals, and taurine
- Well priced given the quality of ingredients
- No wheat, soy, corn, MSG, carrageenan, or artificial flavors
- Available in six different flavors
- Picky cats may not like all the flavors in the variety pack
2. Purina Pro Plan DM Dietetic Management Wet Cat Food
Purina’s DM Dietetic Management is the top rated cat food specifically formulated for diabetic cats. This low carb food promotes healthy blood glucose levels, and includes a number of essential vitamins and minerals. A quick heads up: Purina DM requires your vet’s approval in order to purchase.
- Wet cat food formulated for diabetic cats
- Low 6% carbohydrate level, with high protein
- Requires veterinarian authorization; pet and veterinarian information required at checkout and Chewy will follow up with them
- Suitable for all breeds and life stages
- Fights against struvite and calcium oxalate crystals
- Includes a host of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants
- Made in collaboration with nutritionists and veterinarians
- As with any veterinarian prescribed diet, there are specific instructions to follow for your cat’s safety. Speak with your vet before starting this new food plan.
3. Purina Fancy Feast Classic Pate
If you’re looking for an affordable option for your diabetic cat, take a look at the Fancy Feast Classic Paté line of wet food. While it doesn’t have certain high-end ingredients like some expensive brands, many vets recommend Fancy Feast as a great option to control or even reverse feline diabetes. Just be sure to buy the “classic paté” or some of the “wild naturals” types, as the Fancy Feast gravy options are too high in carbohydrates.
- Grain free wet cat food in classic paté
- Low carbohydrate content suitable for diabetic cats (5-8% depending on the flavor)
- Available in three flavors: beef, chicken, and turkey & giblets
- Affordable diabetic cat food option
- Complete and balanced recipe
- Includes a number of vitamins and minerals
- Manufactured in the USA
- Higher fat content compared with other options
4. ZIWI Peak Wet Cat Food – Rabbit & Lamb
Looking for a premium food option for your diabetic cat? ZIWI Peak is a highly rated, loaf style wet food that’s low in carbs and high in protein. All ingredients are ethically sourced, including New Zealand free-range lamb and wild caught rabbit.
- Wet cat food in a chunky loaf style
- Made with grass-fed New Zealand lamb, and wild caught rabbit
- Low 6% carbohydrate level suitable for diabetic cats
- Complete and balanced formula for all breeds and life stages
- Includes New Zealand Green Mussels, a natural source of chondroitin and glucosamine for joint health
- Made without grains, rice, soy, potatoes, wheat, other fillers, or preservatives
- All meat is ethically sourced and antibiotic free
- Pricier than other wet cat foods
- Food has a strong smell
5. Friskies Classic Paté – Country Style Dinner
Another highly rated, affordable option is the Friskies Classic Paté. This wet food comes in a variety of flavors across meat, poultry, and seafood recipes. When buying Friskies, be sure to stick to the paté style, as other options are too high in carbs for a diabetic cat.
- Wet cat food in a paté style
- Country Style Dinner recipe has a 10% carbohydrate percentage
- Available in a variety of flavors
- Affordably priced cat food
- Complete and balanced nutritional profile with vitamins and minerals
- Supports urinary health
- Made in the USA
- Not grain free- ingredients include rice
- While still low, Friskies has a higher carb percentage compared with other options on our list
6. Weruva Classic Wet Cat Food – Outback Grill
Weruva Classic Wet Food in Outback Grill is made with high quality ingredients from a family owned cat food company. The food has a high protein, grain free formula, with a 1% carbohydrate content that’s one of the lowest we found.
- Grain free wet cat food with sardines and seabass
- One of the lowest carb percentages we found at 1%, suitable for cats on a diabetic diet
- No gluten, carrageenan, soy, wheat, or barley
- Sardine is the first ingredient
- Made in USDA approved facilities
- Available in 3 oz and 5.5 oz cans
- Pricier than other options on our list
7. Purina Fancy Feast Gourmet Naturals – Alaskan Salmon Paté
Fancy Feast’s Gourmet Naturals Salmon recipe is a wet cat food paté made with wild Alaskan salmon as the first ingredient. It’s an affordable option that’s low in carbohydrates, and offers a complete and balanced nutritional profile.
- Grain free, wet cat food in salmon recipe
- Natural ingredients with added vitamins and minerals
- Wild Alaskan salmon is the first ingredient
- Low 9% carbohydrate percentage
- One of the most affordable low carb options
- Complete and balanced formula for cats
- Higher fat content compared with other options
- For those looking for purely seafood, this option does contain chicken
Understanding Feline Diabetes
Tips for Feeding and Choosing Food
More Cat Product Reviews: