Nearly everyone who knows anything about cats knows that our feline friends are obligate carnivores. This fact is often cited as the reason why cats should eat meat and only meat. It’s also used to support the belief that any food containing an amount of carbohydrates that exceeds the level found in cats’ natural diet in the wild will cause obesity and, worse yet, diabetes. But does eating dry cat food really cause cats to develop diabetes?
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What have we learned about cats, carbs and disease?
Although several studies have investigated the risk factors for diabetes and the link between carbohydrates in cat diets and various health issues, there’s still much more to be learned.
Speaking at the 2015 North American Veterinary Community Conference, board-certified veterinary nutritionists Martha Cline and Andrea Fascetti (who’s also a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist) addressed the cat and carbohydrate conundrum, including whether carbs in food cause diabetes in cats.1 Their review of the veterinary research literature identified several studies looking into the connection between carbohydrates in food and feline diabetes, including cats’ blood glucose and insulin responses. Here are some of the relevant study findings they presented:
- In a study in which cats were fed six experimental diets, each containing a different plant-based starch (a type of carbohydrate), the results suggest starch had less effect on cats’ glucose and insulin responses than those of dogs and people.
- The amount of carbohydrates present in today’s commercial cat foods hasn’t been shown to cause elevated blood glucose levels in cats.
- Three population studies — using a S.-based colony of cats, insured cats in the United Kingdom and client-owned cats in the Netherlands — did not find that feeding dry cat food long-term caused diabetes in cats. What the studies did show is that lack of physical activity, indoor lifestyle, gender, breed and a high-fat (but not high-carb) diet were factors leading to increased weight and diabetes.
Do carb-rich diets cause diabetes in cats?
Based on the available evidence — which greatly exceeds what’s been presented here — veterinary nutrition experts believe that eating dry cat food is not a risk factor for diabetes in cats. What research has shown is that obesity, age and lack of activity are the main contributors to insulin resistance and diabetes in cats. So, if you want to reduce your furry friend’s risk of diabetes, you’ll want to feed him or her so that they maintain an ideal (or optimal) body condition and make sure they get plenty of activity.
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Dry cat foods containing moderate to high levels of carbohydrates also don’t cause obesity in cats. Consuming too many calories and inactivity lead to excessive weight and obesity. In fact, low-carbohydrate foods may be more likely to cause a cat to become overweight if they’re higher in fat than regular diets.
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Cat owners today have access to a wealth of information about what and how they should feed their pets. Some of that information can be confusing and even misleading. You can rest assured that as our knowledge of the cat diet–health connection grows, the variety of foods available for your cat will continue to expand, making it even more important to base pet food choices on good information. Your veterinarian is an excellent source of information about cat nutrition, so don’t hesitate to share your concerns and ask plenty of questions.
- Fascetti AJ, Cline MG. The cat and carbohydrate conundrum — what have we learned from science, research, and clinical experience? Proceedings of the North American Veterinary Community Conference; January 17-21, 2015; Orlando, FL. http://www.vetfolio.com/nutrition/the-cat-and-carbohydrate-conundrum-what-have-we-learned-from-science-research-and-clinical-experience. Accessed March 24, 2017.