Diabetes isn’t an easy diagnosis. Twice-daily insulin injections, frequent vet visits and the worry about your cat all add up quickly. Luckily, choosing a good diet can go a long way to help manage feline diabetes. In some cases, weight loss and dietary management may even stop your cat from requiring insulin.
Feline diabetes is a disease of getting energy to the cells. In a healthy cat, insulin tells the cells to take in glucose for energy. When a cat has diabetes, the cells are resistant to the insulin signal. It takes a much higher level of insulin for the cells to take in glucose.
Warning About Changing Food
If your cat is already receiving insulin, do not change food without veterinary supervision. The insulin dose that was determined for your cat is completely dependent on the type of food they were eating at the time. Switching to one of the diets listed here without changing the insulin dose can result in insulin overdose, hypoglycemia, and even death.
If your cat is not yet on insulin, changing the diet is not a problem. Make any dietary changes gradually, over at least one week. Once your cat is used to the new diet, speak to your veterinarian about beginning insulin.
What Makes a Good Food for Feline Diabetes?
Diabetic cats should be on a low-carbohydrate, high carnitine diet.
Cats are carnivores and their bodies are not adapted to high levels of dietary glucose, which comes from carbohydrates. High carbohydrate diets are linked to feline diabetes. This means that diabetic cats should ideally not be fed dry cat food, as all dry food is high in carbohydrates.
The other aspect of dietary management of diabetes is finding non-glucose energy sources for the cells. Studies have shown that L-Carnitine supplements help the cells use fatty acids for energy. The best natural sources of L-Carnitine are red meats. Cat foods we recommend have beef, venison or lamb as their primary protein.
Ensuring an Honest and Safe Pet Food
In regards to red-meat protein in cat food, we were extremely careful to investigate companies. Every food on this list met strict standards for reliable manufacturing and quality control.
At various times, tests by the FDA or USDA have revealed that the protein source listed on a pet food was not in-fact what was in the food. This is especially common in red meat, as euthanized horses can end up sold as “beef” to naive or indifferent manufacturers. This has caused several major pet food recalls, as recently as 2017.
Numerous brands that look great “on paper” were excluded from our recommendations because we were not confident in their supply chain. That being said, let’s commend the following good guys:
Best Overall Diabetic Cat Food: Instinct Original Grain-Free Real Beef
Best All-Natural Diabetic Cat Food
Instinct Original Grain-Free Real Beef
This food is 95% beef. No messing around with cheaper proteins or carbohydrate fillers. The dry matter carbohydrate content is 5.4% in this food. The small amount of carbohydrates primarily comes from peas and carrots. These foods provide complex carbohydrates, which digest more slowly and provide more stable glucose levels. This is a huge plus in diabetic cats.
This food is similar price-range to prescription diabetes canned cat food. However, it contains more meat and less carbohydrates. Many would consider it a much better value.
Most cats enjoy the flavor of this food, but as with any paté texture there are some picky eaters. If it isn’t initially a hit, try mashing with a fork or warming the food. The change in texture and increased smell makes many cats fall in love.
Nature’s Variety, the company that makes Instinct, can be summed up in one simple word: Quality. Nature’s Variety started out making raw food diets, which simply have to have extremely tight quality control.
They contract out the manufacturing of their canned foods, but they keep a very close eye on the manufacturer. Interviews with a former employee at a production facility used by Nature’s Variety revealed that they had the highest production line cleaning and quality check standards of any pet food company using that facility.
The company is corporate-structured and was purchased by a Spanish pet food company in 2016. However, it is clear that they have never lost sight of their mission. They have an in-house R&D department and regularly hold a nutrition council with veterinarians, food scientists, and animal nutritionists to review the product line.
Best Diabetic Cat Food With A Variety of Flavors: Instinct Original Grain-Free Beef, Lamb or Venison
Also worth mentioning is that Instinct offers two red-meat flavors in addition to beef. For cats who grow tired of food flavors, we recommend these additional Instinct flavors.
The venison and lamb flavors are at a higher price, and the lamb version includes some turkey as a protein source. This is still great food, but the beef flavor will bring you better value for your dollar.
If you find that your diabetic cat doesn’t like beef or is allergic, these other Instinct products are a great option. Other brands may offer lamb or venison at a lower price, but numerous companies have had issues with quality control of their less common proteins.
Best Diabetic Cat Food on A Budget: Dave’s 95% Beef and Beef Liver
Dave’s Pet Food is on a mission to provide high-quality and affordable pet food. This food is about half of the cost of Instinct’s Real Beef, but with just as much beefy goodness. Carbohydrates sit at 6.2% on a dry matter basis. Higher than Instinct, but still very low.
It would be ideal to see fiber and carbohydrates provided by vegetables rather than the flaxseed and alfalfa, but this is hardly a major concern. Mentioning it is simply us being picky. But your cat might be picky too. Finicky eaters are hit and miss with this paté food.
Overall it’s one of the best wet cat foods for diabetic cats. The only reason Dave’s didn’t rank as the top food on our list, is because of the size of the company. If you live outside the New England area, it is nearly impossible to find this brand anywhere but online. The company outsources production to manufacturers with good reputations, but doesn’t have the resources for tight quality oversight.
Dollar for dollar, Dave’s Pet Food is great stuff. You cannot beat this price for an all-beef, low carbohydrate food. Thanks Dave!
Best Diabetic Cat Food With Shredded Texture: Weruva Steak Frites
We have mentioned this food before, as a top low-phosphorus food for cats. Perhaps we’re blinded by love, but we think Weruva has struck an amazing balance of nutrition, flavor and quality with this beef canned food.
Although it is the most expensive beef food on the list, the price is only just above Instinct Real Beef when you consider you are getting a 6 oz can instead of 5.5 oz.
Carbohydrate levels are at a low 7.5% on a dry matter basis, a nice low number. Most of the carbohydrates come from complex sources, but they did include potato starch. Ideally, this simple carbohydrate should be avoided, but it is likely added for texture to make the food more palatable to cats.
All of the protein comes from beef, so you know carnitine levels are high. No cheaper proteins were mixed in. Just pure red meat here.
Shredded texture is hard to come buy in red meat formulas. Weruva has clearly considered making this food tasty to texture-driven cats. A shredded texture is preferred by most cats, but as you already know, every cat is different.
Weruva is a family owned business with no recalls in their history. They manufacturer their canned foods in a facility in Thailand that also manufactures human foods, such as canned tuna sold all around the world. They offer an extremely safe, quality product.
Best Trusted Name Diabetic Cat Food: Purina Pro Plan Classic Beef and Carrots (Paté) and Purina Pro Plan True Nature Natural Beef and Liver (Chunks in Gravy)
These foods offer beef as the primary ingredient and both are under 8% in carbohydrates on a dry matter basis. As a brand, Purina has relatively low carbohydrate content in their canned foods. Pro Plan is their high-end line of products, meaning a high meat content.
The price of this food is mid-range, certainly more cost effective than the all-natural style brands. The “Classic Beef and Carrots Paté” is available in larger cans, so it can end up more cost effective than “Natural Beef and Liver Chunks in Gravy.”
Unfortunately, only these two flavors have high red-meat content and very low carbohydrate content. Many Purina “chunks in gravy” style canned foods use corn starch or vegetable starch to thicken the sauce. Most beef paté foods have significant amounts of other protein sources added in. If you are buying these foods in-person, make sure to buy these exact flavors.
Cats seem to like this food as much as any other, with the “chunks in gravy” on average a bigger hit than the “paté.” That’s good too, because the “chunks in gravy” formula has a lower carbohydrate content than the paté formula.
Purina is a subsidiary of Nestlé, a company without the best track record for ethics. However, being part of a large company, Purina has the resources for tightly controlled safety and quality. Purina does all of their production in-house and a safety recall is extremely rare. You can rest assured that all of their brands are well-manufactured.
However, they don’t come anywhere close to the investment in nutrition and research that similar pet foods such as Hill’s and Royal Cannin have. It just happens in this case they have stumbled onto a recipe that is excellent for diabetic cats. Purina overall does an excellent job of producing safe food that cats want to eat at every price point.
Best Diabetic Cat Food on a “Ramen Noodle” Budget: Friskies Prime Fillets with Beef In Gravy
Friskies is made by Purina, who has overall good production standards, but this food is designed to be as cost-effective as possible. This is not a food we recommend feeding your diabetic cat. However, we know that not everyone has the luxury of buying the best cat food.
The main ingredient in this food is beef and the dry matter carbohydrate content is 16%. This is high by diabetic standards, but is relatively low for cat food at this price. The texture is also shredded chunks, which most cats will prefer to a paté texture.
Most of the carbohydrates are starches, which is not ideal for diabetics. Glucose will spike more rapidly after a meal when starches are included.
Diabetic cats should be on an all wet food diet, and we know the cost can add up quickly. Rather than having a cat owner blindly picking a low-cost food, we wanted to offer some direction with this recommendation.
In a perfect world all diabetic cats would be on a wet food diet. Dry cat food is too dense in calories and too high in carbohydrates to be given to a diabetic cat. However, some cats will simply refuse to eat wet cat food.
There are many techniques to try to get a cat to eat wet food. Simply stopping dry food is not a method. Cats will starve themselves in the presence of food they don’t like, which is especially risky if they have diabetes.
Experimenting with wet food textures and flavors, feeding dry food in meals, and warming the canned food are all techniques to get your cat to enjoy wet food. With some patience, you can get almost any cat to switch. However, if your cat absolutely refuses to give up the kibbles, here are some best dry foods for diabetic cat to choose from.
Best Trusted Name Diabetic Cat Dry Food: Hill’s Prescription m/d GlucoSupport
If your cat simply has to eat dry food, we recommend going for the prescription option. Hill’s has an excellent track record with their prescription food, and are currently the only company to supplement L-carnitine into their diabetic diet.
The carbohydrate content of this food is 18%, remarkably low for a dry food. This food has a high fiber content to help keep your cat feeling full, which can help with weight loss and portion size. The limited carbohydrates that are in this food primarily come from corn, which is thought to have less of a glucose spike effect than other grains or potatoes.
Overall cat owners who have used this food are really happy with it. Most cats seem to like the taste and it really does a lot for glucose control. Hill’s extensively researches their veterinary products, so if they make a specific claim you can guarantee it is backed up by a study.
Hill’s Science Diet can be a controversial figure in pet nutrition, but as is true with most things, the answer isn’t black or white. They are owned by Colgate-Palmolive so they must answer to the bottom line, but they also have the resources to invest in research, new technologies and the veterinary nutritionists.
Hill’s doesn’t outsource their production so that they can maintain high quality control. They use their large knowledge base of manufacturing to run a tight ship. However, their size has the drawback of being slow to change, as any minor formula adjustment is a huge supply chain overhaul. They also have a strong corporate incentive to keep costs down, so formulas often use cost-effective ingredients.
This food requires a prescription from a veterinarian, so if you are interested, be sure to discuss it at your visit. You can still buy it online, but most retailers will require proof of prescription.
Best All-Natural Diabetic Cat Dry Food: Farmina Natural and Delicious Lamb Grain Free
This food has some of the absolute lowest carbohydrate levels for a red-meat containing dry diet. Carbohydrates are at the ultra-low, for dry food, 17% as fed. Lamb content is undeniably high in this kibble.
Despite this food coming all the way from Italy, the price per pound is just under the cost of a prescription diabetic cat food. The company had been around for some time, but is relatively new on the US market, so it is unlikely you will find this food in big chain retail stores.
Most cats seem to like the taste of this food, so it should be a hit in your house. The only criticism we have is the carbohydrates come from potatoes, which due to their high starch content, will cause some glucose spiking. However, this is almost inevitable with any dry cat food. The overall low total carbohydrate content will minimize the effect.
This company is family owned and has been in the pet food business since 1999. Farmina owns their own production facilities, which is always a good sign. As far as we can tell they have never had a US recall. They invest in nutrition research and actually have looked at how different diets affect glucose levels in cats.
You can even contact them for a nutrition consult. (But it’s not clear if you get a salesperson or a real animal nutritionist. We’d like to think that any difficult nutrition questions go to their in-house nutritionists.) In-company research is a real benefit over most natural pet food companies, who typically hire animal nutritionists on a one-time freelance basis.
Best Diabetic Cat Dry Food on A Budget: Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Sensitive Skin and Stomach Lamb and Rice
This food has an excellent price considering that the carbohydrate content is only 23%. At under half the cost of prescription food we recommend this food if you are on a tight budget.
The added bonus of sensitive stomach is great, but isn’t what we were considering when we chose this food. Rice was likely used as the main carbohydrate source because it is easy on the stomach, but it will likely cause some glucose spikes in a diabetic cat. However, the high lamb content is a huge plus for this food, as your cat is sure to get a decent helping of L-carnitine.
Purina invests a lot of effort into making sure their foods are highly palatable to cats, and this one is no exception. Hardly any reviews indicate that cats didn’t like the food. If you have a diabetic cat who is finicky eater or has a sensitive stomach this food should be a hit.