Can Your Kitty’s Sweet Tooth Lead to Diabetes?


Feline diabetes is a growing health concern for cat owners. According to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the prevalence of diabetes in cats has increased 18% from 2006 to 2016. This means nearly 1 in 100 cats will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.

As a cat owner, you may wonder – can too many treats cause diabetes in cats? With obesity being a major risk factor for feline diabetes, it’s natural to question if too many treats could lead to this disease. In this article, we’ll explore the link between treats and diabetes, signs your cat may be getting too many treats, recommended daily limits, and tips to give treats safely.

What is Feline Diabetes?

Feline diabetes is a chronic disease in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or the body cannot use insulin properly, resulting in high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) (source). Insulin is needed to move glucose from the blood into the cells to be used for energy.

In cats, diabetes is usually caused by a lack of effective insulin, rather than lack of insulin production. This is referred to as type 2 diabetes and is the most common form in cats (source).

Common symptoms of feline diabetes include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, weight loss, and fatigue. Symptoms develop gradually over weeks to months as blood glucose levels rise.

Risk Factors for Feline Diabetes

There are several key risk factors that can increase a cat’s likelihood of developing diabetes:

Obesity/Overweight: Carrying excess weight is one of the biggest risk factors for feline diabetes. Overweight cats are up to 4 times more likely to develop diabetes compared to cats at a healthy weight (1). Excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, which strains the pancreas and inhibits its ability to produce or utilize insulin properly.

Breed: Certain cat breeds are more prone to developing diabetes, including Burmese, Russian Blues, Norwegian Forest Cats, and Abyssinians (2). Genetics may play a role in the increased risk seen in these breeds.

Age: Older cats are at higher risk for diabetes, with most cases occurring in cats over the age of 10. The natural aging process can impair pancreatic function and insulin sensitivity (3).

Other factors like physical inactivity, stress, and medications can also impact a cat’s diabetes risk. Carefully monitoring weight, diet, and overall health is key to diabetes prevention.


The Link Between Treats and Diabetes

Many cat treats are high in carbohydrates and calories. The carbohydrate count in some popular cat treats can range from 30-60% or more. Feeding too many treats can lead to excessive calorie intake, weight gain, and insulin resistance.

Obesity is one of the main risk factors for diabetes in cats. The excess body fat interferes with the body’s ability to respond to insulin. Obese cats are up to 4 times more likely to develop diabetes compared to cats at an optimal weight.

Excess calorie consumption from treats causes cats to gain weight. Just a few extra treats per day can lead to gradual weight gain over time. The average 10 lb cat only needs about 240-350 calories per day. Yet, some popular cat treats contain 25-35 calories per treat.

As cats gain excess weight, they become more prone to developing insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, the cat’s body is unable to properly utilize insulin. The cells fail to respond normally to insulin’s action. This results in elevated blood glucose levels characterizing diabetes.

By limiting treats and helping cats maintain a healthy weight, you can reduce the risk of obesity-related diabetes in cats. Check treat labels and aim for low calorie options under 10 calories per treat.

Recommended Daily Treat Limits

Experts recommend limiting treats to no more than 5-10% of your cat’s daily calories. According to Purina, treats should not make up more than 10% of your cat’s total daily food intake.

For an average 10 lb cat, this would equal around 20-30 calories from treats per day. As Gallant Pet Care notes, depending on the size of the treat, this could be 2-3 small treats or 1 larger treat per day.

It’s also important to consider your cat’s overall diet. If your cat is overweight or diabetic, your vet may recommend even fewer treats or no treats at all.

Overall, the key is moderation when it comes to treats. Treats should be an occasional extra, not a regular part of your cat’s diet.

Tips for Giving Treats Safely

To ensure treats don’t contribute to your cat becoming overweight or developing diabetes, it’s important to be mindful of how you give treats. Here are some tips:

Choose low-calorie treats – Look for treats that are lower in fat, calories, and carbohydrates. Some good options are freeze-dried meat treats, chicken or tuna flakes, and treats made with high protein and fiber. “Unlike commercially prepared cat foods, cat treats are NOT complete and balanced.”

Use treats for activity and playtime – Giving treats during or after playtime or a training session can encourage physical activity. You can also hide or scatter treats around for your cat to hunt and forage.

Limit portions – Only give a few treats at a time, even for “low calorie” options. Follow package instructions and start with smaller amounts.

Avoid too much human food – Things like cheese, deli meat, and bacon can be high in fat and salt. Only give human treats occasionally and in very small quantities.

Pay attention to your cat’s response – If your cat seems overly excited or demanding for treats, it’s a sign to cut back.

Follow a consistent schedule – Giving treats at the same times each day makes it easier to limit portions.

Signs Your Cat May Be Getting Too Many Treats

There are a few key signs that may indicate your cat is getting too many treats in their diet. According to Pawtracks, the top signs your cat is getting too many treats include:

  • Weight gain – Cat treats are typically high in calories, so too many treats can quickly lead to obesity.
  • Lethargy – An overly high-calorie diet can reduce your cat’s energy levels and cause lethargy.
  • Constantly begging – If your cat begs for treats regularly throughout the day, it’s a sign they are becoming dependent on getting extra treats.

Weight gain is one of the most obvious signs, as the excess calories from treats will quickly accumulate. Obesity puts cats at higher risk for diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and other problems. So monitoring your cat’s weight and body condition is important.

Excessive lethargy or laying around can also occur when an unbalanced diet provides too many empty calories from treats. Energy levels may drop if the diet is not providing adequate nutrition.

Finally, cats who have gotten accustomed to regular treats will often begin begging more persistently. While cute, this constant treat-seeking behavior is a clue your cat may be getting too many unneeded calories from treats.

Dietary Changes if Your Cat is Diabetic

If your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, making some changes to their diet can help manage the condition. According to Nutrition for Cats With Diabetes, high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods are ideal for many cats with diabetes.

Switching to a low-carb cat food specifically formulated for diabetic cats can help regulate blood sugar levels. Look for wet or dry foods with increased protein (at least 30-40%), moderate fat (15-20%), and low carbohydrates (less than 10%). Wellness CORE Grain-Free Canned Cat Food and Royal Canin Glycobalance Cat Food are two vet-recommended options.

Equally important is sticking to a consistent feeding schedule, such as meal feeding the same portions at the same times each day. This helps stabilize blood glucose concentrations. Cats should also always have access to fresh, clean water. Avoid free-feeding dry food, which can lead to overeating and obesity.

As always, work closely with your veterinarian to develop the optimal dietary plan for your individual cat. With the right nutrition and care, many cats with diabetes can live long and healthy lives.

Treatment Options for Feline Diabetes

The main treatment options for feline diabetes focus on managing blood glucose levels. The two primary treatments are insulin injections and a weight loss program.

Insulin Therapy

Injectable insulin is the most common treatment for feline diabetes. Cats with diabetes require supplemental insulin injections to regulate their blood glucose levels, similar to humans with type 1 diabetes. Most cats require insulin injections twice per day, approximately every 12 hours[1].

There are several types of injectable insulin that can be prescribed by a veterinarian. The goal is to find the optimal insulin type and dose to maintain stable blood glucose levels in the cat. Regular blood glucose monitoring at home and vet checkups are necessary to ensure the insulin therapy is working properly[1].

Insulin injections are a lifelong treatment in most diabetic cats. However, some cats can go into remission after beginning insulin therapy. A remission rate of 25-40% has been reported in cats after initiating insulin treatment and getting blood glucose stabilization[2].

Weight Loss Program

Obesity is a major risk factor for feline diabetes. Carrying excess weight can make diabetes harder to control. Therefore, weight loss is often recommended as part of the treatment plan for overweight or obese diabetic cats[2].

A veterinary-prescribed weight loss program will restrict calories and increase activity. Portion-controlled feeding, calorie-restricted diets, and more playtime can help cats gradually shed excess pounds. Weight loss of just 10-15% can lead to improved insulin sensitivity and better diabetic control[3].

Regular weigh-ins will monitor progress with the weight loss program. Diet and activity may need ongoing adjustments to facilitate continued weight loss and maintenance of goal weight.




The Takeaway

While treats can be a fun part of your cat’s diet, too many high-calorie treats can increase their risk for obesity and diabetes. The key is moderation. Follow recommended daily treat limits, choose low-calorie options, and reserve treats for special occasions. Focus on providing a nutritious primary diet based on high-protein, low-carb cat food. Monitor your cat for signs of weight gain or diabetes. With a balanced, healthy diet and active lifestyle, your feline friend can enjoy treats without endangering their health.

The bottom line is that treats should be an occasional extra, not a dietary staple. By being mindful of treat frequency, portion size, and nutrition, you can help your cat maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of diabetes and other weight-related conditions. A few treats here and there are usually fine, but make them count by choosing options your cat will love that also provide nutritional value.

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