The following information was presented at the Western States Veterinary Conference in Reno NV, February 2002 by:
Deborah S. Greco DVM, PhD
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO
Diabetic neuropathy is a condition found in diabetic cats. This is usually a reversible condition where the nerve fibers are affected by the diabetes. This can be seen as one of the first signs of diabetes, or most commonly, in cats who are not properly regulated, and are given high levels of insulin. Symptoms include attitude change, hyperesthesia, painful legs, the appearance of walking on eggs (may resemble arthritis), inappropriate elimination (the cat cannot get into the litter box or up/down the stairs), litter is found on the rear of the back legs, and the plantigrade stance where the cat is walking or standing on the back of the rear leg. The front legs may also be affected appearing as a weakness in the wrist area.
The goal of dietary treatment for diabetes is to reduce the amount of insulin needed. If the insulin level in the cat's body is lower, the diabetic neuropathy which occurs due to high insulin levels can resolve. In the past, canned diets high in dietary fiber were recommended for diabetic cats. More recent studies have suggested that the diet of cats should be high in protein and fat, and low in carbohydrates. These nutrient levels are typically found in kitten foods (especially canned) or in new diets made specifically for diabetic cats (such as Purina Veterinary Diet DM). A starch blocker called acarbose may be added to the treatment regimen. Initial studies using a canned high protein/low carbohydrate diet (Hill’s Feline Growth) and the acarbose have shown that 58% of cats can discontinue insulin injections and those with continued insulin requirements could be regulated on a much lower dosage (1 unit twice daily). In comparing canned high fiber diets vs low carbohydrate diets, cats fed low carbohydrate diets were 10 times more likely to discontinue insulin injections.
Weight reduction in obese diabetic cats is also recommended. Cats should be fed no more than 30 kcal/lb of ideal body weight in two equal meals per day. Caution should be used when initially changing from dry to canned foods, since insulin requirements may decrease dramatically; and a reduction in insulin dosage may be required. For more information on diabetes in cats see Diabetes and Glucose Control.