Why is starch such a big problem for your cat?

Starch is likely the biggest nutritional hurdle for our cats. Although starch has the same amount of calories as protein, it definitely digests faster than protein. You cat’s metabolism runs at the same rate that animal protein and fat will digest. The energy/glucose derived from digestion of protein and fat will enter the blood stream of your cat at the same rate that your cat uses that glucose to fuel the needs of their body. It is a zero sum game, no deficit or gain of net energy; everything remains synchronized and your cat’s weight remains constant. For balance to occur a ratio of 2 parts protein to 1 part fat is necessary.

Now let’s throw starch into the diet of your cat, something your cat is unprepared to handle on a long term basis. Starch digests several times faster than protein and therefore dumps more glucose into the cat’s blood stream than they can use to fuel their metabolism at any given time. If the cat is unable to remove that excess glucose from the blood, they are considered diabetic and will need insulin injections in order to live. However, it usually takes many years of starch abuse before the pancreas is damaged severely enough for the cat to become diabetic.

By feeding excess starch, you are forcing your cat to over produce insulin in order to remove the excess glucose from his blood. Since the cat has no way to excrete the excess glucose, his only choice is to produce excess insulin to store the high glucose and turn it into fat. This process continues day after day and year after year as your cat steadily gains weight, but the excess weight is not the only thing that is happening to your kitty.

Because the pancreas is working overtime to remove the excess glucose from the blood, it becomes damaged. At some point, the pancreas can no longer keep up with the glucose load and your cat becomes diabetic. Unfortunately, most of us do not notice the condition until excessive weight loss and excessive urination is occurring. Now you have a problem that needs immediate attention.

What can you do for your newly diagnosed diabetic cat?

Basically, you have two options. The first is to put your cat on insulin and try to control the diabetes. Often times, the vet will give you one of the prescription diets, but they still contain starch and that will guarantee that the insulin becomes a necessity.

The second option is to immediately place the cat on a diet that contains less than one percent starch, like one of our ZERO foods. Newly diagnosed diabetic cats have a high remission rate on our ZERO formulas. Within two to six weeks, with only a diet change, they can be insulin free. Think of it this way; your cat’s pancreas has been compromised, but the question is by how much. Maybe your cat cannot handle a diet containing twenty percent starch, but they likely can still handle a diet containing less than one percent starch. It just depends on how damaged the pancreas and receptors have become.

If the cat’s glucose numbers have not significantly reduced within the first two weeks, it may be time to consider insulin. One caveat, if your cat has ketones, neuropathy or other severe secondary symptoms or the blood glucose readings are greater than 550 when diagnosed, it is usually best to start with both insulin and a diet change. Cats are very good at handling higher than normal glucose levels so most of the time insulin is not an urgent necessity. Your vet will be able to help you with this decision.

Our Zero cat foods all contain less than 1% digestible starch and are a great choice for diabetic or obese cats. We recommend free choice feeding because the cat will consume six to eight small meals a day when fed free choice. Free feeding also works well with insulin since the insulin is time released and the many small meals act in the same time released manner. There is no need to make sure the cat has eaten prior to an injection with this type of dry kibble. The high protein level of this diet will allow the cat's liver to produce and adjust the cat’s blood glucose levels as needed.

On a properly balanced diet, your cat will only eat the next meal when their blood glucose level drops. The only reason to feed only twice a day when injecting insulin is if you feed a food with more than one percent starch or if you feed wet food. When you feed wet food twice a day, you are forcing the cat to consume 12 hours of food at one time; this is hardly time released. It is better to feed the canned food more often than twice a day to spread the calories out. The longer a cat is diabetic, still consuming starch and still receiving insulin, the less likely they are to go into remission. Since remission on a less than 1% starch diet is likely, you must check blood glucose levels before each insulin injection and adjust the insulin dose accordingly.

Prevention is the best course of action. Cats are not programmed by nature to be obese and only become obese because we feed them incorrectly.

Click here for detailed information on diabetes in cats.

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