In a perfect world, pet food would have to live up to the same nutrient labeling as us humans. Why is this not a thing? First, and this is my theory, the print on the cans is already too small for normal human eyes. (If you can read them, congrats, you have a super human ability and deserve a cape!) Secondly, they don’t have to label that way. It just is not required. As it would be impossible to read anyway, I would not expect the labeling to change any time soon. Reading labels, even if you can look them up on the company’s website, zoom in 1000%, and read the label, you are going to find a list of educated guess “ranges.” The required labeling has a minimum of crude protein (usually 10%), crude fat, fiber, moisture, ash (yes, I said ASH), then the vitamins listed in maximum or minimum percentages depending. Some of the bigger cans sometimes list their ingredients on another side. After the first three to five ingredients, my eyes start going in different directions once all the vitamins are listed with chemical names right along with the fillers and preservatives. Some company websites are decent at keeping their nutritional information up-to-date, but remember, the labeling requirement is a range. Going back to “crude protein (min 10.0%)”, is this 10.0% or 15 or 11 or 20? It probably is not that high, but the labeled percentages rarely add up to 100% as they get all that wiggle room with minimums and maximums. Think about making a chicken soup. That doesn’t require exact measurements. If I said it is 10% protein, you would probably assume my chicken soup has 10% chicken, but nope. That protein can come from broth, certain vegetables, and even beans if you are an adventurous cook. I could also toss in some protein powder and state honestly that there is now 20% protein in my incredibly weird soup. I have stated honestly the protein content, and you still don’t have a clue what this soup is going to actually be. Good system for pet food manufacturers, no so great for the special diet or frankly, taste.
The Association of American Feed Control Officials has a nice consumer link about what is in pet food and defines a lot of items we commonly see on ingredient list and finally explains what bone meal and all that stuff is. You can find that list here for definitions. The association is an informational source, not the FDA. There is good solid information about labeling, what is generally required (this can vary widely depending on your state apparently), and again what the common labeling terms mean. The terms can at least help you to discern what you should look for and what you should avoid depending on Kitty’s needs and your preferences. Remember this is only ONE source. You can check out my Sea Of Information article for more source information and ideas.
The vet may have given you some of the fancy expensive prescription food. You may know someone else with a diabetic cat who gives you food their cat decided they don’t like anymore. You may have just done a crash course and grabbed some food that seemed reputable and low in carbs. Any of these, or all of them, is totally fine! You have to start somewhere. After all, our first challenge is finding low-carb food that Kitty will actually eat. Generally, my kitties prefer the food with the least amount of non-pronounceable ingredients plus shrimp anything. To that end, there are some days where they snub the shrimp like we should have known we need to rotate in a bigger variety of flavors for them. A week later, they will love it again.
The next thing is low-carb treats. Almost every pet store and even some big box retailers carry the freeze dried chicken, turkey, etc. I put this higher on the priority list because this is a way to reward Kitty for putting up with your testing and food experimentation. First, Kitty will relate testing to treats and then to their meals. I have never had a single cat that did not go absolutely nuts for their wet food and their treats. The freeze dried treats should not disrupt their blood glucose much, and in the beginning, treats will help incentivize Kitty until she gets into the new routine. Let me stress here again, Kitty is not going into remission overnight. Look at this is a process.
Mission 1 accomplished. You are testing before feeding, Kitty seems to like their new food, and you have a little routine going. This is excellent. Hopefully, their blood glucose numbers are starting to stabilize. So what if Kitty is still getting numbers all over the place, or what if you want to see which foods create less of a blood glucose spike? Well boys and girls, the best way to find out specific information for you kitty is post-prandial blood glucose testing. Post-prandial is the fancy term for after eating. We still test before feeding as normal (at least two hours after Kitty has eaten) or before their breakfast. Then you go ahead and feed them their food. Test their blood sugar between 30 and 45 minutes and again at 60 to 90 minutes. If their blood sugar has risen significantly, then the food may have a too high carb for your cat’s daily regimen. All is not lost, however. This food, which Kitty likes, can be kept around for situations where Kitty’s numbers are dropping too fast or are too low to begin with. Keep all this info in the diabetic journal. You will have a nice list of brands, flavors, and blood glucose effect for many foods. There are other calculators to determine an estimate of carbs in Kitty’s food. Those are also educated guesses based on the ranges on the food label, and not a bad place to start when you are first getting a sampling of low carb food to try out.
Tips for testing new food Melissa style: Only try new food in the morning. Do the post-prandial testing routine once every few days or even a week. Some kitties are going to be totally fine and cooperative and could deal with it daily. My crazy cats will run and hide after any perceived trauma and look at me as public enemy #1 for at least a few hours – sometimes days if a bath was involved! Understand that some days, despite your best intentions, Kitty is not putting up with being tested AGAIN. They eat, they want to bathe or play, and then sleep. You can try to get a sample while there sleeping, but that really depends on the cat. If you can’t get them to cooperate for the after meal testing today, just keep trying. It may take several false starts, and as long as their next pre-meal blood glucose is not running higher than usual, it is probably okay if you need to wait another day and try again.
It is a big adjustment in the beginning, but if you and Kitty can get used to after-meal blood sugar checking, at least part of the time, this can really help you get a good handle on what types of foods work best for you specific cat. As well, you can spot check as needed, and if something seems off with their numbers with an established food, you can redo the post-prandial checking. If it is different, the food recipe may have changed and added a little extra carbohydrate ingredient, or Kitty may need a dose adjustment. Having at least some after-meal readings can really help your vet especially if you are having trouble finding the right food to stabilize Kitty’s numbers.
Wishing everyone a fun and safe holiday weekend!
The Feline Diabetes Support Group on FB is always available for support for questions, venting, and all things sugar Kitty. They have food information all over the place, and members who have probably tried most things. First-hand experience is a lot less confusing than crude protein 10.0% (min)!