Feline comorbidities: Pathophysiology and management of the obese diabetic cat

Melissa Clark, Margarethe Hoenig

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Practical relevance: Up to 40% of the domestic feline population is overweight or obese. Obesity in cats leads to insulin resistance via multiple mechanisms, with each excess kilogram of body weight resulting in a 30% decline in insulin sensitivity. Obese, insulin-resistant cats with concurrent beta-cell dysfunction are at risk of progression to overt diabetes mellitus. Approach to management: In cats that develop diabetes, appropriate treatment includes dietary modification to achieve ideal body condition (for reduction of insulin resistance), and optimization of diet composition and insulin therapy (for glycemic control and the chance of diabetic remission). Initially, as many obese cats that become diabetic will have lost a significant amount of weight and muscle mass by the time of presentation, some degree of diabetic control should be attempted with insulin before initiating any caloric restriction. Once body weight has stabilized, if further weight loss is needed, a diet with ≤ 12–15% carbohydrate metabolizable energy (ME) and >40% protein ME should be fed at 80% of resting energy requirement for ideal weight, with the goal of 0.5–1% weight loss per week. Other approaches may be necessary in some cats that need either substantial caloric restriction or do not find low carbohydrate diets palatable. Long-acting insulins are preferred as initial choices and oral antidiabetic drugs can be used in combination with diet if owners are unable or unwilling to give insulin injections. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists have recently been investigated for use as adjunctive treatment in diabetic cats and sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors are currently being evaluated in clinical trials. Evidence base: The information in this review is drawn from: epidemiological studies on obesity prevalence; prospective longitudinal studies of development of insulin resistance with obesity; randomized controlled studies; and expert opinion regarding the effect of diet on diabetes management in cats.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)639-648
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Feline Medicine and Surgery
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • Obesity
  • diabetes mellitus
  • diet
  • insulin resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Small Animals


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