Originally published in the November 2007 issue of Veterinary Practice News
After struggling with an especially unmanageable case of diabetes mellitus in her own cat for almost a year and hearing euthanasia recommended by colleagues, Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, went back to the drawing board. It was 1994 and she had left her position as vice president of marketing at Hill’s Pet Nutrition to start law school. She began studying ingredients on the label of dry food she had been feeding the 4-year-old cat.
What she discovered not only cured her Punkin of diabetes in five days but also led to her patenting a canned food for diabetic cats and developing her “Tight Regulation” protocol, which she says has permanently cured several hundred diabetics in her feline practice.
Spreading the Word
In her new book, “Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), Hodgkins shares her rationale and offers case studies from her Yorba Linda, Calif., practice, All About Cats Health Center. She also explains the history and influence of the pet food industry to help readers understand why today’s cats are being fed dry food, which she firmly believes is causing a multitude of serious health problems.
If not for the answer, her premise sounds like a silly children’s joke. What do you get when you cross a cat’s food with a cow’s? You get feline diabetes and obesity epidemics, she says. Hodgkins maintains that the cat, an obligatory carnivore, has been forced to consume an herbivore’s diet solely for the convenience dry cat food affords.
“Feline diabetes is not the natural fate of hundreds of thousands of pet cats worldwide,” Hodgkins writes at www.yourdiabeticcat.com, a resource and forum for cat owners.
“It is, rather, a human-created disease that is reaching epidemic proportions because of the highly artificial foods that we have been feeding our feline companions for the past few decades. Without the constant feeding of highly processed, high carbohydrate dry foods, better suited to cattle than cats, adult-onset feline diabetes would be a rare disease, if it occurred at all.”
“Conservative estimates are that there are 250,000 diabetic cats in the U.S. at any one time,” Hodgkins says.
In her practice of more than 2,000 patients, she has about 50 diabetics at any one time.
Dry food is made by extrusion, a manufacturing method contingent upon a cereal component to morph meat into dried kibble, Hodgkins says, adding that no one ever considered the consequences of incorporating highly processed cereals into cats’ diets day after day, year after year. Dry food seemed to work for dogs, but as omnivores they can handle cereal. The technology was extrapolated to produce cat food without regard for cats’ unique nutritional needs as strict carnivores, Hodgkins says.
Like all vets, Hodgkins had been taught that a high-fiber, high-carbohydrate diet was best for diabetics. Wondering if high carbohydrate content was making matters worse, she switched Punkin to canned kitten food that was low in carbs and high in protein and fat. She monitored his blood glucose frequently and adjusted his insulin accordingly. Within five days, Punkin was off insulin.
She asked colleagues to try the experiment with a dozen diabetics. Glucose levels improved in all and many were weaned off insulin. Gradually she continued the experiment to confirm her breakthrough.
Regarding dry food as the culprit, she switched cats with different ailments to high-protein, low-carbohydrate canned foods. “Other health problems also began to disappear,” she says, and she cites such examples as hepatic lipidosis, pancreatitis, UTI, IBD, asthma, skin allergies, allergic otitis and constipation.
Curing Feline Diabetes
Hodgkins’ “Tight Regulation” protocol, which she says has an 80 percent success rate, is three-pronged:
• All cats, diabetic or non-diabetic, should be fed only low carbohydrate, high protein canned foods.
• The only insulin she uses is bovine PZI, which she says is superior to any other in cats. Ideally, she says, it should be injected at six to 12-hour intervals.
• She shows clients how simple it is to prick a cat’s ear and use a human glucometer to monitor glucose curves at home. Her sliding scale chart shows clients how to adjust dosages. Rather than blindly dosing once or twice daily, this effort ultimately pays off as most patients become well, she says.
After earning her J.D. degree from the University of Kansas in 1996, Hodgkins joined Heska as vice president of marketing. Friends there helped her apply for a patent on her low-carbohydrate, high-protein canned cat food.
In 1999 she was named executive vice president of claims and medical director of Veterinary Pet Insurance, where she reviewed records that reinforced her theory that dry food was making cats sick.
In 2001 Hodgkins received a U.S. patent on her canned food formula, which Purina purchased and launched as DM, its Diabetes Management brand, in 2002. The results of her investigation, which were included in her patent application, were also published in Veterinary Therapeutics in 2001. She was taken aback when Purina launched a dry version of DM, about a year later after the canned version.
This past April, during the pet-food recall, Hodgkins testified before the U.S. Senate.
“The pet food safety crisis is not an unfortunate aberration but part of mounting evidence of a systemic breakdown,” she told legislators. She called for removal of unsubstantiated claims of “nutritional adequacy” and “complete and balanced” from pet food labels.
While not everyone in the veterinary community believes that dry cat food has inherent problems, Hodgkins has enthusiastic adherents.
“Dr. Hodgkins is a forerunner, a person who is courageous enough to look at what’s right and speak up about it,” says author and oncologist Alice Villalobos, DVM, who wrote the forward to “Your Cat.”
“Dr. Hodgkins’ ideas may not yet be accepted by other vets,” Dr. Villalobos says, “but that’s because we all grew up feeding dry foods to pets. It was all we knew and we accepted it, just like we used to think that all parakeets needed was some seed, but then they started dying from malnutrition. We have discovered that we have created states of malnutrition in pets.”
Unwitting Guinea Pigs
It is common knowledge that all big cats need raw meat to survive, but few seem to have considered that domestic cats would require the same.
“We’ve dissociated the cat from big cats,” Hodgkins says. “It’s the ability of millions of dollars of marketing and large, well-funded corporate interest groups to determine public interest and perception.”
Hodgkins, who breeds ocicats, has switched her nine cats to raw meat completely.
When she received her DVM degree from the University of California, Davis, in 1977, Hodgkins says veterinarians did not endorse pet food brands. “The vet’s role as opinion former of what to feed pets is new and carries enormous responsibility,” she says. “I call on my fellow vets to accept that role, to understand nutrition to make truly informed decisions, and not to default to any corporate interest’s view of what they’re saying pets should eat.”