Pet Care

Diabetes

White and brown kitten

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes in cats is a complex disease caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin. After a cat eats, her digestive system breaks food into various components, including glucose—which is carried into her cells by insulin. When a cat does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally, her blood sugar levels elevate. The result is hyperglycemia, which, if left untreated, can cause many complicated health problems for a cat.

It is important to understand, however, that diabetes is considered a manageable disorder—and many diabetic cats can lead happy, healthy lives. Some may even go into remission!

What Type of Diabetes Do Most Cats Get?

Diabetes can be classified as either type I (lack of insulin production) or type II (impaired insulin production along with an inadequate response to the hormone).

Cats with type II diabetes can progress to type I diabetes. In fact, by the time most cats are diagnosed with diabetes, they are identified as having the type I disorder. These cats require insulin therapy for survival. Cats with type II disease may respond to other forms of therapy.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats?

The following are signs that your cat may be diabetic:

  • Change in appetite (either increased or decreased)
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
  • Increased urination
  • Urinating in areas other than litter box
  • Unusually sweet-smelling breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Unkempt hair coat
  • Urinary tract infection

What Causes Diabetes in Cats?

The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. Genetics, pancreatic disease, certain medications and abnormal protein deposits in the pancreas can play a role in causing this disorder.

Which Cats Are Prone to Diabetes?

The most important factors in the development of diabetes seem to be obesity, gender (male cats are more commonly afflicted than females) and age.

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

To properly diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will collect information about clinical signs, perform a physical examination and check blood work and urinalysis.

How Is Diabetes Treated?

Every diabetic cat is an individual and will respond differently to therapy. Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the signs of disease are and whether there are any other health issues that could complicate therapy.

  • Some cats are seriously ill when first diagnosed and require intensive hospitalized care for several days to regulate their blood sugar levels.
  • Cats who are more stable when first diagnosed may respond to oral medication or a high-fiber diet.
  • For most cats, insulin injections are necessary for adequate regulation of blood glucose. Once your pet’s individual insulin treatment is established, typically based on weight, you will be shown how to give him his insulin injections at home.

Your vet may also show you how to perform glucose tests at home. Other routine blood work may also be necessary.

What Should I Know About Treating My Diabetic Cat at Home?

As your veterinarian will explain, it’s important to always give your cat insulin at the same time every day and feed her regular meals in conjunction with her medication; this allows increased nutrients in the blood to coincide with peak insulin level. This will lessen the chance that her sugar levels will swing either too high or too low. You can work with your vet to create a feeding schedule around your pet’s medication time. It is also important to avoid feeding your diabetic cat treats that are high in glucose.

How Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

A proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way to avoid the development of feline diabetes. Aside from other negative effects, obesity is known to contribute to insulin resistance.

What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has Diabetes?

If your cat is showing any abnormal clinical signs as listed above, make an appointment to see your veterinarian immediately.

What Can Happen if Diabetes Goes Untreated?

If a diabetic cat is not treated, he can develop kidney disease, neurological disorders or other metabolic diseases. Cats with type I diabetes require insulin therapy for survival.