Diabetes in Cats

Most people are surprised to know that much like people; cats can also be diagnosed with diabetes. Experts say that 1 out of every 200 cats will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime; sadly those numbers are on the rise. But with proper education and management diabetic cats can live a long healthy life.

What is feline diabetes?

In many ways feline diabetes is very similar to human diabetes. Diabetes occurs when there is a shortage of insulin usage in the body.

Insulin is a hormone that is produced in the body by the pancreas. When carbohydrates are digested by the body they are broken down into sugars. Insulin is secreted by the pancreas and released into the GI tract where it helps transport the sugars to the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream the glucose attaches to red blood cells which give the cells energy. Without insulin the cells would never get the energy from the glucose, allowing the glucose to build in the bloodstream causing a potentially deadly concentration of glucose.

Diabetes comes in two types: Type 1 and Type 2.

Type 1 – In Type 1 diabetes there is no insulin produced. In these cases insulin needs to be supplemented. Most commonly insulin is given by an injection into the body fat. These injections are given every 12 hours following a meal. Type 1 is the most common type diagnosed in canines.
Type 2 – In Type 2 diabetes the cells in the bloodstream stop responding to the insulin made by the body. The insulin is able to attach to the glucose but is not able to transport the glucose to the red blood cells. Depending on the severity, Type 2 can be treated either with insulin supplementation or with a dietary change. Type 2 diabetes is commonly diagnosed in felines.
How can I tell if my cat has diabetes?

If you notice these signs, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. (These signs usually are in combination.)

  • Increase in drinking (licking like they can never get enough to drink)
  • Increase in urination (even having “accidents” outside of the litter box)
  • Weight loss associated with increased appetite
  • Decrease in activity level
  • Increase in sleeping/napping

The cause of diabetes in cats in unknown, but some experts say that obesity is the number one issue that predisposes cats to diabetes, especially type 2. Unlike dogs there are no cat breeds that are more likely to develop diabetes than another. More commonly diagnosed felines are older, overweight, neutered males.

If my cat is showing signs, what should I do?

Call your veterinarian immediately. They will want to start with a good nose to tail examination. During the examination make sure to give the veterinarian a complete history of what signs are noticed and when they started.

There are a few diagnostic tests that can be performed to see if your cat does in fact have diabetes.

  • Single Glucose Level – requires a very small amount of blood and can be done in-house with results showing in as little as 1 minute. The only down side is that it only tells the level of glucose in the bloodstream at the time the sample is taken.
  • Fructosamine – requires more blood than the single reading and must be sent to an outside lab with results coming back within a week. This blood sample will give an average of glucose levels for the past 2-3 weeks.
  • Urine Test – requires a small amount of urine and is performed in-house with results showing within 60 seconds. Although urine does not give an amount of glucose in the bloodstream, it is very informative. If glucose is present in urine then diabetes is suspected. (Normal urine should show no signs of glucose.) It is important to check urine for glucose because if present then that means that the kidneys are working hard to rid the body of the glucose and can cause damage to the kidneys and other organs.

Once a confirmed diabetes diagnoses is made by your veterinarian, they can then come up with a treatment plan.

My cat was just diagnosed with diabetes, what’s next?

Diabetic cats, with great dedication from the owners, can live a long, healthy and happy life. Working closely with your veterinarian, you can together create a doable routine of management for your cat. Listed below are some tools that you can use in the management of diabetes.

  • Insulin Supplement: Since the body can no longer make or use the insulin made by the body, it will need to be supplemented. This requires twice daily injections given under the skin. These injections are usually small amounts and are virtually painless. There are many different types of insulin available on the market but your veterinarian will make a recommendation based on your pet’s history and severity of disease.
  • Monitoring: Paying close attention to your cat’s daily routine is the very first thing in diabetes management. As an owner, you are the first to notice any small changes such as: eating, drinking, urination, vomiting, diarrhea, acting depressed, acting painful and decrease in energy level.
    Some owners choose to monitor their cat’s glucose levels at home by checking them regularly on a glucose meter. There are specially made meters, which look very similar to the human brands, which require small amounts of blood and give the results within seconds. Some people choose to have these meters available at home to use in the emergency chances that their cat’s levels are either too high or too low.
  • Dietary Control: Making sure your cat is on a good, high quality diet can aid in the management of diabetes. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian about what diets they recommend. You want to look for diets that have: a high quality protein source, complex carbohydrates (harder to break down into simple sugars but still gives the body the nutritional benefits), and dietary fibers (slows the absorption of glucose from the GI tract). For some diabetic cats canned food is the better choice because of the added moisture that will aid in kidney health.
  • Weight Control and Exercise: Extra weight can cause the body to become insulin resistant, which will result in higher glucose levels which will need higher doses of insulin to treat. Working together with a veterinarian, you can create not only a dietary plan but also a consistent exercise routine.
  • Regular Veterinarian Check-Ups: Keeping a close relationship with your veterinarian not only benefits you as an owner but also your pet. The veterinarian can become more familiar with your pet and their normal behavior. These examinations also help detect early signs of diabetic changes to other organs. Detecting early stages of diabetic changes allow for the veterinarian to offer more treatment options.

With 1 in every 200 cats being diagnosed with diabetes every year, it is becoming more and more of a common disease. But with the help of your veterinarian, management tools, and your loving commitment, diabetes can be successfully managed and your cat can live a happy and healthy life.