Diabetes in Cats
Pet owners are often surprised to learn that their pets can get the very same diseases as they can – and often for the same reasons. A good example of this is Diabetes Mellitus, known as sugar diabetes. As in humans, this disease is on the rise in cats.
What is it?
Diabetes is a consequence of too little insulin being produced by the pancreas or a cat’s inability to properly use the insulin that is produced. Both issues result in high blood sugar levels, so the objective of treatment is to return sugar levels to normal on a long-term basis. The majority of cats are Type ll diabetics – in other words, “non-insulin dependent” diabetics. Despite the confusing name, Type-II diabetics usually do require insulin to manage their disease…but other management elements like weight control and carbohydrate restrictions are also required.
Causes of diabetes in cats
The exact cause of feline diabetes is not the same in every cat. It has been determined that it is more common in males, certain breeds and is sometimes concurrent with another disease (e.g. feline hyperthyroidism). Older cats who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop diabetes. It has been estimated that 30-35% of cats are obese in North America.
We love our cats and as such, we indulge them with treats and with food, often feeding too much of both. In addition, indoor cats, while protected from the dangers of the outside world, tend to be less active and more inclined to become couch potatoes.
Symptoms and diagnosis of diabetes in cats
Typical signs of diabetes in cats vary with the stage of the disease, but usually, you will notice increased thirst, urination and appetite. As the disease advances unchecked, you may also see:
- Weight loss
- Poor coat
- Abnormal hind limb gait
Because none of these signs are specific to diabetes, a diagnosis cannot be made without blood and urine tests. Like so many diseases, it is very important to diagnose diabetes early, before all the complications develop – such as neurological dysfunctions. Cats can be unique and challenging veterinary patients. Once a diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed, treatment and control require close monitoring and lots of adjustments.
Treatment of diabetes in cats
Most cats will require some form of insulin to manage their diabetes. There are many types of insulin and each cat’s needs are unique, so your vet may need to evaluate your pet several times to determine which type of insulin is best for them in the initial stages of diabetes control. Regular testing of the blood is required and you’ll need to keep in close touch with their veterinarian. New technologies such as continuous glucose monitoring systems can help track your pet’s response to treatment and zero in on the ideal type and dose of insulin for your cat.
Along with insulin therapy, nutrition is a vital tool for controlling diabetes. Therapeutic veterinary diets have been formulated and proven to manage weight and reduce the blood glucose spikes that promote obesity and drive diabetes.
Is diabetes reversible?
Diabetes is a complex and often frustrating disease, for cats and their owners. The good news is with strict management and weight control, many cats can achieve diabetic remission overcoming their need for regular insulin therapy. Insulin is a good thing, but too much of it can be dangerous for cats. Pet owners need to watch their pet’s activity and behaviour closely and check blood sugar regularly in order to detect their cat’s changing treatment needs. Any change in normal behaviour needs to be reported to the veterinarian promptly.
Diabetes requires considerable owner dedication and close communication with your veterinarian for proper control and maintenance. Your cat will reward your patience! Many cats live long and happy lives beyond a diagnosis of diabetes.
The best solution is prevention. While some contributing factors to diabetes, such as genetics, are hard to control, you can ensure your cat is kept at a healthy weight throughout their life. Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes and keeping a pet lean may just be the key to prevention.