Diabetes in Cats - What You Need To Know
Most of us are spending a lot more time at home with our pets and a blessing in disguise may be that we may start to see more of our pet’s behaviors and symptoms now that we are with them more. One big thing to take notice of is how much your cats are urinating. This could be a sign of feline diabetes.
Signs to look out for especially in aging cats are:
Excessive urination and thirst (high levels of glucose in the blood can cause the body to excrete excessive amounts of glucose in the urine)
Weight loss (unable to absorb glucose from blood and they become starved of energy - the body turns to breaking down fats and proteins to feed glucose-starved cells)
Changes in appetite (ravenously hungry initially and then as the body starts to break down its own reserves in the form of fat, some of the fat breakdown products called ketone bodies accumulate in the blood and are toxic causing lack of appetite and even vomiting.)
Inability to jump and change in gait
“Plantegrade” stance of the hind limbs walking or standing “down in the hocks”
Increase in age
Glucocorticoid (steroid therapy)
Some breeds (e.g. Burmese)
Ziggy Silverman pictured here is 15 years old and has just been diagnosed with diabetes.
Photo courtesy Allison C. Hanes
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is the inability to produce enough insulin to balance blood sugar or glucose levels. It leads to elevated levels in the blood of the sugar glucose - a main source for the body. Like humans cat’s need sugar like glucose for energy. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and plays a huge role in attaching to cells and signals when it is time to absorb glucose.
If untreated it can lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, severe depression, trouble with motor function, coma and death. It is a common disease often found in older and overweight cats. It is estimated that 0.5% to 2% of the feline population have diabetes and that it may be under diagnosed.
How do I confirm it is diabetes?
On top of clinical signs mentioned above you should discuss the possibility of diabetes with your veterinarian. Blood and urine tests will confirm your cat is diabetic and you will need to do them regularly with your cat at home. Veterinary staff can show you how to get a blood glucose and how to give insulin during your first appointment.
Glucometer, strips and spring loaded lancet.
Photo courtesy Allison C. Hanes
What is the treatment?
A low carbohydrate and high protein diet and insulin therapy which you will decide with your veterinarian. Most patients will need to come in every 3-4 months for a check up.
To administer an injection pull up loose skin to make a tent shape, insert needle, draw back on the plunger and if no blood appears you can inject the insulin subcutanenously under the skin. Photo courtesy Allison C. Hanes
Goals for treating cats with diabetes are to restore normal blood glucose concentration (glycemic control), minimize or eliminate signs of weight loss, increased thirst and increased urination, normalize appetite and to avoid inducing low blood glucose levels with the use of too much insulin. Obesity is a risk factor and in some breeds it seems to occur more often to suggest a genetic component may be involved.
Having a diabetic cat won’t necessarily shorten the cat’s life but you will need to be vigilant about care from a regimented feeding schedule, no treats, routine blood glucose tests and insulin. Also, in general pay extra attention to your cat’s behavior since insulin will need to be adjusted. Diabetes can be associated with infections, nerve disorders and other related problems. Poorly managed diabetes can lead to a life or death emergency situation.
How much is this going to cost me?
Most clients will spend an additional $30 dollars a month on insulin, one time use syringes and other supplies like a glucometer.
What types of insulin?
Vetsulin, PZI (Prozinc), Lantus (Glargine), Humulin
When is it an emergency?
Low blood sugar - hypoglycemia - you cat may be laid out and lethargic, lethargy, weakness, tremors, seizures, vomiting
What to do? Always have corn syrup, honey, glucose solution or dextrose gel on hand and give them this to help increase their blood sugar immediately to gums and call your veterinarian.
High blood sugar - hyperglycemia - take extra blood glucose test if not sure numbers
What to do? Give insulin immediately.
Ziggy getting his blood glucose checked. Photo courtesy Chloe Leach.
Tips for owners!
- It is manageable so stay positive
- Keep to a routine
- Work closely with your veterinarian
- Confirm diagnosis and begin insulin therapy immediately
- Do at home glucose monitoring and record your values in a log
- Track your cat’s behavior - water intake, activity level, weight and appetite
- Stay strict to a low carbohydrate and high protein diet that your veterinarian advises (e.g. Purina DM)
- Be aware of hypoglycemia (symptoms listed above) and have those high glucose products in your home.
There is no cure for feline diabetes but usually the disease can be managed fairly well when the owner is properly educated and committed. Well monitored and controlled diabetes will give a cat a great long high quality life. Occasionally cats on a low carbohydrate diet and high protein and owner closely monitoring their blood glucose and feedings will even lose their need for insulin and can go into remission, however still those cases should be monitored closely. It is important to keep a healthy routine schedule with all your pets and know what behaviors are normal for them or not.
We hope this has helped to inform you about feline diabetes. Just as in human diabetes and medicine the veterinary community is advancing research to better treat diabetes and find new forms of insulin. The best thing you can do is notice changes in your cat’s behavior and bring your questions to your veterinarian to make a plan. If you have any questions feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much and stay safe!