It’s not a common diagnosis, with only 0.2% to 1% of cats developing the disease. However, it’s one you should know about. Learn about diabetes in cats, including what the risk factors are, the types of diabetes your cat may suffer from, the symptoms to look out for, and the treatment you can expect.
Diabetes in Cats
Dr. Colleen Wallace, a cat-only vet at Cozy Cat Veterinary Hospital in Raleigh, NC told A-Z-Animals, “Diabetes is caused when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to meet the cat’s metabolic requirements, and glucose from food digestion continues to circulate in the bloodstream instead of feeding the cells. Factors that can predispose a cat to develop diabetes include being overweight for long periods of time, cats who eat mostly or exclusively dry food, and high carb/low protein diets.”
Just like you, your cat needs glucose in its system for energy. However, glucose doesn’t function alone. It requires insulin, which is a hormone that your cat’s pancreas produces. Insulin plays a role in the absorption of glucose because it communicates with the cells in your cat’s body to let them know when they should start the absorption process.
When this is done at just the right time, your cat benefits because all of the fuel they need gets properly deposited and the levels of glucose in their blood drop appropriately. When your cat has diabetes, it means that its body isn’t able to either produce the insulin its body requires or the response to insulin in your cat’s body isn’t functioning correctly. This is how you differentiate between the two types of diabetes. More on that below.
Type I Diabetes
If your cat is diagnosed with Type I Diabetes, it means that the glucose levels are higher than normal in their blood because their body isn’t producing sufficient insulin.
Type II Diabetes
If your cat has been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes, it’s experiencing high glucose levels because the cells aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do once insulin signals them to start the absorption process.
In both Type I and Type II diabetes, glucose isn’t being deposited and absorbed correctly, so sugar levels spike in your cat’s blood. It’s not that there isn’t sufficient glucose present, it’s that there is a process in the body that is failing to function in the way it’s supposed to. Either the cells aren’t able to access the nutrients or insulin is not being produced by the pancreas, which results in a broken communication system and a load of glucose with nowhere to go.
One of the first clinical signs that your cat has developed diabetes is weight loss. Your previously pleasingly plump feline may start looking suspiciously slender despite continuing with a regular diet and a typical appetite. Weight loss may not always be perceptible at home but may come up during a regular examination at your vet. This is why annual or biannual visits to your vet are crucial. They allow you to assess your cat’s health and take action when necessary.
Another clinical sign of diabetes in cats is excessive thirst. If you put water in a bowl for your cat and notice that it’s getting emptied out more frequently than usual, this may be a cause for concern. Similarly, if you use a fountain and you notice that it requires refills more frequently, the excessive thirst your cat is experiencing may be related to diabetes.
Of course, the more water that goes in, the more urine that comes out. Additionally, since your cat’s kidneys aren’t able to filter glucose, it ends up moving out of the blood and into your cat’s urine. So, not only is your cat urinating more frequently, but there are high concentrations of glucose in the urine. This is all related to why your cat gets even more thirsty when diabetes is present.
This symptom is uncommon but when diabetes is uncontrolled, cats may develop nerve damage in their hind limbs. Luckily, this doesn’t cause them pain and once a treatment plan is underway, this symptom usually resolves.
Treatment for Diabetes in Cats
Treatment for diabetes in cats involves both insulin therapy along with changes in diet. Ultimately, the goal of treatment is to get those high concentrations of glucose in the blood down to a normal range. Your vet will also work with you to ensure your cat‘s weight remains in a healthy range. The symptoms of excessive thirst and frequent urination should also subside with treatment. Additionally, close monitoring helps to ensure your cat’s blood sugar levels don’t drop dramatically, causing hypoglycemia.
With insulin therapy, you are required to give your cat insulin injections every 12 hours. Your veterinarian will show you how to do this subcutaneously, meaning that you’re going to be injecting insulin under your cat’s skin. You will also discuss with your vet what type of insulin you’ll be using and what type of corresponding syringe you need. Aside from insulin, keeping your cat’s diet low in carbs proves to be most beneficial when dealing with cats that have diabetes. Often, the recommendation is to switch over to a wet food-only diet. You can also discuss the timing of each meal with your veterinarian.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © pyotr021/ via Getty Images
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