When diabetes mellitus occurs in cats, it is called feline diabetes. Cats can develop this disease in a fashion that has similarities to the human illness. When feline diabetes occurs, a cat's body might not produce enough insulin. The cat's body might also struggle with utilizing insulin properly. Pet parents must maintain vigilance to catch the symptoms. With a proactive approach, treatment options may provide relief for their cat.
In a healthy cat, the pancreas produces insulin. Insulin serves to regulate glucose present in the bloodstream, delivering it to cells throughout the body. If insulin is not present in the required amounts or if the body is not managing it effectively, a cat's body may begin seeking energy from alternative sources. Fat and protein stored by the body will become sources of energy, which usually leads a cat to begin eating more but losing weight. The four main symptoms of feline diabetes include increased appetite, unexplained weight loss, increased urination, and increased thirst.
Precise causes of feline diabetes remain somewhat uncertain. Obese cats may have an elevated risk for developing feline diabetes. Cats with weight issues may remain healthier if they eat a diet that is lower in carbohydrates. Some veterinarians recommend specific types of food for their patients, believing that foods that are higher in protein are a better fit for the physiological needs of cats. Some breeds of cats might have a genetic predisposition to developing feline diabetes, but evidence has not led researchers to make definitive conclusions regarding a genetic link to diabetes.
A veterinarian will diagnose diabetes by examining the cat in conjunction with symptoms reported and noted. The veterinarian may also perform laboratory tests to detect sugar levels in the blood and urine. After diagnosis of feline diabetes, a veterinarian will recommend specific treatment to control the illness. The severity of the illness will determine the treatment. Severe diabetes may necessitate inpatient treatment with fluids and insulin injections. Less severe illness will usually involve dietary modifications. Generally, diabetic cats respond positively to a low-carbohydrate diet.
Some cats require oral medicine or insulin injections. Insulin injections usually involve shots under the skin two times each day. Owners can learn how to perform the injections, and they do not hurt the cat. After this course of treatment begins, the veterinarian will monitor the cat to ensure that it is responding well. Additional testing of blood sugar levels will be necessary. A veterinarian may make changes to the amount of insulin or the times of the injections based on additional testing. Oral medication can help lower blood glucose levels. Some cats experience side effects from the oral medication, such as loss of appetite and vomiting. The veterinarian will need to perform ongoing monitoring to ensure that the cat is responding correctly to treatment.
Dietary changes are extremely important for a sick cat. A cat that becomes overweight will often begin having issues with insulin sensitivity, which can be a precursor to diabetes. Changing a cat's diet to one that is high in complex carbohydrates and fiber often helps with weight loss. This type of diet also tends to help reduce blood sugar swings that could occur after eating. If a cat has lost weight due to diabetes symptoms, a veterinarian may prescribe a high-calorie diet initially to help the cat attain a healthy weight once again. After making an initial dietary modification, a veterinarian will assess the cat's health. Sometimes cats need a low-carbohydrate diet to manage diabetic symptoms.
Owners must monitor diabetic cats carefully during treatment to notice specific symptoms that could be life-threatening. If a cat receives too much insulin, for instance, hypoglycemia could occur. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include weakness, uncoordinated movements, and convulsions. Left untreated, hypoglycemia could even result in coma and death. If an owner notices these symptoms, the cat should be fed immediately. For an unresponsive cat that cannot eat, the owner should rub corn syrup onto its gums. A syringe filled with corn syrup is another option to assist a cat.
Once a cat has received a diabetes diagnosis, the veterinarian will need to see the cat periodically for examinations and to check blood glucose levels. Daily monitoring and supervision will also be necessary for the cat. An owner must monitor water and food consumption, urine output, and weight. The diabetic cat must eat a specific amount of food at the same times each day. The owner must also watch the cat's litter box to check urine output. If a day occurs when the cat's behavior changes, the owner should contact the veterinarian for assistance. Although a cure for diabetes is unknown at this time, proper treatment can enable some cats to improve to the point where they no longer require insulin. Losing weight to get back to a healthy body weight can be an effective way to reduce diabetes symptoms.
Learn more about causes, symptoms, and treatment options for feline diabetes by visiting these Internet resources:
- Feline Diabetes
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Nutritional Management of Diabetes Mellitus
- Owners Must Be Vigilant in Managing Cats' Diabetes
- Remission of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats With Diabetic Ketoacidosis (PDF)
- Choosing Dry or Wet Food for Cats Makes Little Difference
- Diabetes Mellitus
- Feline Diabetes
- Feline Diabetic Ketoacidosis
- 2010 AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats
- Diabetes Mellitus in the Cat
- Understanding Feline Diabetes
- Taming the Curve (PDF)
- Information About Diabetes Mellitus
- Feline Acromegaly
- Diets for Diabetic Cats (PDF)
- Feline Diabetes: Are You Aware of the Warning Signs?