Diabetes in Cats

Inactivity and obesity can lead to a higher risk of diabetes in cats. We explore the causes of feline diabetes and provide advice to help lower the risk for your feline friend.

Diabetes is the most common hormonal disorder in cats. It can affect as many as one in fifty cats, and the incidence is increasing. Cats that are inactive and are overweight are particularly at risk of developing the disease.

Insulin is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas, and its purpose is moving glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body, where it can be used for energy. Diabetes results from a lack of insulin as well as insulin resistance, which is caused by obesity and inactivity.

SIGNS OF DIABETES IN CATS

One of the most obvious indicators that your cat may have diabetes is that he drinks more water and urinates more than usual. It might not be easy to see how much urine your cat passes, especially if he prefers to go to the toilet outside. However, you should notice him spending more time at his bowl of water. He will also be hungry and want to eat more, but he will still lose weight.

Diabetes is diagnosed with blood and urine tests. Both will show abnormally high levels of glucose.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes. If your cat starts to break down his fat stores to provide energy, he can become very sick. He will be depressed, he won’t eat and he will vomit. His breath will smell like acetone, or nail polish remover. This is an emergency situation and your cat needs veterinary care straight away.

TREATING FELINE DIABETES

The most common way of treating diabetes in cats is with twice daily insulin injections. You can expect your cat to stay in hospital for a day or two. During this time, he will be given insulin injections and frequent blood tests, to work out exactly how much insulin he needs to keep his blood glucose within normal limits.

When you take him home, you will have to give him the injections of insulin yourself. This isn’t difficult, and it’s not painful because the needles used are very small. Cats tend to tolerate these injections well. It’s important that your cat’s routine stays constant – he should eat a measured amount of food at the same time every day. This makes it easier to stabilise his diabetes.

It’s possible for your cat to go into remission, where he no longer needs injections of insulin to regulate their blood glucose. This can occur if he is fed a low carbohydrate wet food, and he loses his excess weight. Weight loss should be slow and steady, as rapid weight loss can lead to hepatic lipidosis which can make him seriously ill. Aim for a weight loss of around 1% of body weight per week. Hills prescription diets like Metabolic and R/D can help with weight loss. Discuss these diets with your veterinarian.

PREVENTING DIABETES IN CATS

It’s not possible to prevent diabetes in cats, but there appear to be some definite risk factors. Obesity is one of them, so if you can keep your cat lean then he may be less likely to develop this condition.

Genetics appears also to play a role. In Australia and New Zealand, Burmese cats are at greater risk of becoming diabetic than other breeds.

There are suggestions that feeding a cat a low carbohydrate wet food can also prevent diabetes but this hasn’t yet been proven. Diabetes has occurred in cats fed a wide variety of diets, both wet and dry.

Managing your diabetic cat takes time, effort and commitment from his owner. There are also ongoing expenses for insulin, needles and blood tests. With the right care, your diabetic cat can enjoy a normal way of life for many years to come.