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Diabetes in Cats

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes in cats is caused when the cat consumes glucose but can’t process it properly due to the pancreas not producing enough insulin, or when its body is unable to respond to the insulin effectively.  Either condition will result in the build-up of sugars in the blood. When the glucose levels become excessive, sugar enters the cat’s urine. High blood sugar and loss of sugar through the urine can become life threatening.

What are the symptoms?

The following symptoms may give an early indication that your cat has diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss despite increased appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Poor coat condition

More developed signs of the disease can be:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Breathing difficulties

What are the causes?

All cats are susceptible to diabetes regardless of age, sex and breed, however, older cats and castrated males are more prone to developing the disease.  Burmese cats have been reported to have a high inclination towards diabetes.  Your cat will have a higher chance of developing diabetes if it is overweight or obese.

 What are the risk factors?

If a diabetic cat cannot control the level of sugar in its blood, the levels become elevated. If the condition goes untreated your pet can develop hypoglycaemia and consequently suffer long term complications.

Your cat may go onto suffer hind leg weakness, due to persistently high blood glucose levels this can cause nerve damage and muscle wasting.  There is no specific treatment for hind leg weakness but it can be prevented or reduced by controlling blood glucose concentrations.

In extreme cases, if untreated, your cat could develop DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis). This is caused by the breakdown of fat producing ketones when the body believes it is being starved. This is a life-threatening complication.  The first signs are lack of appitite, nausea and lethargy.

Contact your vet immediately if your cat shows any of the following signs:

  • Dehydration
  • Increased thirst
  • weakness
  • depression
  • vomiting
  • increased respiratory rate

It is, however, important to understand that feline diabetes treatment is manageable, enabling them to lead happy, healthy and active lives.

 How is diabetes in my cat diagnosed?

As well as your cat showing symptoms of having diabetes, a blood and urine sample will need to be taken to test for an elevated level of glucose.   Your vet may take several tests over a number of weeks to ensure correct diagnosis. Your vet will also check your cat’s general health as infections and some diseases can be obstacles to diabetes treatment.

What treatment will my cat receive?

Your vet will establish the correct dosage of insulin which will need to be administered by injection and usually given twice daily after meals.  You will more than likely also need to regularly test your cat’s blood glucose levels at home. It may initially feel daunting to give your much-loved pet these injections and glucose tests, but your vet will give you the support and advice you need so you can feel comfortable in managing your cats diabetes.

Expect to be advised about hypoglycaemia.  This is a common complication seen in diabetic cats on insulin. This can occur if, despite your cat receiving its usual dose of insulin, it hasn’t eaten its usual amount of food or has vomited.  Also, if your cat’s insulin requirement has fallen and has consequently received a dose that is too high.  Low blood glucose can be fatal so it is important you recognise the following signs:

  • Lethargy
  • Restlessness
  • Unusual behaviour
  • Muscle twitching, trembling or shivering
  • Coma

If your cat exhibits any of the above signs you will need to react quickly. Provide food immediately. If he/she refuses to eat, try to administer a glucose solution either using a syringe or rub into the gums if your cat is unable to swallow.  If your cat does not recover or lapses contact your vet immediately.

In addition to medication and regular monitoring, you should also expect to receive dietary advice from your vet.

What are the long-term effects of diabetes?

If you follow your vet’s advice with regards to diet, times and dosage of your pets medication and attend regular check-ups, most cats will lead a happy healthy life.

How can I prevent my cat from developing diabetes?

Ensure you give a high protein, low carbohydrate diet which is closer to their natural diet.  It is advisable to give your cat tinned food which is high in protein rather than dried food which is high in carbohydrates.

Exercise will help keep your pets weight down and reduce its stress levels, so ensure you play with him every day.

Take your cat for regular annual check-ups, or every 6 months with older cats, to include urine and blood tests.  This way any early signs of diabetes, or any other illness, can be detected and caught early.  Early diagnosis and treatment can avoid more invasive and expensive treatment that may otherwise not be picked up until later.