Diabetes mellitus in cats is a relatively common condition, especially as cats age, but it is treatable.
Feline diabetes is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder. To help you better understand your cat’s condition, we will examine the symptoms, causes, and management of diabetes in cats as well as what you can do to help prevent your cat from developing this serious condition.
Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats
There are two distinct types of diabetes in cats: the extremely uncommon diabetes insipidus (DI) and the more common diabetes mellitis (DM). Although the symptoms of both are relatively similar, the underlying causes are very different. Since diabetes insipidus is so rare in cats, we will focus only on diabetes mellitus. The clinical signs of DM may include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Weight loss despite a good (or even ravenous) appetite
- Neurological symptoms (such as walking with the hocks of the hind legs on the floor)
The symptoms of diabetes in cats can be hard to recognize initially. Diabetes is an insidious disease, which means it progresses slowly, and cat owners may not see anything unusual at first. Litter boxes make it hard to keep track of your cat’s urination, but if you notice more urine than usual or if your cat starts peeing outside the box for no other apparent reason and losing weight despite a healthy appetite, your cat could be showing signs of diabetes. These symptoms may also be signs of several other serious conditions, like hyperthyroidism, urinary tract infections, or a bladder stone blockage. Always contact your veterinarian any time you notice a change in your cat’s urination habits, weight, or behavior.
Diabetes mellitus is a serious condition. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of diabetes in cats can help improve your cat’s prognosis and avoid serious complications.
How Did My Cat Get Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus occurs either when your cat’s pancreas doesn’t produce the amount of insulin your cat needs or when your cat doesn’t respond appropriately to the insulin that is being produced (which is known as insulin resistance. In either case, it means that your cat can’t effectively process glucose (blood sugar). Just as with people, high glucose levels produce adverse effects that can be life-threatening if not treated.
- Destruction of pancreatic beta cells
- Chronic inflammation of the pancreas
You may be familiar with type I and type II diabetes. Cats tend to get type I diabetes mellitus, which results from the destruction of pancreatic beta cells. This occurs when the pancreas is chronically inflamed, as happens in cats fed a high fat diet. Obese cats are more susceptible to developing diabetes than healthy cats for this reason, and diabetes mellitus is most common in neutered male cats over ten years. Type II diabetes mellitus is less common in cats (but common in dogs) and occurs when cats develop an insulin resistance.
Diabetes insipidus, which – as mentioned above – is extremely rare in cats, is caused by congenital defects or results as a complication of another condition, like a brain tumor.
There are different causes of diabetes in cats. The most common type of diabetes, type I diabetes mellitus, is caused by the destruction of beta cells in your cat’s pancreas and is most common in older, neutered males.
Diagnosing Diabetes in Cats
Veterinarians perform several diagnostic tests to diagnose diabetes in cats. Some of these tests will measure your cat’s glucose levels, while others will help rule out other diseases and identify any potentially related conditions. These tests may include a blood glucose test, complete blood count, urinalysis, biochemistry profile, urine culture, and abdominal radiographs. In general, a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is made if your cat has: high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), sugar in its urine (glucosuria) weight loss despite a good appetite, and increased urination and thirst (polyuria and polydipsia, or PU/PD).
Glucose tests measure the amount of glucose in your cat’s blood. If the levels are above average, diabetes could be a suspect. However, stressed cats can temporarily raise their blood sugar levels, so expect to repeat testing as needed to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, a fructosamine test can help differentiate between stress-induced glucose levels and diabetes in cats.
Diabetes can lead to additional diseases, including urinary tract infections. Your veterinarian will perform diagnostics as needed to determine if your cat has any concurrent conditions. He or she may also recommend a thyroid test to rule out hyperthyroidism, which is common in senior cats and presents with similar symptoms.
Diagnosing diabetes in cats can take several different types of diagnostic tests. Be patient, and make sure to keep track of your cat’s symptoms so that your veterinarian has all the information about your cat’s condition.
Treating Your Cat for Diabetes
Treating cats for diabetes involves several steps. Often, the first step is changing your cat’s diet. There are several prescription diets that can help to stabilize blood sugar. Feeding canned food rather than dry kibble may also be beneficial. However,do not change your cat’s diet without first consulting with your veterinarian.
In some mild cases, an oral medication like glipizide, can be used to lower blood sugar. However, most cats will require daily insulin injections to control their diabetes. There are several forms of insulin available, and your veterinarian will discuss the best option for your cat’s condition.
You will also need to treat any concurrent conditions, like urinary tract infections or hepatic lipidosis (fatty liver disease).. These conditions may require medications like antibiotics, or in the case of serious conditions hepatic lipidosis, an esophageal tube to get food in your cat’s system as soon as possible.
Is there a cure for diabetes?
There is no cure for diabetes in cats. However, with proper management diabetic cats can live active, healthy lives.
Is diabetes contagious for humans or other pets?
Diabetes is not contagious. Your cat cannot transmit diabetes to you or to any other pets in the household. However, diabetic cats may have a decreased resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, so try to avoid introducing your cat to potentially contagious animals.
What is the cost of treating diabetes in cats?
The cost of treating diabetes varies depending on your cat’s condition. The initial hospital visit will require diagnostics to determine whether your cat has diabetes. These tests can cost several hundred dollars, and treatment for concurrent conditions may add more on to your bill.
Once your cat is diagnosed, you will most likely have to put her on a prescription diet.
Depending on what you currently feed your cat, these diets may cost more or less than her current cuisine. Bear in mind that you will also need to purchase insulin for your cat for the rest of her life, so budget accordingly for this ongoing expense.
Diabetes in cats is a treatable condition. With the help of your veterinarian, your cat can expect to live a long and active life as long as her condition is managed appropriately.
Recovery and Management of Diabetes
Expect to be managing your cat’s diabetes for the rest of her life. After her initial recovery, you will need to return for regular, follow-up visits to make sure her blood glucose levels are within an acceptable range. You may even be able to test your cat at home once the initial treatment phase is over and if your cat is cooperative. These tests are essential to your cat’s health, as unmanaged diabetes can lead to a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis.
Your veterinarian will show you how to administer glucose injections properly. Make sure you read the instructions on the medication, as glucose needs to be refrigerated in order to remain effective. Don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian for advice about how to handle your cat if she resists her injections.
Diet and weight reduction can help your cat manage the disease when used in addition to medication. Ideally, your cat should have meals around the same time as her injections. This could mean adjusting your cat to a new feeding schedule, but with patience, your cat will adapt to these lifestyle changes.
Managing diabetes in cats can feel overwhelming at first. However, with time and patience, both you and your cat will learn to accept this new routine and enjoy your cat’s renewed good health.
Diabetes in cats cannot always be prevented, but keeping your cat at a healthy weight and feeding him a balanced diet may help reduce his risk of developing this disease. As your cat ages, monitor her weight, eating and drinking habits, and urination as best as you can. Diabetes isn’t always preventable, but an early diagnosis will help your cat get back to his usual self as quickly as possible.
Is there a vaccine for diabetes?
Diabetes is not an infectious disease. There is no vaccine, but keeping your cat up to date on other vaccinations can help reduce the risk of other diseases that may complicate your ability to manage the diabetes.
Diabetes in cats cannot always be prevented, but knowing the symptoms of diabetes will ensure your cat gets the medical attention he needs as he ages.