Diabetic cats are more common than we think. So, if you have a cat you may be curious about feline diabetes, which is becoming an increasingly troublesome issue for our feline friends. We’ve compiled what you need to know about feline diabetes symptoms, medical complications, and the three main treatment options. Identifying signs early on can help extend and improve your kitty’s quality of life.
What is feline diabetes?
Like human diabetes, feline diabetes has to do with the production and use of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas, which plays an important role in regulating the level of glucose in the bloodstream. Glucose is like cellular fuel that cats, people, and all living things need to stay alive. With human or feline diabetes, the pancreas either isn’t producing enough insulin or the body can’t use it properly to balance glucose levels. When there’s too much insulin in the body, glucose builds up and causes a condition called hyperglycemia.
What is hyperglycemia in cats?
Feline hyperglycemia is the technical term for high blood glucose in cats. When a sick cat becomes hyperglycemic, the body can’t use glucose for fuel and starts breaking down fats for energy. This process results in a waste product called ketones. If the level of ketones gets too high, it causes ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention. If you have a diabetic cat, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of hyperglycemia, such as:
- Acetone or fruity smelling breath
- Increased thirst
- Shortness of breath
Treatment for cat hyperglycemia may include fluid therapy, insulin, and hospitalization.
What types of feline diabetes are there?
Feline diabetes is classified into two different types, which are the same as the categories for human diabetes:
Type 1 Feline Diabetes
Also called insulin-dependent diabetes, Type 1 diabetes occurs in cats when the pancreas is unable to produce insulin.
Type 2 Feline Diabetes
Type 2 diabetes in cats differs from Type 1 in that the pancreas is still producing insulin, but the cat’s body is not able to use it properly.
Type 2 feline diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in cats and is often caused by insulin resistance, which can be related to cat obesity. In addition to feline diabetes, an obese cat can also suffer from heart issues, joint problems, and other comorbid cat diseases, which are two diseases that occur together.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in cats?
The symptoms of feline diabetes can start gradually and get worse over time. Signs may also be subtle and hard to notice since sick cats tend to mask or hide their symptoms when they don’t feel well (see 5 Clues to Detect Cat Illnesses). Initial signs of feline diabetes can include the following symptoms:
- Increased appetite
- Sudden weight gain
- Excessive drinking
- Frequent urination
- Urinating in areas outside the litter box
- Unkempt fur
As the disease progresses, cats can get very skinny and show signs of weakness in their back legs. Eventually, ketoacidosis can occur, which requires immediate medical attention.
What are feline diabetes treatment options?
There are three main treatments for feline diabetes, including diet management, oral medications, and insulin injections. Your veterinarian can discuss these options with you and help determine the right course of action for your diabetic cat.
1. Diet Management
Cats with diabetes may be put on a special diet to reduce their weight and help control insulin levels. A low carbohydrate and high protein diet is often recommended. This kind of diet can reduce the amount of insulin the body needs and avoid dangerous dips and spikes in glucose levels. Sometimes diet changes are the only treatment needed to manage diabetes.
2. Oral Medications
Some cats may be given oral medications to help stimulate the pancreas and promote the secretion of insulin. While this treatment method can be more affordable and convenient than insulin injections, it doesn’t work in every case. For instance, if the pancreas is incapable of producing insulin, these medications won’t be effective.
3. Insulin Injections
Injections of insulin are one of the most common treatments for diabetes. While humans typically use a fast-acting dose of insulin right before mealtimes, cats may be given a slow-acting dose twice a day. This method of insulin injection is more convenient but makes it especially important to avoid feeding your cat large or high carbohydrate meals, which can cause dangerous spikes in glucose levels.
If you need to give your cat insulin injections, be sure to talk with your veterinarian and clearly understand how and when to give the injections. If your cat’s insulin level gets too high, it can cause hypoglycemia.
What is hypoglycemia in cats?
Feline hypoglycemia is a term for low blood glucose. It can happen when too much insulin is given or if the body’s need for insulin changes, which can happen quickly and without warning. Symptoms of hypoglycemia in cats can include:
- ● Depression
- ● Lethargy
- ● Confusion
- ● Dizziness
- ● Loss of bladder control
- ● Vomiting
- ● Loss of consciousness
- ● Seizures
If your cat is diagnosed with feline diabetes, be sure to ask your veterinarian what to do if you notice signs of hypoglycemia. Your veterinarian may recommend that you rub honey or corn syrup on your cat’s gums to raise glucose levels before seeking immediate medical attention.
While the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of feline diabetes can get expensive, you can get help managing those costs with ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Cat insurance can also cover all kinds of injuries and many other common cat illnesses from simple ear infections to cancer. Find out about cat insurance.
Rand, J. S., Fleeman, L. M., Farrow, H. A., Appleton, D. J., & Lederer, R. (2004). Canine and feline diabetes mellitus: nature or nurture?. The Journal of Nutrition, 134(8), 2072S-2080S.
Zoran, D. L., & Rand, J. S. (2013). The role of diet in the prevention and management of feline diabetes. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 43(2), 233-243.