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Everything you need to know about diabetes in cats

White and brown cat at the vet advice © Shutterstock

Feline diabetes is on the rise, with an estimated 1 in 200 cats suffering. Here’s everything you need to know about diabetes in cats.

By Alice Lang

Diabetes is an insulin deficiency which leads to increased blood glucose levels. Feline diabetes is a serious condition, and if left untreated, can be life-threatening.

Although diabetes is far less common in cats than dogs, it can certainly still strike - especially if your cat is overweight.

However, you’ll be pleased to hear that in most cases, diabetes doesn’t need to negatively affect a cat’s life. If your cat is diagnosed with the condition, they can still lead a long, happy and healthy life provided it’s diagnosed and treated appropriately.

What is diabetes in cats?

If your cat is healthy, their food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. As a result, they produce glucose, which provides the body with energy. Immediately after a meal, your cat’s glucose levels will steadily rise.

Then, the pancreas will release insulin. This allows the newly generated glucose to enter the body where and when it’s needed, to be used as energy. Basically, glucose and insulin work together - they’re like team-mates!

On the flipside, if your cat is diabetic, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t handle it appropriately. And without their team-mate insulin, the glucose doesn’t know where to go. Consequently, a dangerous back-up of glucose quickly develops, causing a variety of dangerous signs and symptoms.

When glucose levels are too high in cats (and humans!), it’s referred to as hyperglycaemia.

There are two types of diabetes in cats:

Type 1: Where the cat’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin

Type 2: Where the cat’s cells can’t handle insulin properly

Risk factors and causes of diabetes in cats

It’s believed that the single biggest risk factor of diabetes in cats is obesity or being overweight. If your cat is a little on the podgy side, you might want to start a weight-loss routine to decrease their risk.

And, believe it or not, your cat doesn’t necessarily have to be overweight to be at a greater risk of feline diabetes. An inactive lifestyle alone can increase their risk. If you’ve got an indoor cat, make sure you’re providing them with lots of playtime and toys to increase their activity levels.

Another risk factor is age. Elderly cats are much more likely to develop diabetes, regardless of their weight - so make sure to keep an extra close eye out for signs and symptoms.

Male cats and cats who are already suffering from other conditions, such as urinary tract infections, are also believed to be at a higher risk of feline diabetes.

Symptoms of feline diabetes

diabetes in cats
Have you noticed that your cat needs to pee more? They might have diabetes ©Shutterstock
  • Increased thirst
  • Passing more urine
  • Excessive hunger
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Tiredness or weakness
  • Vomiting
  • An increased risk of infections
  • Sunken back legs
  • Poor coat condition
  • Bladder infections

Be aware that symptoms of diabetes in cats could take months to come on but in certain circumstances, can happen suddenly or over the course of a few days.

What to do if you think your cat has diabetes

Have you noticed some of the above signs and symptoms of diabetes in your kitty? You should head to the vet at the earliest opportunity. Untreated diabetes can damage the body and in some cases, can be fatal.

Let your vet know your concerns. As well as carrying out a regular check-up, they’ll probably carry out blood and urine tests to detect the glucose levels in the blood. If your cat is diabetic, the tests will show an excessive level of blood glucose and/or glucose in the urine.

Treatment of diabetes in cats

diabetes in cats
It might seem scary, but your cat will get used to insulin injections with time ©Shutterstock

According to James Andres Jones, author of Cat Symptoms & Illnesses, there are a few ways to treat cat diabetes, these being:

  • Controlling your cat’s diet and weight
  • Injecting insulin
  • Oral medicine
  • Monitoring insulin and glucose levels

“In terms of injecting insulin, your vet will most probably carry out an 18 to 24-hour test on your cat’s glucose to create a profile. This will allow your vet to determine the amounts and how often insulin needs to be injected,” “A hypoglycemic oral medication is normally used in cats who are otherwise healthy.”

Your cat will need to have regular check-ups at the vets following their diagnosis and initial treatment. If you ever notice changes in your cat’s health or symptoms, get back to the vet immediately.

Managing feline diabetes

Your vet will recommend the appropriate treatment for your cat's diabetes and this should always be the first priority in terms of diabetes management.

However, it’s also useful to know that diabetes in cats can be significantly improved through diet and lifestyle changes. Most diabetic cats will benefit from losing weight. In most cases, being overweight was probably what triggered the condition in the first place. Generally, low-carb diets are beneficial to diabetic cats, as is plenty of exercise.

You should never change a diabetic’s cat diet or treatment without first consulting your vet. They’ll be more than willing to help to find the best diabetic diet for your cat. Make sure you chat with them about this following diagnosis rather than trying to figure it out on your own.

A good routine which includes careful monitoring, a diabetic-appropriate diet and lots of check-ups at the vet should keep your cat in a healthy, stable condition - good luck!