A Guide to Diabetes in Cats: What You Need to Know

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A common hormonal disease affecting 1 in approximately 200 cats, diabetes in cats can cause grave effects to your cat’s health. Weight loss, blindness, comas, and even death can occur. However, with good care and control, you can help your cat fight diabetes and provide a high quality of life!

What is Cat Diabetes aka Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes in cats is no laughing matter. Mainly because it is extremely prevalent in indoor cats. More formally referred to as Feline Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes mellitus can be classified as either type 1 or type 2. Type 1 diabetes in cats is fairly uncommon. So, we won’t get into this too much!

However, type 2 diabetes is a whole other story. Type 2 diabetes in cats is the most common form of diabetes seen in our feline friends. Type 2 diabetes in cats may be due to either inadequate insulin production and secretion or insulin resistance.

So, what does this mean for your cat?

You see, glucose aka “blood sugar” is vital for the production of energy. When we feed our cats carbohydrates, their body will begin a metabolic process, where the carbs are broken down into many little molecules, and eventually glucose. Once in the small intestine, glucose molecules will require the help of a hormone called insulin.

Insulin is made in the pancreas, and its main job is to regulate the amount of glucose in an animals blood. In other words, it helps the body absorb glucose from the small intestine, to blood, and into the cells.

Now, if your veterinarian says, “Mr. Snuggles has got type 2 diabetes” then this is what it could mean?

Well, it likely means that Mr. Snuggles is not making enough insulin, and so glucose is beginning to build up in Mr.Snuggles blood. As a result, Mr. Snuggles will be experiencing hyperglycemia aka high levels of blood glucose.

Now if you’ve got a diabetic dog then hold on! Diabetes in dogs is slightly different from diabetes seen in cats. So, make sure you check out diabetes in dogs for more info!

Too Much Insulin or Too Much Sugar? Causes Diabetes in Cats

Insulin is secreted by pancreatic cells known as Beta cells. Type 2 diabetes in cats will often be associated with genetics, drugs, low physical activity, and obesity.

Much scientific evidence exists which suggest that certain cat breeds are more at risk of developing diabetes. For example, in countries like New Zealand and Australia, the Burmese cat is most at risk of developing diabetes.

Another important risk factor that causes diabetes in cats is obesity. So, if you have a fat cat, then make sure you read this part well!

Obesity predisposes a cat to insulin resistance. In addition, obesity and a lack of physical activity will lead to insulin resistance. And, as a result, your kitty cat will not be able to absorb glucose from their blood.

Now, we’ve only discussed the main two risk factors that predispose a cat to diabetes. However, it is important to keep in mind the many other causes of diabetes in cats like:

  • Metabolic diseases such as hyperthyroidism and acromegaly can be a key factor in predisposing a cat to diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis can lead to diabetes in cats. This is likely due to the destruction or inflammation of the cells of the pancreas responsible for secreting insulin.
  • Certain medications and drugs such as corticosteroids can predispose a cat to diabetes.

Type of Cats that Can Get Diabetes

So, now you must be wondering. What type of cats are more at risk of getting diabetes mellitus?

It’s simple!

Middle-aged male cats are most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, any cat who’s been on a high calorie, energy dense food (i.e kibble with lots of carbs) will be at risk of developing diabetes. 

5 Facts You Need to Know About Feline Diabetes

  1. When insulin is used as part of the treatment.  Then it is vital that owners monitor their cat’s glucose on a regular basis.
  2. In approximately 90% of the cases of feline diabetes mellitus. Diabetic remission is a common finding!
  3. If there is persistent hyperglycemia (sustained high levels of glucose for a long period of time). Then a cat can experience a phenomenon known as glucose toxicity.
  4. The protein amyloid may sometimes deposit on the islets cells of the pancreas. Therefore amyloid deposition can be a cause of diabetes in cats.
  5. Got a fat cat? overweight cats need to lose weight slowly! if an overweight cat were to lose more than2% of their body weight each week. Then they have a high risk of developing hepatic lipidosis.

From Frequent Urination to Thirst: Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats

To understand the symptoms of diabetes in cats, we must first refer back to the pathology (aka how diabetes affects the body) above. As we mentioned, glucose is in the blood needs to be absorbed into the cells to provide energy to an animal.

When there is insulin resistance or insufficient insulin production, then glucose cannot be absorbed into the cells. So, the animal’s body will go into a starved state. In other words, the body is tricked into believing it’s hungry. With that being said, symptoms of diabetes in cats will include:

  • Weight loss
  • Constant hunger
  • Lethargy (sleeps more than often)

Now, since the glucose cannot be absorbed by the cells. Then it begins to build up in the blood (hyperglycemia). Because there is simply too much glucose in the blood, it will begin to leak out through the kidneys. This leads to osmotic diuresis, which means that as there is a lot of glucose in the fluids being excreted by the kidney water follows the glucose. Which means pet owners will begin to see polyuria aka lots of urine production.

Polyuria and polydipsia (compensatorily increased thirst) as a result of osmotic diuresis.

Do cats die from diabetes?

Yes, cats can die from diabetes. And, this is often referred to as a diabetic coma.

In cases where feline diabetes remains progressively uncontrolled, then DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis) will develop. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a complication of feline diabetes. In aggressive cases, symptoms of DKA include:

  • Jaundice
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Feline Diabetes Symptoms: Remission in Cats

In the management of diabetes, diabetic remission is the best and most ideal goal. Achieving diabetic remission means that diabetic cats can control their blood glucose levels for four weeks or more without needing insulin treatment, and most of them do not relapse. To help your cat achieve this, several factors are crucial:

Diet – Feed an appropriate diet consistently that minimizes glucose spikes. Diets should ideally be low in carbohydrate with high moisture. It is also crucial to maintain your cat at a lean, healthy bodyweight as overweight cats have a higher risk of relapsing.

Insulin therapy – It is important to also catch the disease early on and put your cat on a regimented control plan as soon as possible. Insulin therapy or other glucose-controlling drugs with a proper diet are vital to keeping glucose levels low.

Think You’ve got Diabetic Cat? Here’s How Your Vet will Diagnosis Diabetes Mellitus

Diagnosing diabetes in cats is fairly simple and straightforward. Upon visiting your local vets, your veterinarian will first conduct a full physical examination on your cat. She/he will then proceed to ask you questions such as:

“When did you first notice signs such as the frequent urination or frequent thirst?”, ” What is their current diet? Is the cat fed ad lib?” and “If your kitty getting plenty of exercises?”

To make a definitive diagnosis, your veterinarian will recommend a blood test and urine test. Prior to a blood test, your veterinarian may ask that you fast your cat for 8 to 12 hours.

Then upon the veterinary visit, they will take a blood test to evaluate your cat’s blood glucose levels. In the blood test, they will also look at your cats liver enzyme function, pancreatic function etc. Simply to rule out the possibility of an endocrine disease.

Next, your veterinarian will recommend a urinalysis. As we mentioned, when a cat experiences hyperglycemia, the excessive glucose begins to leak into the kidneys. As a result, glucose molecules will be a common finding in the urine of a diabetic cat.

Diabetes Cat: Treatment and Care!

The treatment for a diabetic cat can be fairly intense and variable. Firstly, your veterinarian will need to figure out what is the primary cause of your cat’s diabetes. From there onwards, your vet may focus on treating the primary cause.

For example, cats on medications such as corticosteroids or progestin may be taken off it immediately. As these synthetic hormones may be the cause of diabetes.

Secondly, if you own a female cat, then it is very likely that your vet will make a recommendation for you to get her spayed.

A severe complication of diabetes in cats is ketoacidosis. When this occurs, veterinarians will treat this as a medical emergency. The treatment for ketoacidosis in cats involves administering IV fluids (specifically lactated Ringer’s solution) to the cat. This helps to not only correct dehydration but the administration of fluids will also help correct electrolyte imbalances.

Diabetic Cat Food: Low Carb Cat Food

If you’ve got a diabetic cat then following the appropriate diet is a must! Here we will briefly go over what you need to look for when selecting an appropriate diet for your diabetic cat.

  1. Their diet needs to be high in protein and low in carbohydrates
  2. Diets should be high in arginine & L-carnitine
  3. The diet needs to fulfill all their nutrient requirements

It is important to note that cats—like all mammals—require carbohydrates for energy. Glucose is a molecule vital for normal cellular function, and so a cat should never be denied carbohydrates. Diabetes in cats mainly occurs in aging cats, who are inactive and obese. Combating obesity should be pet owners main goal!

A low carb diet is recommended for a diabetic cat, as these cats are not healthy enough to take up their excessive amounts of glucose.

Insulin for Cats

Exogenous insulin and Glipizide are often used as part of the treatment for diabetes in cats. Glipizide is an oral hypoglycemic agent that stimulates the secretion of insulin from the pancreas. Glipizide is often administered to cats without insulin intervention.

Cat Foods fit for the Diabetic Cat!

Not sure which cat food is great for your diabetic cat? Well, check out this pawesome line of cat foods called WERUVA.

  1. WERUVA Truluxe:  with flavors ranging from chicken to beef, what cat won’t go crazy for WERUVA Truluxe grain-free meals.
  2. WERUVA Cats in the Kitchen: Chunky in gravy, grain-free, and packed with a whole bunch of flavor and nutrients. This low carb, high protein cat food is sure to make your kitty go meow!
  3. WERUVA B.F.F: Does your cat love seafood? Then you have to check out the B.F.F line. WERUVA B.F.F comes in an array of fishy flavors like tuna, salmon, tilapia, and even bonito!

Cut the Junk Food and get Kitty to the Gym!

Diabetes in cats can be serious if left untreated. However, with the help of veterinarians and owner compliance, a diabetic cat can go on to live a fairly healthy and meowtastic life.

Common Questions

What is Diabetes in Cats?

Can a Cat Survive with Diabetes?

What is the Best Food for a Diabetic Cat?

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