Diabetes In Cats

Diabetes is one of the more common hormonal diseases that we see and diagnose in cats. It is more common in middle age and older cats although any age of cat can be affected.

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Diabetes is seen in all breeds but it has been reported that Burmese cats may have a genetic predisposition (increased likelihood) of developing diabetes. Diabetes can develop in both male and female cats, and is seen more commonly in overweight cats.

Diabetes in essence is where cats are not able to control the level of sugar (glucose) in their blood.

What Causes Diabetes In Cats?

In a diabetic cat either their pancreas does not produce enough insulin or their body does not respond to the insulin properly.

Here’s a bit of technical stuff as to why insulin is important for your cat:

When your cat eats, the food is digested and converted into glucose. Glucose is a source of energy for all the cells in your cat’s body. When the level of glucose rises in the blood stream after a meal the pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that will then mean the glucose can enter the cells and be used as energy. If there is not enough insulin or the body does not respond well the glucose then stays in the blood. The level of glucose can then become dangerously high, which will result in the signs seen in Diabetes.

Signs & Symptoms Of Diabetes In Cats

There are a number of signs of diabetes to look out for in your cat:

  • Increase thirst and appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy / weakness / collapse
  • Vomiting
  • Risk of urine infections (due to glucose being present in the urine which is then a source of energy for bacteria)
  • Higher susceptibility to infections
  • Poor coat quality
  • Sunken back legs – cats walk on their ankle joint rather than their toes

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

Diabetes is very easy to diagnose and a lot of the time vets are suspicious of diabetes from just the signs and symptoms that you may report in a consultation along with a full health check.

Diagnosis is then confirmed by finding sugar in a urine sample and an abnormally high blood sugar level. We may also advise running additional tests to ensure your cat is not suffering from any other diseases or infections i.e. urinary tract infections.

How Do You Treat a Diabetic Cat?

Treatment of diabetes in cats does require a lot of commitment from owners and can be overwhelming as treatment involves giving your cat injections twice a day. If your cat is very sick they may initially need hospitalisation to treat some of the severe consequences of diabetes and start their insulin injections.

Once stable, treatment can be carried on at home in the form of twice daily injections under the skin (usually done in the scruff of their neck). The needles that are used are very small and are usually well accepted by cats. We advise that you always feed your cat before giving them their injections to ensure that their blood sugar level does not go too low if they don’t eat.

Keeping a regular daily routine will help i.e. regular feeding times and type of food, regular exercise, keeping body weight stable.

Initially regular trips to the vets and blood tests are required to ensure that your cat is on the correct dose of insulin. It’s helpful to keep a diary to tell us the times of injections, how they are eating and drinking and generally how they are behaving. In time these visits will be reduce as it is hoped that your cat will only need their insulin dose adjusting occasionally.

We offer diabetic clinics with our nurses who will be able to give you lots of tips on how to give the injections and lots of other advice about coping with diabetic cats.

What Do I Do If My Cat Does Not Eat Or I Miss An Injection?

If you miss an injection or are unsure if your cat has had the full dose, we would normally advise you just give the correct dose of insulin at the next scheduled time.

If your cat does not eat or you are worried that you might have given too much insulin, we advise you phone your vets for advice.

How Do I Store My Cat’s Insulin?

The insulin should usually be stored upright in your fridge. If the insulin is left at room temperature or frozen it is unlikely to work as well. If you are using an insulin VetPen, once the cartridges are in the VetPen they can be stored at room temperature but protected from light.

Can Diabetes Be Cured In Cats?

Some cats can go into remission from their diabetes.This is more likely if diabetes is diagnosed and treated earlier.

What Is The Life Expectancy Of A Diabetic Cat?

If their diabetes is well managed many cats can live a long and happy life, but it does rely on a lot of commitment from owners. Unfortunately there are some cats that do not respond well to the treatment or have other diseases that makes management difficult.

How Can Feline Diabetes Be Prevented?

As diabetes is more common in overweight and inactive cats keeping your cat active and a normal body weight can help to prevent diabetes.

What Happens To A Cat With Untreated Diabetes?

Unfortunately if diabetes is left untreated it will ultimately be life threatening. This is usually due to development of a condition called Ketoacidosis. This is where the body breaks down its own fat and proteins to provide energy, this produces ketones that make the blood acidic and can cause severe clinical signs.

Can A Cat Die From Diabetes?

If diabetes is not treated, unfortunately a cat can die of the complications associated with this.

In some circumstances they may not respond or cope with the treatment regime or have other underlying health problems, which might mean euthanasia is an option.

However many cats will lead a happy and healthy life, albeit one that needs frequent check ups at the vets and daily medication.

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