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Understanding Diabetes Mellitus in Cats


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To understand feline diabetes, you need to understand how blood sugar levels are regulated in the body. Glucose is a type of sugar. When a cat eats, her digestive system breaks down many of the components of her meal into glucose, which is absorbed into the blood stream. Rising blood glucose levels trigger the pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone that binds to glucose and moves it out of the blood and into cells where it can be used as a source of energy or converted into other substances and stored for later use.

"Neutered male cats are at the highest risk for developing diabetes."

When a pet has diabetes mellitus, her pancreas either does not secrete enough insulin (i.e., Type One diabetes) or her tissues cannot respond to the normal amounts of insulin that are present (i.e., Type Two diabetes). In either case, there is too much glucose in the blood and not enough within cells, and her body cannot function normally.

How Did My Cat Get Diabetes?

Cats can develop both Type One and Type Two diabetes. Obesity is the primary risk factor for the development of Type Two diabetes, but other disorders like Cushing's disease or the use of certain medications like glucocorticoids, may also be involved.

Type One diabetes develops when the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin are destroyed. The reason why this occurs is usually unclear, but genetics and severe or reoccurring pancreatic inflammation (i.e., pancreatitis) can play a role. Neutered male cats are at the highest risk for developing diabetes.

The Effects of Diabetes in Cats

Owners of diabetic cats often notice increased thirst and urination, weakness, and weight loss despite a normal or even ravenous appetite. Reoccurring infections are also possible, and cats may walk without fully straightening their hind legs or develop cataracts as the disease progresses. Left untreated, severe diabetes can cause electrolyte disturbances, extreme dehydration, seizures and death, a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Diabetic Veterinary Care

Glucose Monitor

Most cases of diabetes can be diagnosed based on a combination of clinical signs, a higher than normal blood glucose level, and the presence of glucose in the urine. Additional lab work may be needed if the initial results are ambiguous.

In rare cases, pet medications will adequately lower blood sugar levels, but the great majority of cats require insulin injections and a strictly controlled diet to control their diabetes.

Diabetic regulation is usually started in the veterinary hospital so that glucose levels can be closely monitored. If a cat is suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, intravenous fluids and other treatments will be necessary to stabilize her condition. Once a cat's diabetes is under reasonable control, she is sent home.

Home Care for Diabetic Cats

Committed owners are key to successfully managing feline diabetes. Insulin injections need to be given at approximately the same time every day. Your veterinarian will determine what type of insulin works best for your cat. Always make sure to use the type of syringe that matches your pet's insulin.

Diabetes Syringe

A diabetic cat's appetite needs to be closely monitored. High protein, low carbohydrate diets are ideal and are usually prescribed by a veterinarian. If your cat is not eating normally, call your vet. It is always safer to skip an insulin injection than to give one when it is not needed. A low blood sugar level (i.e., too much insulin) is much more dangerous in the short term than is a high blood sugar level.

Regular monitoring of a diabetic cat's glucose levels is very important. Owners can learn to do this at home with a hand-held blood glucose monitor like the AlphaTRAK 2 or with urinary glucose detection systems. Cats can also be brought into the veterinary clinic for the blood tests the give an idea of the adequacy of glucose control over the last several days or weeks.

Never increase your cat's insulin dose without first talking to your veterinarian. If your cat is acting confused, weak, or lethargic give her some food, do not give any insulin, and call your vet. If your cat collapses or has a seizure, rub a dissolved sugar solution, honey, or Karo syrup on her gums and get her to the vet immediately.

Managing a diabetic cat takes dedication. Some cats require life-long treatment. Others may eventually be able to be weaned off their insulin injections, but still require rigorous weight control, dietary modifications and close monitoring. With proper care, however, many diabetic cats live happily for years after their diagnosis.


The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.