Around 0.2-1% of cats develop diabetes, says the Cornell University Feline Health Center. It’s a condition where the bloodstream has an abnormally high glucose (sugar) level because the cat’s body doesn’t respond properly to or produce enough insulin.
Under normal circumstances, the pancreas produces insulin, a hormone which regulates the blood’s glucose level and controls the delivery of glucose to the entire body. Insulin attaches itself to the cells and signals the right time to take in glucose. The cells then absorb the glucose in the blood and use it as an energy source.
Cats with diabetes fail to perform this process because their cells don’t use glucose properly. As a result, it accumulates in their bloodstream.
Like diabetes in people, feline diabetes has two types:
- Type I –Blood sugar levels are high because the cat’s insulin production decreases.
- Type II– Blood sugar levels are high because the cat’s body doesn’t respond properly to insulin. This type is more prevalent than Type I diabetes.
Feline diabetes has a number of causes, including a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and a high-carbohydrate diet (usually comprises dry kibble). Cats whose pancreases have amyloids (abnormal proteins) are also more likely to develop the disease than those who do not. The Cornell Feline Health Center adds that the Burmese breed has a higher risk, while the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA) says diabetes is more frequent among male and middle to senior-aged cats.
The Symptoms of Diabetes Among Cats
Regardless of the type of diabetes, symptoms are similar among all cats. If you suspect that your cat has diabetes, look out for:
- Weight Loss –The cat’s cells can’t absorb glucose from the blood, so they don’t have enough energy to fuel their functions. To compensate, the body uses other energy sources. It breaks down the cat’s stored fats and proteins to fuel the cells. As a result, the cat loses weight significantly, even if his or her appetite increases.
- Frequent Thirst – High glucose levels means the urinary system filters and expels a considerable amount of glucose in the urine. To dilute it, the system uses excessive amounts of water. As a result, cats feel thirst often and are likely to be dehydrated.
- Frequent Urination – Because a cat with diabetes needs to expel more glucose, the urinary system produces more urine. You see larger clumps in the litter box. The urine is more diluted, too, so it smells less foul.
- A Plantigrade Stance – Cats with diabetes are prone to nerve damage in the hind limbs, which leads to a “plantigrade” or flat-footed stance. Rather than walking on his or her paws, a cat walks on his or her hocks.
- Frequent Hunger – Cats with diabetes can’t use the glucose in their diets efficiently, so they compensate by wanting to eat more.
How Diabetes Affects Your Cat
Diabetes can cause serious complications if left untreated. Cats with diabetes are more likely to experience weight loss and dehydration. They also have a higher chance of developing the following:
- Cataracts – The lens in a cat’s eyes become cloudy or totally opaque. This isn’t common in cats with diabetes, and progression to blindness is rare. But once the eyes sustain extensive damage, surgical repair would be necessary.
- Diabetic Neuropathy – About 10% of cats develop diabetic neuropathy, a condition where one or more peripheral nerves become dysfunctional and cause numbness or weakness in the area. This condition commonly affects the femoral nerve, which is in a cat’s legs.
- Diabetic Nephropathy – Also known as renal disease, this is a serious yet rare complication of diabetes. High glucose concentrations damage the glomeruli, which are the filtering structures in the kidneys. As a result, the kidney can no longer remove waste from the blood thoroughly.
Diagnosing Diabetes in Your Cat
If you spot the signs of diabetes in your cat, bring him or her to the vet immediately. Your vet will check if the symptoms truly stem from diabetes. This is because high glucose concentration can stem from conditions other than insulin issues.
To confirm the disease, vets check the glucose level of the cats. Some vets also measure the concentration of fructosamine, a molecule that increases in cats with diabetes.
How You Can Treat Your Cat
The good news is that feline diabetes is a manageable condition. Proper management helps relieve a cat’s symptoms and makes everyday routines more comfortable.
The goal of treating diabetes is to restore healthy blood glucose levels, mitigate weight loss, reduce excessive thirst and urination, and normalize the cat’s appetite.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Change Your Cat’s Diet
Cats with diabetes benefit from a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. These meals decrease the amount of glucose absorbed in the intestinal tract and, consequently, reduce the need for insulin production. Wet food is also more beneficial because it provides low quantities of carbohydrates.
Dave’s Pet Food offers options that are ideal for cats that need to control their blood sugar levels. Our 95% Premium Meat canned cat food:
- Has meat as the main ingredient
- Doesn’t contain grain, corn, cereal, or wheat
- Is gluten-free
- Comes in a variety of flavors
It’s also critical to restoring your cat’s weight without over or underfeeding them. If your cat is underweight, you’ll need to feed him or her multiple meals a day or allow access to food at all times. If your cat is overweight, the feeding schedule should facilitate healthy weight loss. Your vet will prescribe the right feeding time and amount of food for your cat.
2. Oral Medication
Some vets prescribe oral medication that decreases the blood sugar level. These are called hypoglycemic agents. They’re easy to administer and are prescribed to cats who can’t use insulin.
Administer the medication according to the dosage and schedule prescribed by the vet. Don’t change them without your vet’s advice.
3. Insulin Injections
Insulin therapy is the most common treatment for cats with diabetes. Vets determine the type and amount of insulin that produce the desired effect on your cat’s glucose levels. It could take several visits before you get the results.
Vets usually teach pet parents how to inject insulin on their cats. Don’t worry, the needles are minuscule. They won’t cause your cat any pain. Just follow the vet’s instructions carefully, especially regarding the preparation and time.
Monitor your cat’s treatment so you can be sure that your cat is doing well. Record the following:
- Your cat’s weight (weekly)
- Time of insulin injection
- Amount of insulin injected
- Feeding time and amount of food eaten
- Amount of water consumed
There’s no cure for feline diabetes, but you can manage it well enough so that your cat won’t have to deal with its adverse effects. Even with the disease, cats can live a long and happy life. In fact, some cats lose the need for insulin treatments over time. Your cat would just need close monitoring, proper medication, and a healthy lifestyle.
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