Diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus) is a condition that affects an alarming number of cats. With more cats being diagnosed, we thought we’d share everything cat owners need to know about diabetes. We've covered the symptoms of the condition, how they're managed and treated, and how this condition will affect your cat's life.
This article was reviewed by our expert veterinarian, Chris Vanderhoof (DMV).
What is diabetes in cats?
Diabetes in cats is much like diabetes in humans. It’s a condition in which the body doesn’t respond appropriately to the hormone insulin. Insulin “unlocks” the door to the cells so that glucose can be absorbed and used for energy. When the body doesn’t respond to insulin, the glucose that should be used in the cells for energy is unable to enter the cells. What results is elevated glucose levels in the blood.
According to research, there are two types of diabetes in cats, much like in humans. In Type I diabetes, there’s a decrease in insulin production that results in higher blood glucose levels. Type II diabetes involves high blood glucose levels that result from the body not responding properly to insulin.
Symptoms of diabetes in cats
Diabetes in cats shows up in several ways. The following are common symptoms, although it’s important to note that the signs of diabetes can be similar to various other feline illnesses. A visit to the vet is essential to rule out other causes.
Signs your cat may be diabetic:
- Increased thirst;
- More frequent urination;
- Weight loss;
- Diabetic cat behavior is lethargic and weak;
- More frequent infections;
- Diabetic neuropathy or weakness in the hind legs, loss of muscle.
How is diabetes in cats treated?
If you suspect your cat has diabetes, it’s best to seek treatment earlier rather than later. Diabetes in cats is more successfully treated in the early stages of the disease.
Treatment of feline diabetes includes:
Changes to the diet may be required to assist with weight loss and to limit your cat’s carbohydrate intake.
Medication to reduce glucose can help some cats. Most cases require insulin injections given once or twice a day.
Routine is vital in treating diabetes in cats. This includes a strict schedule of feeding times and injections.
What to feed a cat with diabetes
The best diabetic cat food is one that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates. While most wet foods are higher in protein and lower in carbs, many makes of dry food are made using starch that is high in carbohydrates.
If your cat is overweight, this increases its risk of developing diabetes, so it's a good idea to pay attention to your cat's diet and its effect on his weight. If your overweight cat is diagnosed with diabetes, your first step in managing the condition will be to help your cat slim down gradually.
To help manage your cat’s diabetes, you’ll need to stick to a schedule that times their meals and insulin to keep sugar levels as consistent as possible. With the help of an interactive pet camera by Petcube, you can always take track of what your pet eats and does while you are away from home. Especially when it comes to your cat sticking to a special schedule due to diabetes.
That said, diabetes that goes undiagnosed for long periods can lead to weight loss. When it comes to your cat’s nutrition, it’s always best to work with a veterinarian to ensure your cat is getting all the nutrition he needs.
Possibility of diabetic remission
The goal of treating diabetes in cats is to regulate blood glucose. The ideal is to reach a point known as diabetic remission when your cat maintains normal glucose levels for more than 4 weeks without insulin therapy.
Not all cats with diabetes will go into remission. But your cat's chances significantly increase by early insulin therapy and strictly managing diet.
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How to test for diabetes in cats?
Your vet will run several tests, including urinalysis, a complete blood count, and a serum biochemistry profile.
Persistently elevated glucose levels in your cat’s blood and urine will confirm a diagnosis of diabetes.
Read more: How Often Should You Take a Cat to a Vet?
What is diabetic neuropathy in cats?
Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of chronic diabetes in cats. It shows up as weakness in the hind limbs, changing posture, decreased ability to jump, and deterioration of the muscles.
How long do cats live with diabetes?
The life expectancy of cats with diabetes varies depending on a range of factors.
Younger cats and cats without other contributing diseases as well as those who begin treatment early and maintain a good weight experience better outcomes. Older cats, those suffering from additional separate health problems, overweight cats, and those who have delayed treatment may have a shorter life expectancy with diabetes.
What can I feed my diabetic cat to gain weight?
The best diabetic cat food is one that is high in protein and low in carbs. Look for foods that contain good protein sources like chicken, fish, and beef.
Try to avoid dry foods that tend to contain a higher ratio of carbohydrates.
What does it mean if my diabetic cat wants to eat all the time?
Is your diabetic cat always hungry? This is very common due to the inability to use glucose for energy and is particularly common in cats that have been newly diagnosed as diabetic. As medication and diet begin to regulate the disease, the hunger should stabilize too.
How long can a diabetic cat go without insulin?
The best way to treat diabetes is with regular insulin and regular meals timed specifically. We recommend sticking as closely as possible to the schedule your vet prescribes.
When it comes to estimating how long your cat could go without insulin, you would need to consider various factors like your cat’s diabetes type, insulin sensitivity, and specific insulin production level.