What is Feline Diabetes?
Feline diabetes is a very complex disorder in
which your cat is unable to regulate its blood glucose (or sugar)
properly. A cat's blood glucose is controlled by the hormone
insulin. Insulin is produced by beta cells in an organ called
the pancreas. Diabetes develops when these beta cells lose
function and stop producing insulin or when the body becomes resistant
to the effects of insulin.
What are the Signs and Symptoms?
The classic signs of diabetes include:
- excessive thirst or drinking (polydipsia)
- frequent urination (polyuria)
- weight loss despite eating well
- increase in appetite (early in disease process)
As the disease progresses signs may include
anorexia (loss of appetite), depression, poor skin and hair coat,
secondary bacterial infections and vomiting. If your cat exhibits any
of the above symptoms he should be taken to your vet right away for a
What are the Risk Factors?
Obesity is the most common risk factor for feline
diabetes especially in cats over 15 pounds. Another common
risk factor is age. Cats 6 years and older or more likely to develop
the disease, although it can be seen in younger cats. Feline
diabetes is also more common in neutered males. It is said
that the disease affects 1 out of every 400 cats.
How is it diagnosed?
A diagnosis of Feline Diabetes is made based on
clinical signs, physical exam, and lab tests. Lab tests include
increased levels of glucose in both the blood and the urine.
It is important to test both the blood and the urine for an increase in
glucose because cats frequently experience stress-induced hyperglycemia
(increased blood sugar), where the blood glucose can be increased just
because of stress. However, stress-induced hyperglycemia does not
usually result in elevated urine glucose.
How is it treated?
The object of diabetes treatment is to control the
blood glucose so it stays in (or near) the normal range. To
determine whether your cat needs insulin, your vet will measure blood
glucose. If the glucose level is only slightly above normal, your vet
may suggest dietary management and oral antihyperglycemic agents before
resorting to insulin injections. But cats with persistent and
pronounced hyperglycemia usually require insulin. About 70-80 percent
of feline diabetes patients will require insulin injections.
The first step in treatment is to alter your cat's
diet. Diets that are high in fiber are preferred because they are
generally lower in sugar and slower to be digested. This means that the
cat does not have to process a large amount of sugar at one time.
Stretching out feeding into several small meals instead of just one or
two big ones will also help in regulating blood levels. Your vet will
give you thorough instructions on how to feed your cat if he is
receiving insulin injections.
If diet alone does not control the diabetes, your
cat will need medication, either insulin or an oral antihyperglycemic
pill. If you opt to try pills, research indicates that it can take up
to four months before a cat begins to respond to them. Depending on
your cat's overall health at diagnosis, you may not want to wait this
long. Also, most cats don't seem to respond to the pills so injected
insulin may be the best treatment option. Topics to be thoroughly
discussed with your veterinarian include: insulin storage and handling,
insulin administration, signs and treatment of hypoglycemia, diet, and
monitoring at home
Ideally, your veterinarian will conduct an 18-24
hour blood glucose profile to determine the amount and frequency of
insulin injections. This test is done in the hospital, and consists of
injections of insulin followed by close monitoring of the blood glucose
values. It is extremely important that you monitor your cat's glucose
and insulin levels carefully. An overdose of insulin can
create hypoglycemia, a potentially fatal condition. Symptoms include
lethargy, weakness, followed by in-coordination, convulsions, and coma.
This condition can be counteracted by giving the cat its normal food if
it is able to eat, or a bit of Karo syrup rubbed on the gums, followed,
of course, by a trip to the veterinarian.
What is the Prognosis?
Managed diabetic cats can live full and happy
lives, but they do need careful tending because of the dangers of an
insulin overdose. To be safe, keep your diabetic cat indoors. If your
cat hasn't yet been stabilized on his insulin dose, stay alert for
trouble during insulin peaks (about four to eight hours after each
injection, depending on the type of insulin). Managing a diabetic cat
requires good communication between you and your veterinarian. Your cat
needs consistent administration of medication, consistent feeding, a
stable, stress-free lifestyle and dedication and commitment by you.