Feline Diabetes, Prevention & Care
Author, Stacey Kalinnikova, BVetTech for Professional Pet Sitting Etc.
Diabetes mellitus is a hormonal disorder resulting from a deficiency of insulin. Insulin originates from the pancreas and is involved in the regulation of glucose flow from the bloodstream to the body cells. Glucose in the cells is required for energy and metabolism. If the insulin in the body is insufficient, glucose will begin to build up in the bloodstream and the body will start to break down alternative energy sources such as fat and protein.
There are two types of diabetes mellitus in cats:
Type 1 – Occurs due to a lack of insulin, this type is uncommon in cats.
Type 2 – Occurs when the body cells lose the ability to respond to insulin. As the disease progresses, the body will also develop a lack of insulin.
The exact cause of diabetes mellitus in cats is unknown. Predisposing factors include:
- Other hormonal disorders
- Chronic pancreatitis
- Prolonged use of certain medications such as corticosteroids or progestogens
Common signs of feline diabetes include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss
- Poor hair coat
- Frequent vomiting
- Predisposition to secondary bacterial infections
Diagnosis of diabetes mellitus in cats is based on clinical signs, thorough physical examination, and laboratory testing.
Physical examination may reveal a change in weight, dehydration, poor hair coat, and the veterinarian may be able to palpate an enlarged liver and kidneys. Other common diseases in cats can have similar clinical signs so additional testing is necessary.
Urinalysis (analysis of a urine sample) is performed to determine the presence of glucose and ketones in the urine. Glycosuria (glucose in the urine) is an indication of diabetes, while ketonuria (ketones in the urine) will reveal ketoacidosis. Blood tests will reveal high blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia) indicative of diabetes.
While persistent hyperglycaemia and glycosuria indicates diabetes, a one off result could be a cat’s normal response to stress. Therefore, it is often necessary to repeat blood and urine tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Additional blood tests can check the serum fructosamine level, which can reveal the average blood glucose levels over the past week. A supplementary chemistry panel may show increased liver enzymes and high cholesterol, as well as a decrease in potassium, sodium, and phosphorus levels.
Treatment of diabetes in cats generally involves a complementary approach between injectable insulin or oral hypoglycaemic medications and dietary management.
An injection of insulin is administered subcutaneously (under the skin) once or twice daily. The insulin dose required is determined by the veterinarian administering a dose in-clinic and performing a blood glucose curve to check the blood sugar response over a certain time period.
Injections can be given at home after demonstration of the correct technique by the veterinary team. Insulin must be stored in the refrigerator and injections should be given on a strict schedule each day to avoid complications.
Oral hypoglycaemic medications
A small percentage of diabetic cats can be treated with oral hypoglycaemic medications that work to lower glucose levels in the blood. Frequent glucose monitoring is required and many cats will still require injectable insulin in conjunction with oral medications.
Dietary management is an important complementary factor to medications. It is first important to normalise the body weight of overweight cats, which is usually achieved with a reduced calorie diet. A long-term dietary change for diabetic cats is often required in the form of specifically formulated veterinary diets that are low in carbohydrates or high in fiber with a complex carbohydrate ratio.
Food intake must be closely monitored with a strict feeding routine. Diabetic cats should be fed half of their daily food intake at the same time as their insulin injections. Depending on whether or not the cat eats at the given times, the veterinarian may wish to delay the injection.
Management & Monitoring
Without ongoing management and monitoring at home, cats are at risk of developing hypoglycaemic episodes or life-threatening ketoacidosis.
Home management involves regular insulin injections, blood glucose monitoring, urine monitoring, body weight assessment, and close monitoring of appetite and drinking.
Insulin must be given on a strict schedule as prescribed by the veterinarian. It is important to adhere to regular feeding and injection times as skipping or delaying one dose can result in serious complications.
Blood glucose and urine monitoring
Blood glucose can be tested at home to check levels for adequate response to insulin and feeding. The glucometer requires a small drop of blood which is usually taken from the ear or paw pad. Urine glucose monitoring can also be performed in the home, however is not ideal as the results are not as accurate as blood testing.
Diabetic cats require close monitoring and daily care. It can be stressful for cats to be taken to a veterinary clinic or boarding facility each time owners go away on holiday.
Professional Pet Sitting Etc. provides an in-home service for the care of diabetic patients.
Taking your cat to a boarding facility is highly stressful for cats and a diabetic cat that is stressed can influence your cat’s health.
Contact us when booking your next holiday and we will be happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have about leaving your diabetic cat at home while you are away.
Helpful resources containing information for owners of diabetic cats include:
Handling, Storing & Administering Insulin to Cats
Hypoglycaemia Quick Reference – How to treat hypoglycaemia
Glucose toxicity and hypoglycaemia
Cat Hospital of Chicago – Diabetes Mellitus in Cats Overview
Blood Glucose Curves in the Diagnosis & Regulation of Diabetes in Cats
Glucose curve generator tool
Diet as an Aid to Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats
How To Test Your Diabetic Cat’s Blood Sugar At Home (Video)
How to Give Your Diabetic Cat an Insulin Injection (Video)
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Dorinne Whynott, is a long time animal professional. She is a successful business owner establishing one of the largest pet sitting companies in New Hampshire since 1990. Click to Read her complete History.
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