Feline Diabetes

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Feline diabetes mellitus: a serious, but usually controllable disease

Today, it’s estimated that one in 200 cats seen by veterinarians is affected by feline diabetes. If your cat is one of them, you should know that cat diabetes is a serious disease that may require your active participation on a daily basis. But with proper care, most diabetic cats can lead active, playful lives.

Feline diabetes, or a deficiency of insulin, can be diagnosed at any age. Cats at the greatest risk for developing diabetes are most often over six years of age and/or overweight.

(For more information on the related disorder hypoglycemia, please view Recognizing and Treating Hypoglycemia.)

Understanding diabetes in cats

After a meal, glucose is released into a cat’s bloodstream. When this occurs, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows glucose to enter cells where it can be used for energy. But when a cat has feline diabetes:
  1. The pancreas is impaired and the cat can experience an insulin deficiency.
  2. As a result, glucose continues to be produced, but it can’t enter cells to produce energy, and glucose builds up in the blood.
  3. The glucose levels rise in the blood and eventually in the urine, drawing water out of a cat’s body. This results in increased urination and thirst.
  4. As the cells of the body are deprived of glucose, the cat must find another energy source and starts breaking down its own fat and muscle for energy. That’s why your cat may lose weight, despite an increase in appetite.
  5. When a cat’s body breaks down fat for fuel—instead of glucose—the liver converts some of that fat into “ketones.” Excess ketones in the blood and urine can lead to additional complications, including acidosis, an accumulation of acid in the blood. Other potential problems of diabetes include hepatic lipidosis (excess fat in the liver) or urinary tract infections.

Diagnosing feline diabetes

Your veterinarian may perform blood tests and/or a urinalysis to screen for excess levels of glucose and ketones. To confirm a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, a fasting blood glucose test is required to determine feline diabetes. View Getting the Diagnosis for more information.

During the first few weeks, if your cat requires insulin, you may need to return to the clinic to adjust the dosage, frequency or type of insulin injection. Careful monitoring of your cat’s water intake, urine output, urine glucose and overall health are extremely important during this time. Watch this video about monitoring a cat with diabetes to learn more details.

Effective treatment for your diabetic cat

Your cat’s treatment program will depend on the severity of its feline diabetes. In some instances, your cat may require hospitalization, fluids and other medications to stabilize its condition. For more information on treatment methods, watch this video about treatments for your diabetic cat.

While some cats’ diabetes may be controlled with oral medications and diet, many require daily insulin therapy. Giving your cat injections isn’t difficult. Injections are usually performed with a very thin needle under loose skin to minimize discomfort. Your veterinarian or staff will review proper injection techniques for you. Learn more by viewing How to Give an Insulin Injection.

The goal of this therapy is to maintain blood glucose within a safe range throughout the day and to prevent further complications. As the glucose level is stabilized, you may notice that your cat’s symptoms, such as excessive thirst and urination, dissipate.

The importance of diet

Your veterinarian will also recommend dietary therapy as an important adjunct to the treatment of feline diabetes. Learn more about diet by viewing this video on nutritional therapy.
  • Timing of meals. Maintain consistency in the timing and nutrient content of meals as they relate to insulin injections.
  • What you feed is just as important as when you feed your cat. Provide a consistent amount of calories and furnish complete and balanced nutrition to minimize extreme fluctuations in glucose. Increased amounts of protein and decreased amounts of carbohydrate help slow glucose absorption from the intestinal tract and help control blood glucose after meals.
  • Weight control. Obesity can lead to insulin resistance, so diet can also be instrumental in controlling diabetes. Consult your veterinarian if your cat needs to lose weight.