Vet administering insulin to cat

Key takeaway

Cats with diabetes can still live quality lives when treated properly. Treatment will typically include dietary changes and insulin. The cost of cat insulin varies depending on the brand and where you buy it.

Cat diabetes requires treatment, which costs money. In some cases, diabetes can be managed with diet and weight loss. However, many cats will need insulin throughout their entire lives once diagnosed with diabetes. While the cost of insulin will depend on where you get it and what brand you purchase, you can keep costs down. This article will discuss what diabetes in cats is and how much you can expect to pay in cat insulin costs.

What Is Feline Diabetes?

Diabetes in cats is similar to human and dog diabetes in that it's a serious health concern, especially for senior and overweight cats. Diabetes is a chronic health concern that occurs when cats can't use glucose properly1.

As you may know, just like humans, cats create energy through a form of sugar called glucose. Glucose can be transferred to the cells when insulin signals to the body to absorb it; after absorbing glucose, the cells receive fuel and ultimately lower glucose in the blood.2

Diabetes is when a cat isn't producing enough insulin, which means they can't convert glucose to energy, and their blood has relatively high glucose levels. Cats can suffer from two different types of diabetes:

  • Type I: Type I diabetes is when a cat is insulin-deficient and occurs when there is a decreased insulin production, which causes high blood glucose levels.2
  • Type II: Type II diabetes means glucose levels are high because of insulin resistance, which is when the cells don't respond to insulin.2

Diabetes is more common in male cats than in females. With both Type I and Type II diabetes, the cells are not getting the proper amount of glucose to convert them to energy, and there is more sugar in the blood due to the lack of insulin.2

Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in cats and typically occurs when your cat is overweight. However, other risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Obesity
  • Medications
  • Cushing's disease
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Medical conditions
Symptoms of feline diabetes

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats?

Diabetes can be hard to detect at home. As a pet parent, you need to be able to determine if something is wrong with your pet as soon as possible, allowing you to get them to the vet for treatment of diabetes before it causes other problems. These are some of the main symptoms of diabetes in cats.

Frequent urination: You may believe it's cat urinary problems such as a urinary tract infection if your cat starts urinating more than usual. However, more frequent urination can also be a sign of cat diabetes. You can find out if your cat is urinating more than usual by checking their litter box or watching them go potty. If you see more litter clumping than usual, your cat is likely urinating more frequently.

Dehydration or excessive thirst: Urinating more can lead to dehydration in cats because your cat will be losing fluids faster than they can replace them. If your cat is urinating more frequently, make sure they have enough water to replace lost fluids.

Weight loss: Cats can lose weight despite eating enough if they have diabetes. Cats with diabetes have poor glucose levels at the cellular level, so the body will start burning muscles and fat for energy instead of relying on glucose.

Weakness: If your cat's body is burning energy through fat and muscles, they'll begin to get weaker. If you notice signs of weakness or lameness in cats, or they're not as active as they once were, it could indicate your cat has diabetes.

Increased or decreased appetite: Cats' appetites may increase or decrease when they have diabetes. When a cat has diabetes, they will feel the need to try to get more energy from food even though that doesn't work due to the decreased insulin levels. The cells will tell your cat's brain that they're hungry and need to eat more to get more energy.

Additionally, cats might experience a decrease in appetite if they have diabetes because diabetes could be impacting them in other ways. For example, cats with diabetes may feel weak and lethargic or start vomiting, which will decrease their appetites.

Vomiting: Vomiting is more common during the later stages of diabetes. There are many related medication conditions, such as hyperglycemia, that can cause nausea in cats.

Graphic stating how much cat insulin costs

How Much Does Cat Insulin Cost?

Insulin costs for cats vary depending on where you get their medication and the brand name. You can typically expect to pay $50-$100 per month, but prices can be as high as $300 per month. You can purchase generic drugs, which work just as well, to save some money on your cat's prescriptions. Generic medications for cats have the same active ingredients and desired effects as their name-brand counterparts; they simply cost less.

To find the best cat insulin cost, you'll need to know about the different brands available. Your vet will likely ask you whether you want the brand name or generic, but if they don't, you can still rest assured they're sending you home with a quality medication or a prescription for quality medication. Your vet might choose particular insulin based on the duration of action, which tells you how long the drug will be effective. These are the brands of insulin for cats:

Lente: Lente is an intermediate-acting medication that's FDA approved for pets and has a 12-hour duration of action.3 Name brands include Vetsulin and Merck Animal Health.

Glargine: Glargine is a long-acting medication that's ideal for most cats and may be effective at controlling blood sugar levels in diabetic cats. Glargine also has high remission rates associated with its use and can be used by dogs.3 Name brands include Lantus and Sanofi.

PZI: Protamine zinc insulin (PZI) is a long-acting medication and is FDA approved for use in cats only.3 PZI may be prescribed by vets to use once daily to minimize the potential for hypoglycemia in cats. Name brands include ProZinc.

NPH: NPH is a short-acting insulin that's typically used in dogs and is not recommended for cats because it has a short duration of action.3

Detemir: Detemir is long-acting insulin for dogs and cats that offers prolonged absorption for a steady duration of action. 3

The insulin dose your cat needs will depend on their body weight. Additionally, a vet may start with a lower dose because they don't know how dietary changes can affect your cat's natural insulin response.

Graphic listing costs associated with managing feline diabetes

Additional Costs Associated With Feline Diabetes

Cat insulin isn't the only cost associated with treating cat diabetes. Other costs can include diagnoses, syringes, food, and vet visits. While insulin will be responsible for most of your expenses while treating and managing diabetes in cats, you should also factor in the other costs to understand how much treatment will cost.

Diagnosis

Getting your cat diagnosed with diabetes will range in cost depending on their symptoms. If your vet suspects your cat has diabetes, they will run diagnostic tests. However, if your cat is exhibiting many symptoms and associated illnesses, such as urinary tract infections or hyperglycemia, your vet may ask your pet to stay overnight to receive treatment, especially if your cat is dangerously ill. The number of vet visits will also factor into your bill. While most vets can diagnose a cat in just one visit, your vet might suspect another illness on top of diabetes they'll need to test for. You'll have to pay for any tests your vet runs to diagnose your pet with diabetes.

Vets typically diagnose cats with diabetes using blood and urine tests, but if your cat is sick, they may need more diagnostic tests.

Syringes

After your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, you'll need to start administering insulin, which requires syringes. Insulin typically needs to be administered twice daily, so expect to purchase enough syringes to get you through a couple of weeks. You can purchase syringes in bulk to help you save some money. Boxes of 100 syringes can range between $8 and $16, but if you choose to purchase a name brand, you can spend up to $50 on a one-month supply.

Pet Glucose Meter

In most cases, a pet glucose meter isn't necessary because you'll have follow-up visits with your vet to ensure the insulin is working. However, you might want to purchase a glucose meter to monitor your cat's glucose levels at home. Glucose meters for pets typically cost around $60.

Check-Ups

As we've mentioned, cats with diabetes will have multiple checkups each year. Costs for these visits will vary depending on the condition of your pet and the severity of their diabetes. Checkup appointments ensure you're administering insulin correctly and that the insulin is doing its job. You can expect many checkups after your pet is first diagnosed because your vet might need to experiment with dosage levels to ensure they're not getting too little or too much insulin. After the vet has determined the right dosage, you'll need to visit them less often, but still at least a few times a year because dosage levels might need to be modified over time.

Many of your checkups will allow your vet to check glucose levels, and they might not need to be altered. You might be able to save some money by asking your vet about home monitoring with a pet glucose meter, which can help prevent your cat from being anxious about going to the vet while saving you on vet bills.

Diet

As you already know, your pet's diet could be the reason they have diabetes, and it plays a major role in a diabetic cat's health. Once your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will likely recommend a new diet that's lower-carb. Typically it's best to invest in prescription cat food, which will be more expensive than regular cat food, but will be the best for your cat’s health and diabetic management. Your vet can provide you with a prescription cat food through their pharmacy if they have one, or they'll give you a prescription so you can pick it up at the local pet store. Veterinary prescription diets typically cost around $25 for a small, four-pound bag of kibble.

Graphic listing treatment methods for feline diabetes

How to Treat Diabetes in Cats

After your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will give you instructions on how to manage and treat it at home. You should never try to treat diabetes in cats without the recommendations and advice from a licensed veterinarian. Diabetes can be managed with treatment and diet, so even though it can't be cured, diabetic cats can still live full lives, but that depends on your commitment to their health and wellness.

When caring for your cat with diabetes, your goal should be to regulate glucose levels and avoid drops and spikes. Management can reduce and even eliminate symptoms of diabetes, including increased thirst and urination, weakness, and dehydration. These are the treatments for cats with diabetes.

Insulin Therapy

Insulin therapy is the number one treatment method for cats with diabetes because it can help manage blood glucose levels. Unfortunately, oral medications are not effective in cats, so they must be given injectable insulin twice a day. There are many different brands of insulin that can be used for treatment.

Cat insulin costs for these brands vary, along with the duration of action and concentration. Before you start giving your pet any type of insulin, make sure you understand what it is to determine which is best for your cat. Each insulin also has a specific syringe size, so you'll need to know which insulin you'll be administering to get the right syringe.2

Insulin is given to your cat twice a day, around every 12 hours. You can ask a local vet to administer your cat's medication, but this can get time-consuming and costly while giving your pet unnecessary stress. Anxiety in cats is common in those with health conditions, and giving them injections might be difficult for already-stressed cats. Giving injections might be a difficult task, but it can be made easier with two people. Your vet can teach you how to administer injections at home. The good news is that cats typically tolerate insulin injections because the needle is small.2

During the beginning of treatment, you should always monitor your cat, including their water and food intake and blood and urine glucose levels. Monitoring their clinical signs and symptoms can help your vet identify whether or not their insulin dosage is correct and adjust it if it isn't.

Some cats go into remission after a few weeks or months of insulin treatments, but remission doesn't mean the diabetes is cured; it only means that it's stable, and you must still take care of your cat's diet and lifestyle habits.

Glucose Level Monitoring

Throughout the treatment process, your vet might ask you to monitor your pet's glucose levels in their blood and/or urine at home so they can find the right treatment options. Blood glucose levels are more accurate than urine tests, but urine testing might be easier for pet parents.

Dietary Changes

Even if your pet is on insulin, they'll still need to undergo dietary changes, as their diet may have contributed to weight gain and diabetes. However, diet also helps regulate glucose levels. Diets low in carbs can improve blood sugar regulation, and there are many prescription wet and dry cat foods available for diabetic cats.2

If your vet doesn't prescribe you a cat diabetes diet, they may provide you with recommendations for what to feed your pet instead.

As a pet parent, you should choose quality cat foods from pet stores, not grocery stores. These foods should provide your pet with high protein and low amounts of carbohydrates. Your cat should eat twice per day, so if they like to graze, you may have to ask for feeding instructions from your vet.

Exercise

Cats with diabetes should not exercise without being monitored, although physical activity can improve your cat's happiness and overall health. Exercise can also impact your cat's glucose levels. For example, if your cat starts running around more than usual because they're feeling better, they will use more glucose and have lower blood sugar.

Diabetic cats of a healthy weight may continue to be their active selves. However, overweight cats could use exercise to lose weight. Before you start exercising your cat, talk to your veterinarian about whether exercise is safe in their condition and what types of exercise can help regulate your cat's glucose levels while helping them lose weight.

Neutering and Spaying

Neutering or spaying your cat can impact their hormones that may interfere with insulin levels. Typically, female cats that are diagnosed with diabetes should be spayed because the female hormone progesterone can interfere with your cat's ability to produce insulin.

Regular Checkups

While it's never recommended to miss a vet visit, even if it's just a yearly physical, you should always go to your regularly scheduled checkups when you have a diabetic cat. During these checkups, the vet will test your cat's blood glucose levels and ask you questions about how your cat is doing at home. These checkups will provide you with an opportunity to ask your vet questions about caring for your cat while also getting helpful tips to help your cat lose weight and live a better-quality life.

Tips to save on cat insulin

How to Save on Cat Insulin

Cat insulin costs can be shocking, especially because you also have to purchase the needles. While you’d do anything for your cat, you should still look for ways to save on their prescriptions. Here are some ways you can save money on cat insulin.


Purchase generic insulin: As we’ve already discussed, you don’t need to purchase name-brand prescriptions. Instead, you can get generic prescriptions that have the same active ingredients and will have the same outcome. If you’re trying to save money, there’s no reason to get anything other than generic prescriptions.

Buy insulin online: Vets typically mark up their medications, so you may want to search online pharmacies for insulin. You will likely get cheaper insulin by filling your cat’s prescription at a local drugstore or online than directly from your vets.

Enroll in a pharmacy benefits plan: Many pharmacies have benefits plans that will offer you discounts for being a member, even if your prescription is for a pet.

Purchase pet insurance: Pet insurance is a great way to help you save on vet costs and medications. While pet insurance will be more expensive once your cat is diagnosed with diabetes and it becomes a pre-existing condition, it may still help you offset the costs of medical care and prescriptions for your cat.

Cat in owner’s lap, attending virtual vet visit via laptop

Final Notes

Cat insulin costs will depend on your cat’s illness, where you buy their insulin, and whether or not you’re buying generic or name-brand prescriptions. Whether you’re looking for ways to save or just doing some research on insulin prices, you should also remember there will be other costs associated with having a diabetic cat, including vet visits, syringes, and more.

If you’re worried your cat has diabetes, try Dutch. Dutch offers non-emergency telemedicine for pets that can prevent stressful vet visits and allow you to get the care your pet needs in the comfort of your own home.

References

  1. Bruyette, David. “Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs and Cats - Endocrine System.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, 18 Apr. 2022, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-pancreas/diabetes-mellitus-in-dogs-and-cats

  2. “Feline Diabetes.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 29 Nov. 2021, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-diabetes

  3. “Insulins Commonly Used in Dogs and Cats.” AAHA, https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/diabetes-management/treatment/insulin-therapies/

  4. “Tame Your Pet Costs.” Product Reviews and Ratings - Consumer Reports, https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2011/07/tame-your-pet-costs/index.html