diabetes in cats

Key takeaway

Diabetes in cats is common, particularly in older, overweight cats, and has no known cure. However, with appropriate treatment, feline diabetes can be managed, and your cat can live a comfortable, happy life. Treatment options for feline diabetes include insulin shots, dietary changes, and glucose monitoring. 

Diabetes in cats is a serious health condition that is most common in older and overweight cats.

Hearing that your cat has diabetes can be alarming, but fortunately, this condition is manageable with the right treatment. As long as you detect diabetes early enough and treat it properly, your cat can go on to lead a happy and long life.

In this guide, we’ll explain what exactly cat diabetes is, what the signs of diabetes in cats are, how to treat diabetes in cats, and more.

What Is Feline Diabetes?

Diabetes in cats is a chronic disorder of carbohydrate metabolism that occurs when a cat can’t use glucose normally. Cats with diabetes will either have an insufficient insulin response or insulin resistance which leads to high blood glucose levels. 

Both dogs and cats can be affected by diabetes. Dog diabetes is most common in middle-aged dogs, and cat diabetes is most common in middle-aged to older cats. 

Diabetes in cats works similarly to diabetes in humans. When someone has diabetes, that means their glucose-insulin connection isn’t working properly. Similarly to humans, cats need sugar in the form of glucose for energy. But glucose needs insulin to enter the cat’s cells, and when a cat can’t properly produce insulin, that means their glucose levels will be impacted.

There are two types of diabetes that can affect a cat: insulin-deficiency and insulin-resistance. Insulin-deficiency, otherwise known as type I diabetes, is when high blood glucose levels are due to a decrease of insulin production. Insulin-resistance, otherwise known as type II diabetes, is when high blood glucose levels are due to the cells in the body not responding correctly to insulin. In both types, insulin can’t move the sugar from the bloodstream into the cells that need it. 

Type II diabetes is the more common form seen in cats. Between 0.2% to 1% of cats will be diagnosed with diabetes at some point in their lifetime. Various factors can make a cat more prone to developing diabetes, which we will get more into below.

Risk Factors

  • Age: Middle-aged to older cats are typically the most likely to develop diabetes, but diabetes in cats can occur at any age, especially if a cat has another risk factor. 
  • Genetics: Diabetes can occur in any cat breed, but orange cats and Burmese cats are the most likely.
  • Gender: Neutered, male cats are more prone to diabetes than female cats. 
  • Obesity: Obesity is one of the main risk factors for diabetes in cats. Obesity contributes to insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes. Obese cats are four times more likely to develop diabetes than cats who are at a healthy weight.
  • Steroid medications: The long-term use of steroid medications to treat illnesses, like feline asthma, can make a cat more susceptible to diabetes.
  • Cushing’s disease: Cushing’s disease is not common in cats, but it occurs when there is a constant excessive production of the hormone cortisol from the adrenal glands. Cushing’s disease causes the body to overproduce steroids, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis can damage the pancreas and eventually lead to diabetes in cats. Many cats with diabetes have pancreatic abnormalities. 
  • Other health conditions: Certain viral diseases, autoimmune disorders, and hypothyroidism have also been found to cause diabetes in cats. 

What are the Symptoms of a Diabetic Cat?

The first step in treating your diabetic cat is being able to identify the symptoms. It’s important to be aware of the signs of diabetes in cats so that you can identify them quickly and get your cat the treatment they need. 

Some of the most common symptoms of diabetes in cats include:

  • Polyuria (frequent urination)
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst)
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting

Weight loss, despite eating, and increased thirst and urination are often the first two signs that pet owners notice. A cat with diabetes can eat up to 50% less than they normally do. In more severe cases, it’s also possible for diabetes to cause nerve damage in a cat’s hind legs. This will cause them to walk or stand with their hocks close to the ground.

skinny cat laying down

The symptoms of diabetes in cats will slowly get worse over time, typically in the span of a few weeks or months. So as soon as you start to notice any of these signs in your kitty, bring them to the vet as quickly as possible so that they can receive proper treatment.

Causes

There is often not one single cause of diabetes in cats, but rather a combination of various factors. 

However, obesity is the most common cause. Obese cats tend to produce too much of some hormones and not enough of others, which causes the body to not respond well to insulin. Feeding a cat too much carbohydrates can also make them more likely to develop diabetes.

Chronic pancreatitis with increasing loss of exocrine and endocrine cells and their replacement by fibrous connective tissue can also lead to diabetes. This causes the pancreas to become firm and even hemorrhage. As the disease progresses, the tissue near the duodenum and stomach may be all that’s left of the pancreas. 

Diagnosis

If your cat is showing any of the above-mentioned signs and you suspect they’re suffering from diabetes, it’s crucial to bring them to the vet so they can receive a proper diagnosis. A diagnosis typically involves both a blood and urine test, which measures glucose, liver enzymes, and electrolyte levels. 

A diabetes diagnosis will be made if persistently high glucose levels are found in the cat’s blood and urine. The normal levels of blood glucose in cats is around 75-120 mg/dL. However, stressed-induced hyperglycemia is common in cats, which can raise their glucose levels short-term, but not indicate diabetes. In this case, multiple urine and blood samples may be needed in order to confirm the diagnosis.

Otherwise, another lab test known as fructosamine concentration may be needed. This test will indicate a cat’s blood glucose levels over the last two weeks, which would not include stress-induced hyperglycemia. 

If your cat is showing signs of diabetes but your vet isn’t sure what the culprit is, additional tests may be done to rule out other conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, urinary tract infection, or hyperthyroidism. 

Treatment

There’s no doubt that learning that your cat has diabetes is scary. Fortunately, diabetes in cats can absolutely be managed with the right medication. There are several options for feline diabetes treatment, such as:

  • Insulin therapy 

Similarly to humans, insulin therapy is a common treatment for feline diabetes. Insulin must be injected under the cat’s skin about every 12 hours. There are various types of insulin that can be used to treat diabetes in cats, including lente insulin, ProZinc, or glargine insulin. Be sure to discuss with your vet what the best type is for your kitty.

 

    • Close monitoring

    Having a cat with diabetes means you need to pay extra close attention to them. This includes both at home and at the vet. Close monitoring will help you and your vet keep track of how the insulin is working. It also avoids any complications with insulin, such as hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis. 

     

    • Dietary changes

    Since obesity is known to cause diabetes in cats, dietary changes may be necessary. The biggest change you should make is feeding your cat less carbohydrates. This will help improve a diabetic cat’s blood sugar levels. Prescription food can also be given.

     

      • Weight loss

      For an overweight cat who is diagnosed with diabetes, weight loss is imperative. Your vet may suggest a weight-loss management plan to help them get on track and in control of their blood glucose levels.

       

        • Regular blood glucose testing

        It’s important to monitor your cat’s blood sugar regulation during treatment to make sure that their blood glucose levels are at an acceptable rate. Blood glucose testing should be done at home to avoid changes in their routine, rather than having to bring them to the vet each time.

         

          • Diet and exercise recommendations

          Your vet will likely recommend diet and exercise as a way to treat your cat’s diabetes. Regular exercise is crucial for a diabetic cat, so discuss with your vet an appropriate exercise regimen for them.

           

            • A daily glucose-monitoring system 

            Some vets may recommend using a continuous glucose-monitoring system to track your cat’s blood sugar levels at home. This involves a small monitor being implanted in your cat’s skin, which stays in place and records blood glucose levels every few minutes for up to two weeks.

             

              Diabetes In Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

              Is diabetes in cats common? 

              Diabetes in cats is fairly common. Type II diabetes is the most common form and affects between 0.2% to 1% of cats.

              What triggers diabetes in cats?

              Various factors can trigger diabetes in cats, such as age, obesity, genetics, steroid medications, chronic pancreatitis, and other health conditions, like Cushing’s disease and hypothyroidism. 

              What happens if feline diabetes goes untreated? 

              Just like humans, feline diabetes should not go untreated. If your cat’s diabetes goes untreated, that leaves their cells starved for important nutrients. With diabetes, muscle cells and certain organ cells are deprived of the glucose they need to create energy, and as a result, the body starts breaking down its own fats and proteins to use instead. The high blood sugar levels that result from diabetes can also damage organs. When high levels of glucose build up in the blood, it can eventually cause multi-organ damage and impact the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves.

              Are some breeds at higher risk for developing feline diabetes?

              Certain breeds are more susceptible to developing feline diabetes, such as the Burmese, Russian Blue, Norwegian Forest cat, Abyssinian, and Tonkinese breeds.

              Final Notes

              Diabetes in cats is not something to take lightly, so if you suspect your cat is suffering from diabetes, bring them to the vet as soon as possible.Your cat can’t tell you when they’re not feeling well, so it’s your job as their owner to take note of their symptoms and get them the proper treatment. With the right treatment, your kitty can go on to live a long and happy life.

              At Dutch, we believe that every animal has the right to a long and happy life, and that’s why we offer telemedicine for pets so every pet owner has access to the care their pet needs. Whether it’s cat diabetes or cat diarrhea, we offer treatment for a myriad of health conditions so that your cat can go back to their warm and cuddly selves as quickly as possible. 

              All of you have to do is sign up and you’ll be connected with one of our licensed veterinarians within 24 hours. We bring the pet owner to the vet and the vet to the pharmacy, so you can get your furry friend the treatment they need.