Diabetes in Cats

Overview of Feline Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic condition in which a deficiency of the hormone insulin impairs the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. It is one of the most common endocrine (hormonal) diseases of cats.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus. Type I DM occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. This can be the result of destruction of the cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. This form is identified in approximately 50 to 70 % of cats diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. This form does not produce enough insulin and requires insulin injections to control the disease. Type II DM occurs when enough insulin is produced but something interferes with its ability to be utilized by the body. This form is identified in approximately 30% of cats with diabetes mellitus. This type of diabetes is treated with dietary management, weight control and oral drugs.

Approximately 20% of cats can be “transient” diabetics. This means that after diagnosis with diabetes mellitus, they can have total resolution of their diabetic state months to years after diagnosis. This does not happen in dogs.

DM usually affects middle-aged to older cats of either sex however it is most common in neutered male cats. The peak age seen in cats is 9 to 11 years. Juvenile-onset diabetes may occur in cats less than 1 year of age. Any breed can be affected.

DM leads to an inability of the tissue to utilize glucose. Disease occurs from high blood sugar levels, inadequate delivery of sugar to the tissues and changes in body metabolism.

Risk factors for diabetes mellitus include obesity, recurring pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, and drugs such as glucocorticoids and progestagens that antagonize insulin.

What to Watch For

Diagnosis of Diabetes in Cats

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the elevated blood sugar and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Some of these tests include:

Treatment of Diabetes in Cats

Many cats will eventually require one or two daily injections of insulin to control blood glucose. These injections are given under the skin using a small needle. Most cats become readily accustomed to the treatments. Your veterinarian’s office will train you in the proper use of insulin and injection techniques.

Home Care and Prevention

At home care involves administering prescribed medications, including insulin, as recommended. If the insulin is prescribed twice daily, try to give it 12 hours apart and at the same time each day. You should also work with your veterinarian to develop a weight management and feeding plan. Stick to regular feeding times.

Feeding a special diet (such as Purina’s DM or Hill’s m/d diet) can significantly help some cats, even to the point that the cat may no longer need insulin injections.

Observe your cat’s thirst and frequency of urination. If these remain increased, your veterinarian may need to adjust the insulin dosage.

Insulin overdose may cause low blood glucose, potentially resulting in disorientation, weakness or seizures (convulsions). If you notice any of these symptoms in an otherwise responsive cat, offer food immediately. If the cat is unconscious, Karo® syrup can be applied to the gums. In either case, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Familiarize yourself with insulin, insulin syringes, insulin storage, and insulin handling; your veterinarian or pharmacist can help.

While there is no way known to prevent type I DM, proper weight management can reduce the likelihood of developing type II DM.

Information In-Depth

Important symptoms of DM include increased thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria). These are often the most prominent symptoms of diabetes mellitus, also known as sugar diabetes. Frequently there is weight loss despite a good appetite. Several other diseases can also cause increased thirst and urination. These diseases include:

Concurrent complications and conditions often found in diabetic patients include:

Diagnosis In-depth

Veterinary care should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the diabetes and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize DM and exclude other diseases. These tests may include:

Additional tests may be recommended on an individual basis. These tests include:

Treatment In-depth

Treatment for diabetes may include one or more of the following:

A low carbohydrate and high protein diet and regular exercise can aid in control of DM. Ideally, 15% or less of metabolizable energy should be carbohydrates. Diets may include prescription diet DM or high quality kitten foods.

Ideally, meals should be divided into twice daily servings and offered prior to/with the insulin injections.

Animals with complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis will require in-hospital therapy, including insulin administration with frequent dose adjustment, intravenous fluids, administration of electrolytes (blood chemicals) and antibiotics.

Be prepared for frequent adjustments to therapy early in the course of treatment. Veterinarians prefer to start with a low dose of insulin initially and adjust upwards slowly to avoid overdose.

Too much insulin can be worse than not enough; insulin overdose can cause low blood glucose. When blood glucose is too low, the brain does not get adequate energy. The result can be disorientation, lethargy, seizures, coma or even death. If you notice disorientation in your alert diabetic cat, offer food immediately. If the cat is unconscious, you can apply a sugary solution like Karo® syrup to the gums. In either case, call your veterinarian immediately.

DM requires dedicated follow-up care on the part of the pet owner. With a commitment of time, education and careful observation, most diabetic cats can have a good, quality life.

Home Care of Cats with Diabetes

Familiarize yourself with insulin handling. This bottled hormone is not perfectly soluble or stable. It needs to be kept cool and out of direct light, and it must be gently mixed thoroughly before use (rolled in the hands), but not shaken hard.

Familiarize yourself with insulin syringes and administration. Insulin is given as “units” rather than as the standard cubic centimeter (cc) or milliliters (ml); special insulin syringes come in a variety of unit sizes. Insulin is usually administered just under the skin. Your veterinarian can spend time teaching you how to do this with a minimum of protest from your cat.

NOTE: A well-regulated diabetic pet should look and behave the same as a pet in good health.

Prognosis for Cats with Diabetes

The prognosis depends upon the overall heath of the pet, other diseases present, secondary complications from diabetes, and the pet owner’s ability to treat and closely monitor their pets progress. Many pets live a happy health live for years with diabetes with few complications. A mean survival time of pets with diabetes is 3 years from time of diagnosis. For pets that do well after 6 months of treatment, many will have a good quality of life for more than 5 years.