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.
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.