Can cats get diabetes? Unfortunately, yes, they can. But I think many cases of feline diabetes can be avoided by feeding your cat right and making sure your cat stays lean. Obese and overweight cats are far more likely to become diabetic.
Let’s look more closely at feline diabetes.
What is diabetes? Diabetes mellitus, as it is more formally known, is an endocrine disease that affects the pancreas, resulting in increased blood glucose, or blood sugar levels. The most common symptoms seen in diabetic cats are increased thirst, increased volumes of urine leading to more frequent trips to the litter box, and an increased appetite. Cats with diabetes may also lose weight, despite having an increased appetite. In addition, diabetic cats may walk in an abnormal fashion, having a flat-footed type of gait involving the hind legs.
Unlike dogs, who usually develop type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes, cats most often start out with type II or insulin-independent diabetes. If diabetes is diagnosed early in cats and treated promptly, remission is possible for many cats. However, if diagnosis is delayed and/or treatment is not instituted, the continuous strain on the pancreas will eventually cause your diabetic cat to become insulin-dependent and unable to live without frequent insulin injections.
What does this mean for your cat? If your cat is not already diabetic, do not allow your cat to become overweight, and have your cat examined by your veterinarian regularly. If your cat does become diabetic, early diagnosis is your cat’s best chance to lead a normal life.
How is feline diabetes diagnosed? Simple blood screening, including a blood glucose measurement, may lead your veterinarian to suspect diabetes. However, other conditions can cause increased glucose levels, so the diagnosis will need to be confirmed. Urine can be tested and glucose and/or ketones in the urine are supportive of a diagnosis of diabetes. More specialized blood tests, such as fructosamine, may be necessary to definitively diagnose diabetes though.
How is diabetes treated? The diet of a diabetic cat becomes very important. High protein, low carbohydrate diets are recommended. The same diet in the same quantity should be fed daily and the cat’s daily routine should vary as little as possible.
Insulin is the treatment of choice. Oral hypoglycemic agents, such as glipizide, have been less successful than originally hoped but are still sometimes suggested as an alternative to insulin injections.
If your cat is not totally insulin-dependent, it is possible he may enter remission and the insulin injections may become unnecessary. However, if the disease has already progressed to an insulin-dependent stage, your cat will need to receive insulin injections, usually twice daily, for the rest of his life.
Because a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is the recommended diet for diabetic cats, many people have questioned whether feeding this type of diet can help prevent diabetes. Though we have no concrete evidence that this is the case, I do think that this type of diet is more natural. Assuming there are no health problems that require different dietary needs, I believe that feeding a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is an acceptable choice for a healthy cat.
Dr. Lorie Huston
Last reviewed on August 17, 2015