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The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Diabetes and Your Cat

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

Image: Anna Jurkovska / via Shutterstock

Comments  4

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  • Steroid-Induced Diabetes
    11/14/2011 07:02am

    I believe that any time a cat is on steroids, the critter's blood glucose needs monitoring.

    I've had two kitties with steroid-induced diabetes. The vet and I had to make a decision if the benefits of continuing the steroids outweighed the possibility of the diabetes going into remission.

  • 11/14/2011 11:36am

    Yes, you're absolutely right, OldBroad. And that's a great point. Steroids definitely predispose a cat to diabetes. So monitoring the blood glucose is essential for these cats. Sometimes steroids are a necessary evil but it can put us between a rock and a hard place when complications, like diabetes, occur and we have to try to decide whether continuing the steroids is worth the risk.

  • 11/14/2011 07:42pm

    Two of my three diabetics were steroid-induced and, unfortunately, neither could have the steroids discontinued.

    Oh well. Dealing with a diabetic kitty can be labor-intensive, but nothing that can't be handled!

  • Diabetic Cat
    01/20/2014 02:55pm

    Hello, We adopted a 5 year old overweight (25 lbs) Cat from our local shelter approx a year ago. When we got him he had a few sores on his back with minor hair loss and severely swollen lips, we treated the mouth with Clindamycin Hydrochloride liguid 1/4 cc daily and the mouth healed completely. The Shelter director gave us 1/2 a bottle of this medication and we used all of it. After a couple weeks, the body soars starting getting worse and hair loss as well. He isn't very active, apparently the previous owners did not feed him properly. Since we have had him he eats only dry Adult Cat Maintenance Food by Red Diamond ,approx 3/4 cup a day. he has increased how much water he drinks to approx a whole cup per day. His personality is great, he doesn't seem to be lethargic , the soars and hair loss is tremendously worse. Our question is.. Is there a way we could treat him ourselves? Cost for Vet , would be difficult at this time. Thank you for any help. BTW He is neutered and declawed.


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