Feline Diabetes is one of the most common and treatable conditions seen in cats today. In the normally functioning cat, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin travels throughout the body and unlocks the cells (very basic building blocks of the body) to let glucose (sugar) inside so that it can be used for energy. Diabetes is a disease where there is too much sugar in the body. This is usually from not enough insulin. If there is not enough insulin, then sugar can't get into the cell. The sugar stays in the blood stream and pulls water from the body to dilute it. The sugar and excess water is then processed by the kidneys causing an increase in urine being made, which makes the cat become a little dehydrated. The cat then ends up drinking more water because it gets thirstier. The cat may also act hungry because its body isn't processing sugar for energy. Instead, the body will break down fat for energy and the cat loses weight.
Cats that become diabetic are typically overweight, middle-aged and male. Their bodies just can't make enough insulin when they become obese. Often, owners notice their cat drinking more or producing more urine. Owners may also notice weight loss in face of a normal or increased appetite. The veterinarian will perform an examination and take a full history then recommend a comprehensive blood and urine test and look for high blood sugar and sugar in the urine.
Treatment for diabetes should include a diet change to encourage careful weight loss under a veterinarian's supervision. Reducing the cat's sugar intake by feeding it a very low carbohydrate diet can be helpful in most cases. Canned food is even lower in carbohydrates than dry food. Insulin is usually started at a low dose and carefully monitored. The owner will be taught how to give insulin shots and check the cat's blood sugar at home. A glucometer, which measures blood sugar, should be used to monitor the blood sugar is keep it within a safe range. Many cats can be taken off of insulin after a few weeks to months of insulin on top of feeding a very low carbohydrate diet and weight loss.
If untreated, cats may develop diabetic ketoacidosis, which is where they burn so much fat for energy that their body becomes acidic and they also become dehydrated. This becomes life-threatening and requires fluid support, low doses of insulin frequently, and hospitalization. Another complication includes diabetic polyneuropathy, which means the nerves are affected by the high sugar and become weak. They don't work properly and the muscles in the legs atrophy. The cats walk on their ankles (it affects the back legs more than the front.)
Hypoglycemia is a condition often related to diabetes. This can happen when the cat doesn't need insulin any more or the cat is sick, not eating enough food and still gets a full dose of insulin. Sometimes the owner may accidentally give 2 doses of insulin, especially when two caretakers miscommunicate. Too much insulin causes the blood sugar to become very low. This is called hypoglycemia. This condition is an emergency as death can result shortly if not treated. The cat will act sluggish, disoriented, may lie down and have tremors. The owner should apply Karo Syrup to the gums and take the cat to the veterinarian right away for an exam and potentially intravenous glucose.
Many cats, when diagnosed and started on a low carbohydrate diet and insulin, will go into "diabetic remission" and not require insulin shots long term. Other cats might continue to require insulin shots. Cat owners need to understand when their cat is first diagnosed, the lab tests, insulin, syringes, diet, and glucometer may seem expensive. But after their cat has been "regulated", then fewer blood tests are needed.
In summary, diabetes is a preventable, treatable, and potentially curable disease but requires the owner to be dedicated to care and be willing to learn how to treat a diabetic cat at home with insulin shots and blood sugar testing. Cats can still live long, happy lives with diabetes! Dr. Ann Middleton
is a veterinarian and owner of Clairemont's Cheshire Cat Feline Health Center which is located at 4680 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Clairemont. For more info, visit www.cheshirecatclinic.com
, or call 858-483-1573.
Read more: San Diego Pets Magazine - Feline Diabetes