Diabetes in Cats

Mimi Noonan, DVM, DACVIM

Diabetes is a common hormonal problem of cats and occurs when there is either a deficiency of insulin or cellular resistance to its effects. Cats with diabetes most commonly come to the veterinarian because they are losing weight, drinking excessive amounts of water and urinating more frequently.

Just like with humans, cats can have Type I or Type II diabetes. Type I diabetic cats don’t produce enough insulin and generally need supplemental insulin for life; these kitties require a bit more careful care and commitment. Type II diabetics often produce insulin normal amounts but because of a medication or physical condition their cells do not respond normally. With Type II diabetic cats, there is hope for reversing their condition through withdrawal of the offending medication, diet change, and weight loss.

Insulin dependent cats enjoy a good quality of life and long survival with collaboration with a veterinarian and consistent commitment to care at home. Insulin injections are given twice daily along with morning and evening meals and periodic monitoring of blood sugar helps determine a safe dose. Most cats do best when fed a lower carbohydrate, higher protein prescription diet specific for the condition. Because cats love to “graze” on food, most families find giving a small bit of canned food with insulin dosing and allowing their kitty to nibble on dry food between doses.

Diabetic control in cats is aimed at reducing glucose fluctuations and minimizing the risk of long-term complications. Tight regulation, a goal for human diabetics, carries the risk of a dangerously low blood sugar; if unrecognized, a low blood sugar can cause a seizure. Well-regulated cats may have higher than normal blood sugar, but good energy, healthy body weight and normal appetite for food and water.

Diabetic monitoring at home is available to families undeterred by the prospect of testing their cat’s blood. Cats with a cooperative demeanor usually adapt to blood draws easily, and home testing has been shown to be significantly more accurate than in-hospital glucose testing. Implantable short-term monitoring systems commonly used for diabetic people are gaining favor for use with some challenging diabetic cats.

Mimi Noonan is an Internal Medicine Specialist at Veterinary Specialty Center.

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