Diabetes Mellitus is one of the most common feline disorders but with early diagnosis, it can be treated and managed effectively.
The condition occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate the level of glucose in the bloodstream. Ordinarily, insulin would encourage sugars to be carried via the bloodstream to all the cells within the body where it can be converted into energy or stored for later. When insufficient insulin is produced, the levels of glucose in the bloodstream rise as it is not being regulated at the correct level.
Diabetes Cat Diagnosis
Feline diabetes is easy to diagnose; your vet will firstly carry out a very simple urine test with a dipstick to see if glucose is present in the urine.
There should not be any so if a significant amount of glucose is found, it is a good sign that the cat is diabetic.
If this is the case, a blood test will then be carried out. This gives the vet a much more accurate measurement of the amount of glucose in the bloodstream and also checks other internal organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Feline Diabetes Treatment
The most common way to treat a diabetic cat is with injections of insulin to replace the insulin that would normally be produced by the pancreas. This is a very straightforward procedure; the needle is tiny and most pets hardly notice their injection at all. Injections will be required once or twice daily and shouldn’t cause your cat any discomfort.
A fresh needle should be used for each injection to avoid contamination and infection. However, managing the dosage and timing of the injections needs to be carefully monitored. The aim is to make sure that your cat has a meal around eight hours after an injection – this ensures that the insulin is at its most effective point with food to make sure the correct glucose level is maintained.
For a newly diagnosed cat, their vet will carry out an initial ‘glucose curve’ test before you begin giving insulin. Following a trial dose of insulin, blood samples are taken on an hourly basis through the day and the cat carefully observed to see how it reacts and also to ensure that glucose levels do not dip dangerously low.
Stabilizing a diabetic cat can take several weeks and you will need to be guided by your veterinary surgeon. Once the condition has been diagnosed, your vet will explain how to use the syringe and store the insulin (it should be kept in the fridge). It may take a little while for your cat to get used to his regular injections – some owners find it helpful to inject their cat when he starts eating so that he is distracted with food. Others give a treat as a reward for accepting the injection quite happily – you will soon get to know what works best for your cat. Try to make sure your cat associates the injection with a pleasant experience and not something that he fears.
Diet for Diabetic Cats
A significant part of managing diabetes is with diet as certain foods can exacerbate the condition while others are more helpful. Your vet can recommend a prescription diet for a cat with diabetes and these are generally a good option.
Always consult your vet before changing to new food and introduce a new diet gradually – mix a little of the new food with the bulk of the usual food and then gradually adjust the amounts over 4-5 days until only the new food is in the bowl.
Exercises for Felines with Diabetes
Keeping active can improve the effects of insulin and also help to reduce high levels of glucose. Try to make sure your cat gets regular, consistent exercise as sudden bursts of activity could lead to low blood sugar risk.
Low blood sugar levels can cause the cat to collapse and possibly to enter a coma. This is an emergency situation and you should take your cat to a veterinary clinic immediately if you suspect his sugar levels have dropped. Your cat may appear lethargic or weak; trembling and twitching are other signs.
Diabetes is a condition that needs to be carefully managed as there is currently no cure for the disease. The cat’s overall health will deteriorate over time – side effects such as cataracts and damage to kidneys and other internal organs are almost certain. However, if the condition is well managed, a diabetic cat can expect to enjoy a good quality of life, albeit a slightly shorter one.
If you are concerned about your pet or notice any of the following signs, do please contact your vet as a matter of urgency.
- Excessive thirst
- Increased need to urinate
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Lethargy or depression
Other possible symptoms
- Slow recovery from wounds or infections
- Poor coat
Living with a cat who has diabetes requires your commitment but with correct management, a diabetic cat can enjoy life to the full.
Cats who are severely overweight or become obese are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes. International Cat Care suggests the following tips for owners of obese cats:
Most vets run a weight clinic so get your cats weight checked regularly at the clinic or by a veterinary nurse.
Weigh out your cat’s daily food allowance in the morning and divide it between meals. You are much less likely to overfeed your cat this way.
Keep a few kibbles back to use as treats throughout the day if you like.
Place the food in different areas or hide dried food around the house to encourage more activity – a puzzle feeder or food ball is a great asset.
You should not add extras on top of the meals, including milk and cat milk.
The surgery’s weight clinic nurse can devise an exercise program specifically for your cat, encouraging him to gently increase activity until he is getting the correct amount of exercise.
If you have more than one cat, feed them separately and make sure the obese cat is not finishing off any leftovers in the other bowls.
Let your neighbors know your cat is on a weight loss program and ask them not to feed him scraps or treats. This goes for any friends or relatives that may visit the house too.