Feline diabetes is very similar to diabetes in humans. Cats can experience the same two types of diabetes that afflict their human owners. Where Type I diabetes is concerned, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Type II diabetes is marked by an improper cellular response to insulin. Both types of diabetes can produce severe and dangerous symptoms.
How Diabetes Works
When there is not enough insulin in a cat's system, or there is an inadequate insulin response, glucose cannot enter the body's cells. This results in a high blood sugar level. The sugar stays in the blood, but the body is actually sugar starved. Some diabetic cats lose weight while eating more because their body cannibalizes its own tissues in an attempt to obtain the needed sugar. The extra sugar in the blood stream is eliminated through urine causing increased urination, thus dehydrating the body.
What Causes Feline Diabetes?
Cats are inherent carnivores. Their bodies do not tolerate carbohydrates well. Grains are carbohydrates. Commercial cat food is loaded with grains, and carbohydrates elevate glucose levels. In an effort to compensate for the high glucose levels, the pancreas produces more and more insulin, eventually becoming overworked and inevitably failing. Certain medications and diseases can contribute to the development of diabetes. Megestrol acetate, otherwise known as Ovoban, and corticosteroids, such as prednisolone, have been linked to diabetes, as have obesity, chronic pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, Cushing's disease and acromegaly.
Feline diabetes is more common in males than females and in cats over seven years old. Diabetic cat food then becomes necessary.
Symptoms of Diabetes
If your cat displays any symptoms of diabetes, seek medical attention immediately. Untreated diabetes can cause muscle, nerve and organ damage that can eventually lead to death. According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, initial signs of diabetes are:
- Increased urination
- Increased water consumption
- Weight loss, often accompanied by increased appetite
Over time, feline diabetes can cause liver disease, bacterial infections, poor skin and coat, and diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy causes weakness, usually in the hind legs.
Cats with advanced diabetes can develop ketoacidosis. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- Loss of appetite
- Breathing abnormalities
Ketoacidosis requires immediate, intensive veterinary treatment.
Both blood and urine tests are necessary to diagnose feline diabetes. Cats can become stressed inside a veterinarian's office and release hormones which result in a blood test that shows high sugar. However, this stress response takes longer to affect the urine. If these high sugar results are stress induced, the discrepancy will show.
Living with Diabetes
Cats that are treated effectively for diabetes live long, healthy lives. Diet is the key to treating and controlling diabetes. A raw food diet can fully restore natural balance of glucose levels in most cats. Adding fiber also helps because it slows down digestion causing the sugar to gradually enter the system instead of causing a severe and fast jump in blood sugar. It is helpful to feed your animal several small meals a day rather than one or two large meals.
Medication in the form of insulin shots or oral medication and diet are used to control most cases of diabetes. When beginning medication, cats are usually kept at the vet's office for observation for the first day or two to make sure that they are getting the proper dose. Shots are given under the skin and are actually less traumatic than giving pills. Watch Dr. Mike at VetVid demonstrate how easy it can be to give your cat an insulin injection, and then you'll feel more confident about letting your vet teach you how to do it for yourself.
The American Veterinary Medical Association stresses the importance of at-home monitoring, especially if you are giving medication. Too much insulin or giving insulin doses too close together can cause insulin shock and death. Monitoring yields much needed information, lets you know how much insulin your cat needs, whether the condition is worsening or improving, and which foods and feeding schedules maintain the best balance for your cat. You can keep all this information in a log to share with your vet at your pet's checkups.
Watch this demonstration on how to use a glucometer. Seeing how easy it is can make the task of blood monitoring seem less intimidating, and your vet can show you how to perform this task while you're at the clinic. According to FelineDiabetes.com, normal blood glucose levels for a cat range between 70 - 120 mg/dL, but regulating those levels so that they are always somewhere between a low of 100 and a high of 200 mg/dL will minimize any harm the excess sugar might cause.
Your Cat Depends on You
The most important thing to understand when living with a cat that has diabetes is that each case is different. Your veterinarian can provide care instructions, but paying close attention to your cat and becoming attuned to his behaviors and symptoms will be the most important components of treatment.