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Pet Care & Pet Health Information

Feline Diabetes

What Is Feline Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus ("sugar" diabetes) is a complex and common endocrine disorder in the cat. There are two types of causes:

Type 1: Caused by the insufficient production of insulin
Type 2: Related to the body's cells inability to handle insulin efficiently.

Although diabetes can strike cats of any age, it is more prevalent in older, obese cats, and is found more often in male cats. Secondary Diabetes can be caused by drugs or diseases that either impair the natural secretion of insulin, or its effects on tissues. Because diabetic cats are not able to utilize glucose properly, they ultimately develop hyperglycemia, (high blood sugar levels) subsequent glucosuria (sugar in the urine). The glucosuria leads to polyuria (excessive urination) and polydipsia (excessive thirst).

What Are The Symptoms?

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Loss of weight due to the body's inability to handle glucose
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • Breathing abnormalities
  • Dehydration
  • What is The Diagnosis?

    Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed based on the cat's clinical signs, physical examination findings, laboratory test results, and the persistent presence of abnormally high amounts of sugar in the blood and urine with a blood and urine test. The reason for both tests is that stressed cats may have temporary increases of the blood glucose level.

    How is Feline Diabetes Treated?

    The treatment of diabetes mellitus depends on the severity of the disorder. Cats with ketoacidosis (high levels of acids that build up in the blood.) require intensive care. Treatment includes fluid therapy to correct dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities, and short acting insulin. Diabetic cats that are not ill usually require insulin injections to be given once or twice daily under the skin, and a carefully controlled diet. As an alternative to insulin, treatment with an oral hypoglycemic drug may be attempted.

    Diet and Weight Control

    A high in fiber diet and complex carbohydrates is recommended for obese diabetic cats. This is not only for the purpose of weight reduction, but also to help control blood glucose levels after eating. Underweight diabetic cats should be fed a high fiber diet only after reaching their ideal body weight after being fed a high calorie diet. Your veterinarian can recommend the best form of diet for your cat, taking into consideration any other physical problems. Stretching out feeding into several small meals instead of just one or two big ones will also help in regulating blood levels.

    Insulin by Injection

    Ideally, your veterinarian will conduct an 18-24 hour blood glucose profile to determine the amount and frequency of insulin injections. This test is done in the hospital, and consists of injections of insulin followed by close monitoring of the blood glucose values. The proper dose of insulin may change with time and may need to be adjusted based on blood glucose profiles, intermittent blood and urine sugar measurements, and response to therapy. Overdosage of insulin causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Symptoms include: weakness, listlessness, incoordination, convulsions and coma. Left untreated, death may result. Your veterinarian should be contacted immediately if you notice these symptoms.

    Oral Medications

    A diabetic cat in otherwise good health may be treated successfully using an oral hypoglycemic medication. Glipizide lowers blood glucose, but unlike insulin, it is given orally. Adverse side effects are not common but include vomiting, loss of appetite, and liver damage. If hyperglycemia persists after one or two months of therapy, or if the cat becomes ill or ketoacidotic, glipizide therapy should be discontinued and insulin therapy instituted. Careful monitoring of glucose and insulin levels: An overdose of insulin can create hypoclycemia.

    Symptoms include: lethargy and weakness, followed by incoordination, convulsions, and coma. To counteract this condition, you can give your cat its normal food if it is able to eat, followed by a trip to the veterinarian.

    Nutrient and Botanical Supplements

    Vanadium shows promise as an adjunct to regulate blood insulin, and antioxidants help to relieve oxidative stress on tissues.

    Home Care

    Topics to be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian include:

  • Insulin storage and handling
  • Insulin administration
  • Signs and treatment of hypoglycemia
  • Diet Monitoring at home
  • Prognosis

    Taking care of a diabetic cat requires that you have good communication with your veterinarian. A diabetic cat may live many healthy years with owners who are willing to put forth the effort of monitoring the cat's condition on a daily basis.

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