diabetes in cats
Cats do their own thing. That’s one of the reasons we like them so much.
However, this can also mean that we’re not quite as aware of their habits as we are of their canine companions. Some subtle changes can be tough to pick up, especially if you have more than one cat. In fact, the majority of cats that I diagnose with diabetes are not initially seen for any specific reason.
Diabetes in cats
Most cat parents just feel that their feline friend is just a little “off” or “not feeling himself.” Probing questions from your vet may show that you notice more than you think: “yes, he does seem to be drinking more water,” or “you know, the litter is a lot more sodden than usual.” Based on what your vet sees, a simple blood and urine test confirms that your pet’s glucose regulation is awry; a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus.
While this can be shocking news, believe me, diabetes is not the worst thing that could happen. Yes, it will involve fairly extensive testing during the regulation period, and yes, it requires lifelong treatment but the silver lining is that it is eminently treatable.
Diabetes is certainly a serious disease but the good news is that we have the tools and the expertise to manage this condition effectively for the life of your pet.
What causes diabetes?
Diabetes isn’t just for people, fuzzy little kitties get it too. The root of the problem is insulin, a hormone that helps the cells in our bodies to utilize glucose from the bloodstream. When the pancreas stops producing insulin or when a cat becomes resistant to it, cells are no longer able to accept the required amount of glucose. In short, insulin is the key to getting essential glucose into a cell. Without the key, cells aren’t able to do their job due to lack of fuel.
You know your cat better than anyone. By keeping a close eye on his habits you’re more likely to spot the signs of diabetes in the early stages. While obese cats, elderly cats, and neutered male cats are all at increased risk for diabetes, it is possible for any cat to contract diabetes at any point in his or her life.
Signs and symptoms
- Increased thirst: Spending more time in front of the water bowl or seeking water from unusual sources like the toilet or bath.
- Increased and more frequent urination: An increase in the amount of urine in the litter box or even “accidents” around the house. The urine tends to be very diluted and is not usually strong smelling.
- Increased appetite: Your cat’s body is telling him that it’s not getting enough food; this can result in what seems to be an unreasonably large appetite despite sometimes losing weight.
- Walking low on their back legs: An abnormality caused by the way that hyperglycemia affects connective tissue can cause your cat to place a greater portion of their back leg on the floor while walking. Look for your cat walking on more than just their back foot; often the entire portion of the lower leg up to the hock will be placed on the floor.
As cells call out for glucose, the body starts to mobilize fat stores and even muscle tissue despite the fact that there is an excess of glucose in the blood. In advanced, untreated diabetes can lead to weakness, depression, rapid breathing, coma, and even death. Needless to say, if you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to get your cat to his veterinarian immediately for blood work and a complete diagnostic exam.
The cornerstones of diabetic treatment are insulin therapy and diet. The goal of a change in diet is two-fold:
- To maintain (or achieve) a healthy weight that encourages good glucose regulation. Most of the prescription diets made for this purpose are low in calories to ensure that your furry diabetic can stay lean.
- To use a food that is relatively high in fiber so that it encourages a steadier release of glucose into the bloodstream. A high-fiber food helps to avoid “spikes” in glucose that can hinder glucose regulation. Your veterinarian should be able to give you samples of wet and dry foods for your pet to try.
The part of treatment that most pet owners dread is the insulin injection. Almost all of my clients are shocked at how easy this becomes; most of their cats don’t even realize they’re getting a shot. The hardest part of giving insulin injections is adjusting schedules so that there is always someone there to give the insulin. Commitment is key: your cat will most likely need injections every 12 hours for the rest of his life.
While this may all seem very daunting, most diabetics do very well once they are through the stabilization period (usually one to three months of weekly or monthly testing) and often thrive on the attention. For help along the way, take the time to ask your vet for educational resources and advice for caring for your furry friend.