Your four-legged feline means the world to you. Trust us, we get it. Here at SimpleWag, we are all animal lovers and would do anything to ensure the happiness and well-being of our fur babies. In some cases, ailments develop that are entirely out of our control. Often caused by a genetic predisposition, some health conditions are seemingly unavoidable or have existed since your feline was born.
In other cases, certain medical conditions, including diabetes, are able to be prevented and should be at all cost. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about cat diabetes. By understanding what causes diabetes to develop, cat owners can take the necessary steps in order to prevent it. When it comes to cat diabetes, prevention is everything. Let’s get started!
What is Diabetes in Cats
Diabetes in cats has always been considered a relatively common disease amongst overweight and older felines. However, recently, feline diabetes has been increasing at an alarming rate. Studies show that its prevalence has increased 18% since 2006. The condition occurs when the body is unable to properly produce the hormone insulin. The inability ultimately leads to the imbalance of balance blood sugar (glucose) levels as insulin is needed for the body to balance the sugars in the cat’s diet. Diabetes can also develop if the cat’s body doesn’t respond to the hormone insulin. If cat diabetes is left untreated, it can result in a slew of medical problems that can significantly impact the cat’s quality of life.
Understanding the Disease
Before diving into what causes the condition and how to prevent it, we want to make sure we answer any terminology questions surrounding the disease. One of the scariest parts of dealing with a health issue is the unknown. Taking the ‘unknown’ out of the equation proves to relieve a good deal of stress for the cat owner and ensures that they can make the best decision for their feline’s well-being.
What is Diabetes Mellitus
You may hear your veterinarian refer to your cat’s diabetes as diabetes mellitus. Diabetes and diabetes mellitus are essentially the same thing. Most people call the disease by its abbreviated term, diabetes. However, it is important to know that your vet may call it by its medical term.
What Does Insulin Do
Next, in order to understand the importance of preventing diabetes, we must first know why the hormone insulin is so crucial. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It allows the body to take sugar from the carbohydrates in food and either use it as energy or store the sugar for future needs. Additionally, insulin balances the glucose (another word for sugar) levels in the body and makes sure it doesn’t get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia).
Normal Blood Sugar Range
In healthy cats, a normal blood sugar range is between 80-120 mg/dl. Occasionally, that range can spike following a high-calorie meal (sometimes up to 300 mg/dl). However, in diabetic cats, these numbers are significantly higher. In fact, diabetes is the only disease that causes glucose levels to increase above 400 mg/dl. The average blood sugar range for a diabetic cat is between 400-600 mg/dl. In severe cases, the levels can reach up to 800 mg/dl.
Testing the cat’s glucose levels is one of the main ways veterinarians diagnose feline diabetes mellitus.
Types of Feline Diabetes
It is also important for cat owners to know that there are two types of feline diabetes: Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes develops due to an extreme decrease in insulin production which creates elevated levels of glucose. In cases of Type I diabetes mellitus, there is often a total destruction of the beta cells. Type I feline diabetes is considered to be relatively uncommon.
Type II diabetes develops when the body doesn’t respond appropriately to the insulin, thus creating high levels of glucose. The hormone still exists and insulin-producing cells still remain, but in significantly fewer amounts. Obese cats are at a greater risk of developing Type II diabetes mellitus.
When it comes to feline diabetes, veterinarians diagnose Type II more often than Type I.
What Causes Cat Diabetes
Now, let’s get into why diabetes mellitus develops in the first place. As you will see, diabetes mellitus in cats is often entirely preventable.
The first three causes of diabetes that we are about to discuss are all lifestyle-related and ultimately all lead to the number one cause of the disease: obesity.
Lack of Exercise
The majority of cats diagnosed with feline diabetes had a significant lack of exercise in their day-to-day life. Now, we know that some cats can be quite the couch potatoes and show a total disinterest in physical activity. However, pet owners must do all they can to ensure their feline is getting enough exercise throughout the day, particularly as they get older.
Feline diabetes is also often linked to diet, specifically high-carbohydrate/low-protein diets. We cannot stress enough the importance of diet. A well-balanced diet can truly make a world of difference for your cat’s health, well-being, and ultimately, their quality of life. Later in this article, we’ll discuss how a dietary change may be exactly what prevents your cat from developing diabetes mellitus.
A lack of exercise and a poor diet are a recipe for obesity. Many pet owners think that their chubby cat is absolutely adorable. We’re not disagreeing with you, but obesity in cats is a real problem that needs to be addressed. Obese cats are at incredibly high risk of developing a slew of health conditions from heart disease to hepatic lipidosis. Obese cats are also at an increased risk of complications if they have to have any kind of surgery. The fact of the matter is that obesity can be prevented and it is in your hands to make sure you’re taking the necessary steps to protect your cat’s health.
Additional Causes of Feline Diabetes
While lifestyle factors are the most prominent causes of diabetes mellitus in cats, there are other reasons why your feline may develop the disease.
Autoimmune Destruction of Insulin-Producing Cells
Diabetes can develop due to an autoimmune condition that causes the destruction of insulin-producing cells. As with any autoimmune disease, the body mistakes healthy cells and hormones as potential harm and attacks them. In this case, the body attacks the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin. The result is Type I diabetes. This cause of diabetes is more common in dogs than cats but is diagnosed from time to time in felines.
Diabetes mellitus in cats can also result from severe cases of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Pancreatitis can cause the organ’s tissues to be so damaged that it is unable to produce insulin.
The use of glucocorticoid drugs such as prednisolone, prednisone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone are often prescribed to treat a slew of ailments on a short-term basis. However, if your vet prescribes the drugs to treat a long-term disease, be aware that the medications can lead to the development of feline diabetes. This is yet another cause of the disease that is preventable.
Hyperadrenocorticism (also known as Cushing’s disease) can cause the body to become less responsive to the hormone insulin. Ultimately, this can lead to diabetes in cats.
Finally, acromegaly can cause diabetes in cats. Acromegaly results from a tumor within the cat’s pituitary glands overproducing growth hormone. The anti-insulin effects of the growth hormone often cause diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats
Next, let’s discuss the symptoms of diabetes mellitus in cats. If diabetes is left untreated it can cause a number of scary health issues, some of which can be life-threatening. Therefore, if you recognize any of the following clinical signs of diabetes, it is imperative that you don’t delay in getting your feline the veterinary attention that they need.
First, cats with diabetes will be excessively thirsty. Diabetes causes there to be an elevated amount of glucose in the blood which causes the body to excrete increased amounts of glucose in the urine. This will consequently cause dehydration and, therefore, the constant need to drink more water. For cats on a moist or semi-moist diet, it may be difficult for pet owners to detect whether they are drinking more than usual as a large portion of their water intake comes from their food.
Subsequent Increased Urination
With an increase in water intake comes an increase in urine production. Additionally, the cat’s increased glucose concentration can also pull excess water into the urine, resulting in the need for frequent trips to the litter box.
Another important symptom of diabetes is an increased appetite. Since the body is unable to use sugars for energy, diabetic cats are often excessively hungry and constantly trying to restore their energy levels.
Despite their increased appetite, diabetic cats often experience weight loss. Because the body is unable to break down sugars for energy, it, in turn, breaks down other sources like fats and proteins in order to provide enough energy to get through the day.
Possible Nerve Damage
In severe, untreated cases of diabetes, nerve damage in the hind limbs is possible.
Diagnosing A Diabetic Cat
Diagnosing diabetes in cats will require specific testing from your veterinarian. Your vet will first go over your cat’s overall health and take note of any of the aforementioned symptoms that you have noticed. The more information that you can provide your vet, the better equipped they will be to make an accurate diagnosis.
Next, your vet will likely perform a blood test and a urinalysis to check for glucose concentrations in both.
Additionally, in order to confirm the diabetes diagnosis, your vet may also administer a specialized exam called a serum fructosamine test.
The Importance of Early Diagnosis
Furthermore, if diabetes is caught in an early stage and is treated efficiently, it is possible for the disease to become completely controlled and go into remission. In other words, the disease will still ‘exist’ to a degree, but without the presence of any of the associated symptoms.
With that being said, diabetes is a disease that veterinarians ‘control’ and not ‘cure.’
If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, treatment will involve the following:
- Glycemic control (restoration of normal blood glucose concentration)
- Restoring a healthy weight (in cases of diabetes causing weight loss)
- Decreasing excessive thirst and urination
- Controlling excessive appetite
- Preventing low blood glucose levels
Most often, cat diabetes will have to be treated with injectable insulin therapy. Unfortunately, oral medications don’t work for cats as they do for humans.
Close monitoring of your cat’s condition is also imperative. Owners of diabetic cats will have to schedule regular vet appointments to make sure the insulin therapy is working properly. Home monitoring of blood glucose levels will also be necessary in order.
Diabetes mellitus is a treatable condition but requires a life-long commitment to long-term treatment. As you can see, we highly advocate for the prevention of the disease.
Additionally, dietary changes are incredibly important for diabetic cats. Cats with diabetes should not eat dry food. Most experts advise switching to a diet that is high in proteins and low in carbohydrates. Dry cat food is far from low-carb. We recommend consulting with a holistic veterinarian regarding specific dietary changes that will support your cat’s individual needs.
Many veterinarians also recommend implementing a cranberry-based urinary supplement in order to support bladder health. Diabetic cats are at an increased risk of developing urinary tract infections and bladder infections. A urinary supplement can help prevent these ailments. Again, first talk to your veterinarian regarding whether an additional supplement can provide the urinary support that your cat needs.
Why Treatment is Imperative: Ketoacidosis in Cats
Treating diabetes in an appropriate and efficient way is paramount. If diabetes is left untreated it can cause ketoacidosis, a medical emergency that can be life-threatening.
Again, if you recognize any symptoms of diabetes, call your vet. Do not delay in seeking out an accurate diagnosis as to why your cat is experiencing health changes of any kind. It can truly be the difference between life and death.
Preventing Cat Diabetes
As we previously discussed, part of being a responsible pet owner is understanding that many diseases can be prevented. The majority of the time, diabetes is one condition that is entirely avoidable and is ultimately in the hands of the cat owner. Believe us when we say that you’ll want to take the necessary steps in order to prevent the development of feline diabetes. Treatment for the condition is often life-long and can prove to be far from easy. Plus, diabetes can greatly affect your cat’s quality of life. Let’s take a look at the simple changes you can make in order to prevent diabetes mellitus in cats.
First, let’s talk about exercise. As we previously mentioned, we know that keeping your cat active can be a challenge for some. However, it is so important, especially for aging kitties. We recommend looking into purchasing a cat tree for your four-legged companion. Many cat trees come fully equipped with interactive toys and different levels that promote physical activity.
Diet Diet Diet
Again, diet is an extremely important part of preventing diabetes. Most experts advocate for a low-carbohydrate diet that is rich in proteins. This typically means staying away from hard, dry food as it is high in carbohydrates. Instead, implement food that gives the body the support it needs to stay healthy. Many holistic veterinarians recommend species-appropriate raw food diets. These raw food diets can either be homemade or commercially bought.
Additionally, we want to note that low-carbohydrate foods are available at all price points. You don’t have to break the bank in order to effectively prevent diabetes.
One of the most effective ways to prevent diabetes is by preventing obesity. In fact, in North America, obesity is the most preventable disease in cats. As we previously mentioned, obesity not only leads to diabetes but a slew of other severe health conditions including:
- Heart disease
- Cancers of all types
- Reduction in lifespan
- Hepatic lipidosis (severe decline in normal liver function)
- Skin issues
- Decline in immune system function
- Urinary problems (including bladder stones and infections)
- Anesthetic complications
Just to reiterate, obesity is extremely preventable. It is imperative that pet owners do their part to prevent the health condition and, therefore, prevent the serious complications that it inevitably causes.
Another way to prevent not only diabetes but nearly every other health issue is by ensuring that your cat has regular check-ups with their veterinarian. Your vet will be able to tell you if they recognize any early signs of trouble and advise you on how to reverse it before it develops into a full-blown issue. When it comes to diabetes, vets can make sure your feline is at an appropriate weight and doesn’t have any other risk factors that you should keep an eye on. Your veterinarian will also be able to tell you whether your cat’s diet is up to the necessary standards.
Is My Cat At Risk For Feline Diabetes
Speaking of which, studies show that there are cats who are at an increased risk of developing feline diabetes. If your cat is predisposed to the disease, it is imperative to keep a close eye on their overall health and make appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes if necessary. The following cats are considered to be at a higher risk for diabetes mellitus:
- Obese cats
- Aging cats
- Lack of physical activity
- Male cats
- Cats taking glucocorticoid drugs
Interestingly enough, the Burmese breed has also shown to be at a higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus.
Again, whenever you know that your four-legged friend is at an increased risk of developing any disease, it is essential that you closely monitor their health and make appropriate changes whenever possible.
Prognosis for Feline Diabetes
Ultimately, there is no ‘cure’ for feline diabetes which is why prevention is so incredibly important. With appropriate treatment, diabetes mellitus can be controlled and it is possible for cats to go into remission. However, treatment is often a life-long commitment and requires serious dedication. Insulin therapy will typically be required twice a day and injecting your cat can prove to be challenging… to put it kindly. Even when their condition is stable, diabetic cats should still be kept on a low-carbohydrate diet in order to prevent a spike in glucose levels.
Additionally, continuous monitoring of your cat’s condition will be necessary. Diabetes can have serious complications if not treated appropriately. Cat owners will have to check their feline’s glucose levels either at home or at their vet’s office on a consistent basis.
Cat Diabetes: The Bottom Line
Truth be told, being a responsible cat owner isn’t always easy. There are so many health conditions (not to mention fluke accidents) that are entirely out of your control. Therefore, when an ailment can be prevented, it must be prevented. When it comes to feline diabetes, we encourage our readers to do everything they can to prevent the development of the disease. By making a few small lifestyle changes you can be well on your way to ensuring your feline’s health and happiness.