The rate of diabetes in cats has increased significantly in recent years. If diagnosed and managed successfully though, your cat can continue to live a happy, normal life. This article explores feline diabetes, including how to recognize its symptoms, how to manage treatment, and how to prevent it.
WHAT IS FELINE DIABETES?
Diabetes Mellitus is the inability to produce enough insulin to properly manage glucose or blood sugar levels. Cats that are older, or overweight are more at risk for developing diabetes. The true incidence rate is hard to estimate because it’s likely to be under-diagnosed, but it’s believed to be around 1%-2% of the feline population.
If your cat relates to more than one of these common risk factors, then they could be more likely to develop diabetes:
- Male and neutered.
- Seven years or older.
- Additional medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, renal issues, or an infection.
- Relying on medications, especially corticosteroids.
It can be very tricky to spot feline diabetes. Many pet owners aren’t aware that their cat may be at risk for diabetes in the first place. Veterinarians are often the first to notice a problem, during an annual check-up. Things to look out for if you are concerned about your cat having diabetes include:
- Needing more water than usual or drinking from unusual places.
- Dramatic weight loss.
- Increased appetite or begging for food.
- Walking on their heels (avoiding toes).
- Urine that is sticky or hard to clean.
- Decreased energy or activity.
If you or your veterinarian are concerned that your cat has diabetes, blood and urine tests will be done. The tests will look for repeated levels of hyperglycaemia (high levels of blood glucose). The tests will also rule out any other possible conditions that could be causing the symptoms.
Once diagnosed, you’ll work with your vet to try different treatment options. During this, it’s important you’re honest with your vet about how much time you have and your ability to monitor your cat. Regardless of the treatment, the goals are usually the same:
- To stabilize and regulate blood glucose levels.
- To reduce your cat to a more appropriate body weight.
- To reach potential remission (which may not be possible for all cats).
There are two common treatments for feline diabetes:
- DIET CHANGES
To help control your cat’s diabetes, and to prevent further damage, your vet will likely start with changes to its diet. Just like humans, cats need a healthy diet and plenty of exercise. For some cat’s, changing the diet is all that’s needed. For many though, this is done in addition to other treatment options.
Your vet will help you find an ideal weight for your cat and the best ways to get there. Less food overall, as well as a low-carb diet, are often recommended.
- INSULIN THERAPY
There are several insulin options available to your cat, your vet may recommend trying a couple for best results. Insulin is typically delivered by injection. If this is the case for your cat, your veterinarian will show you how. You’ll also learn how to administer glucose level tests. Many cat owners find after administering insulin a few times it becomes easier for them and their cat.
MONITORING & MANAGING FELINE DIABETES
When insulin therapy is first started, monitoring your cat’s response to therapy by periodic blood glucose determinations is important. Ideally, this involves serial blood glucose measurements in the form of a glucose curve.
Serum fructosamine levels can be used to help diagnose and further evaluate your cat’s response to insulin therapy. Fructosamine is measured from a single blood sample. No special preparation (e.g., fasting) is required before fructosamine testing. Serum fructosamine levels are proportional to the average blood glucose concentration that your cat has achieved over the past 7 – 14 days. Therefore, it can be used in long-term monitoring of diabetic cats.
At home, other important things you can do for your cat include monitoring her appetite, water consumption (if increasing or decreasing), energy level, grooming habits (unkempt greasy haircoat can indicate lack of diabetic control), and urine output. If you notice any of these changes, please inform your vet because these changes may signify the need for additional testing and/or adjustments in the insulin dosage. It is very important that you do not make adjustments in insulin dosage without first consulting your veterinarian! By working together, you are your vet can continue to provide a healthy and happy lifestyle for your cat.
PREVENTING FELINE DIABETES
We know obesity is a huge risk factor in cats with diabetes. There are also some breeds that are more prone to diabetes than others. Unfortunately, though, enough studies haven’t been done to confirm techniques to prevent diabetes in cats. A low-carb diet has been shown to help manage diabetes, but there is no confirmation that such a diet will prevent diabetes in the first place.
Weighing your cat regularly and maintaining consistent yearly physical examinations with your veterinarian is currently the best way to stay ahead of any potential diabetes diagnoses.
Resources: Life Learn