While most people are familiar with diabetes as it presents in humans, do you know everything you need to know about feline diabetes? We often don’t consider the fact that our cats are also susceptible to this disease. In fact, the number of cats living with diabetes in the United States has been on the rise. The good news is that, with the proper care and management, a diabetic cat can live a long, healthy life.
November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month, a month dedicated to spreading information and awareness about the disease, the symptoms to watch for and what you can do to provide the best care possible for your pet. We’re going to take a detailed look at everything you need to know about feline diabetes.
What is Feline Diabetes?
When a cat eats sugar or carbohydrates, a gland called the pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin. Insulin is crucial in turning sugar and carbohydrates into energy the boy can use. In diabetes, one of two things happens: Either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or the pancreas produces insulin, but the body doesn’t know how to use it (Type 2 diabetes).
What Causes Feline Diabetes?
Most cats have Type 2 diabetes, and this is primarily brought about by obesity. According to a recent study, approximately 60% of cats are overweight or obese. That’s a lot of cats at higher risk of getting diabetes. Steroid use can sometimes cause transient diabetes – that is diabetes that goes away after the medication is stopped. A few cats also have other disorders such as acromegaly that can cause diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Feline Diabetes?
The most commonly noticed symptoms are polydipsia (drinking excessively) and polyuria (peeing excessively). Another common symptom is weight loss despite a large appetite. As the cat’s blood glucose increases, he can become lethargic and depressed. This is the precursor to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which requires expensive hospitalization to treat. Other side effects include chronic or recurring infections, such as skin or urinary infections, and cloudiness in your cat’s eyes.
My Cat Has Diabetes. Now What?
First, don’t panic. The most important things you can do are to work closely with your veterinarian and find some support and mentoring, either online or locally. Most veterinarians know the basics of diabetes, and some are willing to go the extra mile and not only learn all they can but help you learn all you can as well. The most reliable sources of information and mentoring online are Feline Diabetes and the Feline Diabetes Message Board. You may also want to turn your cat’s collar into a medical alert tool by having “Diabetic” engraved on the back of her tag along with your phone number.
What are the Most Important Things I Can Do to Keep my Diabetic Cat Healthy?
First of all, feed a species-appropriate diet. More and more veterinarians are recommending that cats, as obligate carnivores, should eat a diet of high-quality canned food rather than kibble because their bodies simply don’t have a digestive system designed to cope with carbohydrates. You may also choose to feed your cats a commercially prepared raw diet which has complete nutrition and doesn’t overload them with carbs. There are low-carbohydrate foods available at every price point, so you don’t have to buy ultra-premium food for your diabetic cat. Lisa Pierson, DVM, has created a chart listing carbohydrate, fat, protein, and calorie measurements for many canned and raw cat foods.
Second, and even more important, home blood testing is crucial! I can’t overstate the importance of monitoring your cat’s blood glucose at home. This will save you money because you’ll be able to do blood glucose curves (measuring blood glucose level every two hours) at home. Doing so will help to prevent hypoglycemic episodes and DKA and will allow you to see if your cat is going into remission. FelineDiabetes.com has a library of how-to guides and videos on how to home test your cat.
Yes, remission. Unlike diabetic dogs, most diabetic cats go into remission – that is, they no longer need to be on insulin. This typically happens with a combination of weight loss, a species-appropriate diet, and close monitoring of blood glucose levels. Even when a cat is in remission, it’s a good idea to test occasionally, especially if your cat is under stress. Stress could be comprised of anything from an illness to moving house to a new cat moving into your home. You want to be sure your cat is remaining in remission, and if she’s not, to know that before she gets really sick.
What If I Can’t Afford to Take Care of my Diabetic Cat?
Medical care for a diabetic cat can be expensive. Insulin is the biggest single cost you’ll have, but test strips and urgent care for hypoglycemia and DKAs are also pretty pricey. But please don’t fear that you’ll have to give your kitty up or have her euthanized! There are organizations that provide assistance with medical costs for cats with diabetes. Chief among these is Diabetic Cats in Need, whose mission is to keep diabetic cats in their homes through education and assistance and to find safe homes for diabetic cats that find themselves in shelters.
I’ve Been Doing Everything You Said and My Cat’s Diabetes Is Still Out of Control! Now What?
Your cat may have a rare condition such as acromegaly that is interfering with her body’s ability to use the insulin it processes. If your cat’s blood glucose is still not under control despite large amounts of insulin and a species-appropriate diet, as your vet about this possibility and have tests done to determine whether your kitty has this problem.
When your cat gets a diabetes diagnosis, it’s going to be a big change for you in terms of your routine, but the actual process of taking care of a diabetic cat is a lot less intimidating than it seems. With mentors and a good vet, your cat will thrive even if she doesn’t go into remission. Of course, the best idea is to keep your cat from getting diabetes in the first place. Watch her weight, feed a species-appropriate diet, provide exercise and enrichment, get regular veterinary care including blood and urine tests, and keep her stress levels to a minimum.
Do you know of a cat parent that is currently navigating a feline diabetes diagnosis? Share this article to help answer their questions and provide resources!