Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 26, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Cats can develop diabetes just as humans can, and the treatment and management of the condition are very similar. Treatment may include dietary changes, adequate exercise and insulin.
Feline diabetes mellitus is more common than most people realize. It is thought that the condition is becoming more prevalent in cats due to factors such as diet and low activity levels. Male, neutered cats are at increased risk, as are cats who are overweight or obese. Age and underlying health issues may also be components in the development of diabetes. Because cats often mask illness quite well, being aware of the signs of this disease is important.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes can be classified into two categories. Type 1, which is the less common of the two, results when there is a lack of insulin being generated by the pancreas. Type 2 occurs when the feline body develops a resistance to insulin. Both types lead to abnormally high levels of glucose in the blood and the urine.
Top 5 Signs of diabetes
Early symptoms such as lethargy may be inconclusive and possibly indicators of other diseases, which is why a veterinary exam is an important part of getting a correct diagnosis and treatment.
The following signs may be strong indicators of diabetes:
1. Weight changes
Weight gain in the early stages of diabetes will eventually change to weight loss as the disease progresses.
Insulin, normally released by the pancreas, aids in the transfer of glucose to the cells. A lack of insulin, or an abnormal response to the insulin, affects the regular production of energy. When this energy is missing, the body will start to use fat and protein stores, which culminates in weight loss no matter how much a cat eats. The majority of cats with undiagnosed diabetes will have voracious appetites, although some cats tend to experience a reduced desire for food.
2. Excessive thirst and urination
These two signs of diabetes go hand in hand. Excessive thirst is caused by high levels of glucose in the blood which is not being transferred to the cells. The kidneys then need to work overtime eliminating the sugar from the body via the urine. Because of the extra processing taking place, more urine is being produced. The generation of large volumes of urine then results in excessive thirst.
3. Change in gait
Many cats with undiagnosed diabetes will begin to exhibit a change in the way they walk. This is known as peripheral neuropathy, which is a weakness of the hind legs. Cats may walk on their hocks rather than their feet, and may have difficulty jumping on places they normally would. In some cats, this symptom can be evidence of a progression of the disease to dangerous levels.
4. Poor hair coat
The coat may become flaky, oily, thinner than normal, and generally unattractive in appearance. Additionally, the lethargy and malaise that can occur as a result of diabetes will further dull the coat because affected cats may not have the energy or the desire to groom.
There are several additional indications of diabetes, in particular as the disease progresses untreated. Ketoacidosis is a serious complication of unmanaged diabetes. Cats with this life-threatening complication will show signs such as sweet smelling breath, vomiting, collapse, and even coma.
What does a diagnosis of diabetes mean for my cat?
With the assistance of your veterinarian, diabetes can be controlled. Diabetes is most often manageable, regardless of a cat’s age. Learning to care for a diabetic cat will require some time and patience. Your veterinarian will determine whether and what type of insulin is needed after a series of tests, such as blood work and urinalysis. Cat guardians will need to learn to monitor blood glucose levels at home, and how to recognize the signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Your cat may require dietary changes (in some cases, diet alone may reverse diabetes.)
Caring for a diabetic cat will require commitment and regular communication with your veterinarian.
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Featured Image Credit: Yaya Photos, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.