Diabetes in cats

Cats can also suffer from elevated levels of glucose in the blood i.e. diabetes mellitus. If the cat receives treatment at an early stage, it can still reach old age despite having this disease.

Cats with diabetes drink more and, accordingly, need to urinate more frequently. They often also have an increased appetite. These signs, which are often the only indications for a long time, do not necessarily mean the cat has diabetes but they should always be taken seriously. Increased water consumption, in particular, is nearly always a serious indication.

How does diabetes mellitus affect cats?

Diabetes mellitus is a hormonal metabolic disorder characterised by a chronic increase in blood glucose levels (hyperglycaemia). Because the cells no longer have sufficient energy in the form of glucose, fat and muscle tissue is also broken down.

The following symptoms may occur in cases of diabetes mellitus:

  1. Increased urination (large quantities)
  2. Increased water consumption (thirst)
  3. Increased food consumption
  4. Progressive weight loss
  5. Apathy
  6. Dull coat
  7. Plantigrade (flat-footed) stance

At the onset of the condition, many cats are overweight. As the illness progresses, the cats lose weight and may even become skinny.

What causes diabetes mellitus in cats?

The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas and regulates the cat’s blood glucose level. A reduction of the blood glucose level is only possible with insulin. No other hormone is able to do this.

Insulin promotes the transport of glucose to the target cells. When too little insulin is produced and too little glucose is absorbed by the cells, diabetes mellitus can occur. If on the one hand too little insulin is produced and on the other hand the target cells no longer react to the insulin, diabetes mellitus is the result.

There are several possible underlying causes:

  1. Infections
  2. Destruction of pancreatic cells
  3. Degeneration of the cells (ageing)
  4. Target cells in the liver/muscle do not respond to or respond less to insulin 
  5. Overweight / obesity
  6. Accumulation of certain metabolic products (amyloid) in the pancreas
  7. Medications

Determining diabetes

A vet can run blood tests to determine whether a cat has diabetes. If the disease is already at an advanced stage, a urine test can also provide the diagnosis. It is then necessary to lower the blood sugar level using medication as otherwise various organs, including the eyes and mucous membranes, could be harmed and, sooner or later, if the problematic sugar metabolism is uncontrolled, life threatening complications connected with this disease may ensue.

If a cat is diabetic

Therapy for a cat with diabetes involves regular doses of insulin which, after a short adaptation period, can usually be administered without any difficulty by the owner. The vet will explain how it is to be administered. What is crucial is that doses are given regularly and followed directly by feeding. Occasionally, after some time, cats can manage without any treatment at all e.g. if they have lost excess weight or when female animals have been castrated. Even if lifelong treatment is required, however, life expectancy is not affected by the disease provided that insulin is administered regularly.

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