Amanda Esposito, DVM
Diabetes mellitus is a commonly diagnosed disease in middle to older aged cats. Diabetic animals have an inability to control blood sugar levels, as their bodies either cannot produce or properly use insulin. Although diabetes is a genetic disease, overweight and obese cats are more predisposed to developing this condition. The most common signs associated with diabetes are increased water consumption and urination, and weight loss despite a good appetite. Because cats tend to conceal their illness, symptoms may go unnoticed for several months. If left untreated, diabetic cats become very ill, and may experience more severe symptoms, such as vomiting, loss of appetite, dehydration, and lethargy. Diabetes is diagnosed by the presence of high levels of sugar in the blood and urine.
Although there is no cure for diabetes, cats can be managed with insulin therapy (often twice a day injections under the skin) and a carbohydrate restricted diet. There are several veterinary diets formulated for diabetes management and ideally cats should be fed every 12 hours, coinciding with insulin administration. Diabetic cats need frequent and close monitoring of their blood sugar levels. Owners should also monitor their pet’s eating, drinking and urination. Diabetics are prone to developing bacterial infections (such as urinary tract infections), pancreatitis, liver disease, and neuropathy of the hindlimbs.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a potential serious complication associated with insulin therapy. This can result from receiving too much insulin or prolonged inappetence, which is why it is very important for owners to administer insulin after a meal. Severe hypoglycemia can result in weakness, incoordination, coma, seizures, and even death.
Every diabetic pet is different, but many cats can be successfully managed with dedicated owners and proper veterinary care. Some cats may even achieve diabetic remission, becoming non-insulin dependent, and no longer require daily injections.