Feline Diabetes

One of the more common presenting complaints we see in general practice involves cats that are drinking and peeing more. Sometimes the owners won’t notice anything off until the cat starts having accidents around the home when they realize that, “oh, he’s been peeing more lately” or, “oh, and now that I think about it, his water bowl always needs refilling as well.”

There are several scenarios that go through my mind when I come across a cat like this. Renal disease, thyroid disease, even urinary tract infections can all cause cats to have accidents outside the litter box. Today though, I want to talk about diabetes, another disease that can show these signs.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the body can’t regulate its own blood sugar. People may have heard of type I or type II diabetes. The majority of cats will suffer from type II, where the body doesn’t respond to the cat’s own insulin (the molecule involved in signaling cells to take up circulating sugars). It’s believed that up to 1% of cats may suffer from diabetes.

Several risk factors put a cat at a high chance of developing diabetes in their life. These include obesity, increasing age, inactivity and steroid therapy. Common clinical signs to look for are increased drinking and urination (which may result in accidents around the house), weight loss and some cats will develop nerve damage in their hind legs resulting in a funny looking walk and weakness.

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, we suggest bringing them in to get checked out. We will recommend a urinalysis as well as bloodwork to look into if your cat is suffering from diabetes or some other condition. If we determine diabetes is the cause, treatment can begin.

The goal of treatment is to control blood glucose (sugar) levels, control clinical signs and normalize appetite and weight loss. Treatment is often very involved requiring daily insulin injections. Initially, your cat may need to come in to perform glucose curves, and their insulin dose may need to be adjusted. Diabetic food is also available which is specially formulated for cats with this condition. Meals and insulin need to be given on a strict schedule. It may seem like a lot of work initially, but a well-controlled diabetic cat can have an excellent quality of life for many years to come. Some cats can even go into remission and not need insulin anymore. We do still recommend monitoring your cats drinking if they do as they will often relapse and need insulin again at some point in the future.

Overall diabetes is nothing to be afraid of in cats. They tolerate insulin quite well and can have an excellent quality of life if their diabetes is well controlled.

Written By: Dr. David Baker, Veterinarian