Feline Diabetes 101 Understanding the Disease Title

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Feline Diabetes (diabetes mellituscases are on the rise. According to WebMD, currently 1 out of every 400 cats has feline diabetes. No one knows for sure exactly what causes Feline Diabetes, but there are some things that seem to be strongly related.  Feline Obesity is a huge risk factor for Feline Diabetes.

What is Feline Diabetes?

The cells that make up your cat’s body all need sugar (from food) for energy to do each of their jobs. If sugar can’t get into the cells, then the cells can’t perform their duties correctly. It would be like trying to operate your car without any gas in the tank. However, sugar can’t get into the cells without the help of a hormone produced by your cat’s pancreas called insulin. Problems with the interaction between the sugar, cells, and insulin cause the two different types of diabetes and hypoglycemia.

Feline Diabetes Type 1
Feline Diabetes Obesity is a risk factor

Obesity is a big risk factor for Feline Diabetes
Photo Credit Becky Enverite via Flickr

When there isn’t enough insulin to pair with the amount of sugar in the blood stream, the sugar just starts piling up in the blood stream. This is where the high blood sugar counts start coming in. The lack of insulin in cases of Feline Diabetes Type 1 is because the part of the pancreas that produces the insulin (the beta cells) has been damaged.

Feline Diabetes Type 2

Sometimes fat cells in the cat’s body send out hormones that make other cells resistant to insulin. That means that even when the sugar is properly paired with insulin, the cells won’t accept it. As a result, the cells don’t get the energy they need. Feline Diabetes Type 2 has the characteristic of diminished ability to produce insulin, like Type 1, but it also adds this insulin resistance.


On the flip side of things, sometimes more insulin is produced than there is sugar to pair it with. When this happens, any sugar that does enter the blood stream gets hoarded away by certain cells and the rest of the cells can’t get the sugar they need. This is often caused by a cat with Feline Diabetes receiving too large of a dose of insulin.

Common Symptoms of Feline Diabetes

If your cat is in the beginning stages of Feline Diabetes, these are the 4 symptoms you are most likely to notice.

  • Excessive thirst and frequent urination.
    When there is too much sugar in the blood stream the body works to balance itself out by flushing the extra sugar out through the urine. The cat’s kidneys go into overdrive. Of course, to create enough urine to get rid of the excess sugar, the kidneys will have to pull water from other parts of the body.
  • Excessive hunger.
    When cells don’t get the sugar they need for energy, they ask the cat’s brain to send them more food. Unfortunately, without insulin to help the sugar get into the cells or if the cells have become insulin resistant, the cat could never eat enough food to satisfy this craving.
  • Weight Loss.
    When the cells start getting desperate for nutrition, they begin depleting fat stores. Once fat stores run out, the cat’s body will start using its own muscles for nutrition.

If Feline Diabetes is left untreated it can result in a very dangerous medical condition called Ketoacidosis which should be treated as a medical emergency. Diabetic Neuropathy, a condition causing the lameness of the cat’s hind legs, can also result.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Feline Diabetes Monitor your cat's blood sugar

Diabetic Test Strips
Photo Credit Bodytel via Flickr

If you are concerned that your cat may have diabetes, please visit your veterinarian. There will be a combination of a physical exam and lab tests needed to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.  Most likely, your veterinarian will need to find out what your cat’s blood sugar levels are and if there is any sugar present in the cat’s urine.

Treatment is usually a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. It is possible that your veterinarian will want to put your cat on a type of insulin that is taken orally.  Most cats will need insulin injections.

Cats with Feline Diabetes should not be free fed. You will need to begin monitoring the food that your cat eats as well as testing your cat’s blood sugar (it requires pricking their ear). Keeping track of your cat’s blood sugar will help you to know just how much insulin your cat needs. Making sure that your cat gets proper exercise is also very important.

How Diet Can Help

Feline Diabetes A Cat's Natural Diet

Photo Credit Andrew via Flickr

Veterinarians are beginning to favor a high protein, low carbohydrate diet for cats living with Feline Diabetes.  Moving a cat away from dry foods and onto foods that are closer to what a cat’s natural diet can lessen the cat’s need for insulin. Changing the cat’s diet can even cause the Feline Diabetes to go into remission.

If you choose to change your cat’s diet, do so carefully. Monitor your cat’s blood sugar levels very closely as you switch over. Changing your cat over to a high protein, low carbohydrate diet from a high carbohydrate diet will more than likely affect the dose of insulin that your cat will need. Results could happen very quickly (the same day). Continuing to give your cat the same dosage of insulin while making this change could result in an overdose of insulin and Hypoglycemia. Always involve your veterinarian when making changes to your cat’s Feline Diabetes management plan.


Sources & Digging Deeper

Feline Diabetes – Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine

What is Feline Diabetes? – FelineDiabetes.com

Feline Diabetes – Lisa A. Pierson, DVM

What are the Symptoms of Feline Diabetes? – Animal Planet

Diabetes – ASPCA

Diabetes in Cats – PetMD