What is diabetes?
Diabetes is high blood sugar and sugar in the urine. Diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin (type I) or a lack of response by the body to insulin (type II). Most cats will have type II diabetes. However, most cats will at least initially be insulin dependent.
We do not know why some animals develop this chronic disease but pancreatitis can increase their risk. Diabetes cannot be cured but it can be managed. Some cats, if treated aggressively, can be managed with diet changes only.
What are the signs of diabetes?
Signs that you may see include increased hunger, thirst and urination. You may also notice that your cat is weak, lethargic or has lost weight suddenly.
How Do I know if my cat is diabetic?
Cats will require blood work and/or a urine sample to know if they are diabetic.
How is it treated?
Diabetes in the cats is initially treated with twice daily insulin, scheduled feedings and regular blood sugar monitoring.
Often pets can be treated at home but some pets require hospitalization.
There are specific diets made for cats with diabetes. These are a high protein/low carbohydrate canned food diets that are slower to digest and therefore cause less blood sugar spikes. There are over the counter canned diets that can be used in diabetics. A diet with less than 7% carbohydrates should be used. A list of nutritional information of most common diets can be found at It is important that cats are fed on a regular schedule, fed the same amount of the same food. Treats should be avoided between meals. A cat that does not eat should not be given insulin.
There are a lot of different insulins on the market. We most commonly start cats on glargine (lente) insulin. This is long acting insulin given twice daily. Cats that do not regulate well on the insulin may require different insulin.
Insulin is given subcutaneously (under the skin). The injection site should be moved around the body to decrease scar tissue formation that can affect absorption. The bottle of insulin should be stored in the fridge and rolled (not shaken) before pulling up the dose. Pull back on the plunger of the syringe before administering the insulin.
When a cat is diagnosed with diabetes we recommend routine blood work to check the organ function.
All cats should also have a urinalysis done including a urine culture- it is very common for cats with diabetes to have subclinical urinary tract infections (do not show any signs of it). These urinary tract infections must be treated for the diabetes to be brought under control.
A specific test called a fructosamine test is often recommended to confirm the diagnosis. This measures the average blood sugar over the last 2 week period.
Once the pet is started on insulin we will need to monitor the blood glucose on a regular basis. This is going to be more frequent in the beginning as we are adjusting their dose. Once they are regulated the amount of monitoring is decreased.
Monitoring can be done in the hospital or sometimes at home. Most cats will allow owners to check their blood sugar levels at home. This requires the purchase of a glucometer (the alphaTRAK brand made specifically for dogs and cats is recommended). A blood sample is taken by lancing the tip of the ear of the cat.
The biggest side effect that we are concerned about is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. Signs of hypoglycemia are weakness, shaking, lethargy and seizures.
Causes of hypoglycemia include, giving too much insulin, not enough food eaten, vomiting before giving the insulin, or excessive exercise/activity.
When aggressively increasing the dose of insulin in an attempt to normalize blood sugars it is very important that we closely monitor the blood glucose to catch any problems as early as possible.
It is important that diabetic cats have good dental health. The chronic inflammation that is seen with gingivitis and periodontal disease effects blood sugar levels. It can be very hard, or impossible, to get a cat well regulated that suffers from dental disease.
Urinary Tract Infections
Diabetics are more prone to urinary tract infections. Any signs of a urinary tract infection such as frequent urinations, blood in the urine or accidents in the house should be addressed immediately.
Diabetic cats are at an increased risk of developing pancreatitis. It is important to avoid diet changes and table foods.
Keeping your cat at an ideal weight is very important. Overweight cats will be hard or impossible to get well regulated. If your dog is overweight a weight loss program should be started. If your dog is normal weight it is important that he stay that way.
An intact female cat goes through a lot of hormonal changes during her heat cycles. These can cause her blood sugars to swing wildly and make them very sick. Intact females should be spayed as soon as they are stable. Intact males that are around intact females should also be neutered to decrease the changes that they can have when the female goes into heat.
Further information can be found on veterinarypartner.com by searching diabetes. An instructional DVD will accompany your alphaTRAK monitor.