VCA Heritage Animal Hospital

What is Cat Diabetes?

Dog and Cat Diabetes Overview

Diabetes mellitus, the clinical name for "sugar diabetes," is a condition that affects the concentration of glucose, a type of sugar, in a cat's blood. Diabetes in cats is rarely the result of a shortage of insulin (Type I Diabetes). More commonly, diabetes results when a cat's body has trouble using the insulin it has made properly (Type II Diabetes).

Insulin affects the way a cat's body uses food. When a cat eats, food is broken down into very small components that the body can use. One component, carbohydrate, is converted into several types of sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood. Once in the bloodstream, glucose travels to cells where it can be absorbed and used as a source of energy-if insulin is present. Without enough insulin, glucose can't enter cells and builds up in the bloodstream. So a cat may act hungry all the time and eat constantly, but still lose weight because its cells can't absorb glucose.

Most cats develop Type II Diabetes, in which their cells no longer respond normally to the amounts of insulin produced by the pancreas. While many cats initially require daily insulin injections, the treatment goal is to correct the factors or conditions causing insulin resistance. If these factors, such as obesity, can be adequately controlled, many cats will experience temporary remission or permanent resolution of their diabetes. Many cats with Type II Diabetes will experience marked improvement in their insulin sensitivity when changed to a species-appropriate high protein, low carbohydrate food. However, not all cats with diabetes are suited to this type of diet. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough evaluation and recommend the most appropriate diet and treatment for your cat's diabetes.

Diabetes Risk Factors for Cats
  • Older Cats
  • Neutered Male Cats
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Medications (Steroids and Progestins)

If you think your cat may be at risk, make an appointment today to get your cat checked for diabetes.

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Diagnosis and Detection

Diabetes is one of many conditions that can affect your cat and cause visible changes in behavior and other signs. That's why it's important your cat be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian at least once a year or more frequently, if your veterinarian advises.

Cat Diabetes Symptoms
Knowing the signs of diabetes is the first step in protecting your cat's health. If any of these statements describes your cat, speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of diabetes:
  • Drinks more water than usual (polydipsia)
  • Urinates more frequently, produces more urine per day, or has "accidents" outside the litter box (polyuria)
  • Always acts hungry (polyphagia), but maintains or loses weight
  • Is less active or sleeps more (lethargic)
  • Has thinning, dry, or dull hair

When evaluating your cat for diabetes, your veterinarian may ask about these signs and will check your cat's general health to rule out the possibility of other conditions or infections.

A sample of your cat's urine may be tested first for the presence of glucose, ketones, and/or a urinary tract infection. If glucose is present in your cat's urine, your veterinarian will want to determine your cat's blood glucose concentration and fructosamine concentration. If the blood glucose concentration is consistently higher than normal, your cat's pancreas may not be secreting enough insulin or your cat's body is "resistant" to the insulin being produced. Regardless of the cause for increased blood sugar, your pet is suffering from diabetes mellitus.

A diabetes diagnosis is considered definite when glucose is found at a persistently high concentration in blood and in urine.

After the Diagnosis
It can initially be overwhelming when your cat is diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that you can manage successfully and your VCA veterinarian is here to help. Once the diagnosis has been made, ask your veterinarian to schedule a specific "diabetes appointment" during which you can discuss all of your questions or concerns. During this appointment, make sure to address the following topics with your VCA veterinarian:
  • Diet–determining the best type of food for your cat. Cats, as carnivores, often have significant improvement in their blood sugar levels when placed on a high protein, low carbohydrate food. This is also the perfect time to address weight loss if your cat is overweight or obese.
  • Insulin–how to store and administer it properly
  • Hypoglycemia–how to identify and treat potentially life-threatening low blood sugar
  • At-home monitoring you should perform and when you should alert your veterinarian. Ask how you should monitor your cat for the possibility of diabetes remission
  • Recommended veterinary rechecks
For more information on the types of canine diabetes, please read:
  • Diabetes Mellitus in Cats
    Diabetes Mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. In simple terms, it is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Click on the link to learn more.
For additional information on testing, monitoring and administering insulin shots, please read:
  • Diabetes in Cats – Testing and Monitoring
    There are several recommended tests to have done on your cat when Diabetes Mellitus is suspected. Cats can live happily and healthfully with diabetes if proper monitoring is performed by you at home and your cat has regularly scheduled visits with your veterinarian. For the best monitoring of a diabetic cat and the highest chance of diabetic remission, blood glucose can be checked by you at home. Ask your veterinarian if this monitoring approach might be right for you and your cat. Click on the link to learn more.

  • Giving Injections to Cats
    Diabetes Mellitus can be controlled in cats by administering daily insulin injections. Click on the link to learn more.

To learn more about diabetes in dogs and cats, check our Pet Health Library.

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Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

As part of the VCA family, we have over 83 specialty hospitals across the US and Canada which provide referral specialty care, so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: behavior, cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, integrative medicine, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology, rehabilitation, reproduction, and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

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Emergency Care

In case of emergency, please call us immediately. If it is after hours, check with a local animal hospital emergency clinic.

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