Diabetes is very common today, with roughly 1 in 10 Americans today experiencing some form of the condition. With stats like these, you’re almost guaranteed to have known someone with the disease. But did you know that humans aren’t the only ones afflicted with diabetes?

That’s right – cats, some of America’s favorite critters, share our vulnerability to the condition, though at a much lower rate. Some estimates place the likelihood of a given cat developing diabetes as low as 1%. Still, if you own cats, knowing about this condition can help you keep an eye out for its warning signs, and can help you ensure that all nine of your cat’s lives are happy and healthy.

Noticing the Signs

Keeping an observant eye on your cat is important. Understanding their normal behavior can help establish a baseline from which any abnormal behavior will be more readily apparent, which can help you catch conditions like diabetes early. Careful observation is especially warranted if your cat has one or multiple diabetes risk factors, which include obesity, senior age, being of the male sex, or being of the Burmese breed.

Two common changes that you may notice are weight loss despite a normal or even increased appetite, and increased thirst and/or urination. Weight loss can occur as a result of the body’s inability to take advantage of blood sugar as fuel, causing it to instead break down other bodily tissues for energy. Excessive urination also results from blood sugar dysregulation, where the kidneys attempt to flush out the excessive sugar concentrations through the urinary tract.

Confirming the diagnosis

Recognizing abnormalities in your cats behavior or routine is often the first step in getting your diabetic cat the care they need, but an expert should always be consulted to confirm your suspicions. If you think your cat is acting strange, and you believe they are showing signs of diabetes, the best option is to take them to the vet for a proper investigation of the matter.

Yes, we understand that vet visits are not always inexpensive, but as the old saying goes, “if you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet.” Your furry friend relies on you to look after their health, and sometimes that involves enlisting a veterinarian’s expertise.

A vet will likely run one or multiple blood and urine tests to see if they return consistently abnormally high levels of sugar concentration. Combined with observations of diabetes symptoms, the vet will likely be able to make a firm diagnosis on that basis. They may also perform a fructosamine concentration test, which can estimate average blood sugar levels over a two week period and can often be determinative of a diagnosis when repeated tests are not ideal.

Veterinarian checking diabetic cat

Choosing Treatment Options

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, you and your vet will need to decide on the best ways to proceed with treatment. Fortunately, proper treatment can be very effective in managing the disease over time, though it will require care, diligence, and likely some cost on your part.

The first part of this decision making process should involve specifying the goals you wish to achieve in treatment. Having concrete and quantifiable parameters for your treatment goals can not only help you make the most appropriate decisions in your cat’s particular case, but can also help you make course corrections periodically if the treatment is not achieving the goals you originally set.

A vet will typically advise you of a few core aims in treating feline diabetes. These include:

  • Restoring and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, without overcompensating and causing excessively low blood sugar (hypoglycemia);
  • Controlling secondary conditions or symptoms of the diabetes, like excessive thirst, urination, or weight loss.

While defining the goals for treatment is relatively straightforward, establishing the best means of achieving them is more complex, and each case will necessitate an individualized approach. However, there are a few key tools in the vet’s toolkit for dealing with diabetes, many of which mirror treatment options for diabetes in humans. These include:

Anti-diabetic medications

Feline diabetes is often prescribed simple insulin therapy. This will involve giving your cat regular injections of insulin (which they often tolerate surprisingly well), perhaps once or twice daily depending on the specific insulin product used. Some non-insulin ingestible options exist, though these are not as commonly prescribed. Each of the various insulin options will have its own profile of cost, efficacy, duration and onset of action, and dosage frequency. Which one you and your vet choose will depend on your cat’s particular needs, as well as your own preferences regarding cost and convenience.

Notably, glargine insulin (Lantus), one of the most common for new cases, has a relatively high chance of leading to remission. While Lantus is not cheap, the possibility that it will cancel the need for indefinite applications can make this a good first choice.

Regulating food intake

Curating a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates can create beneficial knock-on effects to your cat’s insulin sensitivity. While striking the perfect nutrient balance with every meal can be a challenge for humans, who rarely eat the same meal consecutively, sustaining a proper diet for your cat can be as easy as switching to a different cat food brand. “Specialty” products can be expensive, but choosing a basic product with a healthier nutrient profile can be a great first start if you’re on a budget. Canned food, for example, often contains fewer carbohydrates than its bagged counterparts, even in generic form.

Besides finding the right nutrient profile, timing your cat’s meals and measuring the correct meal portions are also important facets of dietary intervention. You may need to feed your cat less frequently or in smaller portions than they may be used to (despite their vocal protests). Doing so is likely to help them reach a healthy weight if they are overweight and having fewer meals will mean administering fewer insulin injections on your part.

Diabetic cat eating healthy

Increasing activity

Earlier, we mentioned that obesity can be both a risk factor and symptom of feline diabetes. Helping your cat reach and maintain a healthy weight is therefore an essential part of diabetes management and is best done through ensuring they are physically active (in addition to controlling their diet).

Introducing activity to your cat’s routine will also increase their energy consumption throughout the day. This can serve an important role in reducing incidences of hyperglycemia, as higher energetic demands can force the body to draw more fuel (i.e., sugar) from the bloodstream.

Unfortunately, cats can be stubbornly lazy, particularly as they mature and lose their youthful prey drive. Nevertheless, it’s important to make a point of finding ways to engage them in physical play. Exciting new toys, like laser-pointers or catnip-infused stuffed animals, can help incentivize a sedentary cat to re-connect with their inner kitten. Others may be more motivated by food, so finding ways to make them earn some of their meals through play can often be helpful. And, if your cat is particularly patient, you may even find success in placing them in a harness and leash and taking them for walks about town.

Maintaining treatment progress at home

Regardless of which treatment strategies you adopt, careful and consistent maintenance will be required on your part to ensure the treatments are appropriately administered and the results are sufficiently monitored. Remember, your cat may be self-sufficient in many ways, but they are relying on you to help them deal with their condition.

Always keep careful notes of a vet’s instructions at your visits. If you have questions, or if you are unsure of whether you are following their advice properly, don’t hesitate to reach out to the clinic for clarification. When you return from a  visit, consider setting reminders based on their instructions so that you don’t forget when to feed and medicate your cat, as well as the proper portions and dosages to use.

Diabetes Prevention

Most diabetic cats have type 2 diabetes, which is typically acquired throughout their life rather than resulting from inherited genetics. This means that, though not always preventable, the likelihood of your cat becoming diabetic – and incurring costly vet bills – can be minimized through proper preventive care.

Many of the steps in preventing diabetes reflect those you might take in treating the condition. For example, ensuring that your cat maintains a healthy weight, exercises regularly, eats a balanced diet in appropriate portions, and visits the vet regularly, can drastically reduce their odds of developing the condition.

Additionally, some medications can increase their risk of developing diabetes. These are mainly steroid medications which are given to treat feline asthma, among other ailments. While sometimes inevitable, minimizing the use of these medications is ideal wherever possible.

Long-Term Prognosis

A diabetes diagnosis does not always spell disaster for your cat; in fact, with proper treatment, many cats can live long and healthy lives with their condition. Better yet, some can even enter clinical remission, where they no longer require most of their treatment, and may simply require monitoring and a particular diet. However, left untreated, or in the presence of complicating factors like other endocrine diseases or chronic ketoacidosis, feline diabetes can lead to poor long-term outcomes.

In other words, whether or not diabetes will affect your cat’s life in a negative way depends on how well you can manage their treatment. This can certainly feel like a large responsibility, and it is. But it should also give rise to optimism; ultimately, this condition is in your hands, and there are plenty of measures you can take to keep your furry friend around for years to come.

Conclusion

Learning that a beloved pet has a health condition is never happy news. Thankfully, diabetes in cats tends to be as treatable as it is in humans, if not more so. Whether you’re suspecting the worst, have been informed of a diagnosis already, or are simply preparing to be a diligent owner for a new member of the household, understanding this condition is an important part of protecting your cat’s health. Taking the appropriate steps to monitor your cat’s health and provide necessary treatments will help ensure you enjoy your cat’s company for years to come.