In the United States, there are plenty of fat cats–of both the feline and the human kind. Obesity in cats and humans has been on the upswing. As a result, diabetes in people and cats is becoming increasingly common.
Humans have to deal with type 1 diabetes (formerly called juvenile-onset or insulin-dependent diabetes) and type 2 diabetes (formerly called adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes). Cats, on the other paw, have to deal with type 1 diabetes mellitus and type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to VCA Animal Hospital.
Diabetes mellitus is increasing at an alarming rate, and it’s the second most common endocrine disorder in cats. An estimated one in four hundred cats are affected and it’s seen most frequently in middle-aged and elderly cats. It’s also more common in males than females.
Why is it becoming so common in cats?
According to VCA, there’s been an incredible amount of overweight or obese cats. A cat who’s three pounds over its ideal weight is considered obese. If a cat weighs 13 pounds or more, it’s at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus.
What is diabetes mellitus?
Simply put, it’s a disease that attacks the pancreas. Located near the stomach, the pancreas has two different types of cells that have very different jobs to do. One group of cells produces enzymes that are necessary for proper digestion. The other group, known as beta cells, produces the hormone insulin, and this hormone regulates glucose (sugar) levels and controls its delivery to the body’s tissues. Diabetes mellitus occurs when there’s a deficiency of insulin. The clinical signs of this particular disease are related to elevated concentrations of glucose in the blood coupled with the body’s inability to use glucose as an energy source.
Type 1 diabetes mellitus is rare, fortunately. This type occurs when the beta cells are destroyed. In diabetes mellitus 2, not all of the beta-cells are destroyed. However, the ones that remain aren’t sufficient to produce enough insulin, or there’s a delayed response in the secretion of insulin. In some cases, the tissues of a cat’s body are resistant to insulin.
If you’re worried that your kitty may have diabetes, now’s a good time to start observing your cat’s habits, especially if your cat is older and of the rotund persuasion, according to Animal Planet. Is he scarfing his food and water up quicker than usual? Are his food and water bowls empty more often than in the past? These are two symptoms; especially if your kitty is eating more and yet losing weight. Another sign: Frequent urination that’s occurring much more often than usual. These signs all point to glucose levels that aren’t being regulated effectively. The lack of insulin means that the body’s cells are being prevented from absorbing and acquiring the necessary energy from glucose. This means that there’s too much glucose in the blood and that’s what’s making your cat thirsty. If you see any of these symptoms, it’s time to call your vet. Your veterinarian can run laboratory tests to see how much sugar is in the cat’s blood or urine and make a diagnosis.
Once your cat has been diagnosed, it’s very important that you and your vet discuss treatment options. Diabetes, if left untreated, will shorten your cat’s life, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. If not treated, a dangerous and sometimes fatal condition known as ketoacidosis can occur. This can cause loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, dehydration, weakness, and breathing abnormalities. Diabetes can also lead to an unhealthy skin and coat, liver disease, and a number of bacterial infections. Diabetic neuropathy, another disorder, causes a cat to become increasingly weaker, especially in the hind legs, thus making jumping difficult.
Treatment is based on the severity of the illness, the university notes. Cats with ketoacidosis need intensive care immediately. This is likely to include fluid therapy and short-acting insulin injections. If your cat isn’t severely ill, your vet will most likely recommend treatment that includes insulin injections or oral medications along with dietary changes.
Just like people, every cat responds differently according to treatment. In some cats, it can be simple to regulate their blood sugar, while in others it might be a challenge. Some cats may do fine with just oral medications, while others may need injections. In some cats, diabetes might be transient so that treatment may not always be necessary, while others may need it for the rest of their lives. Not only that, but different cats do best with different kinds of insulin. However, one thing is certain: All cats with diabetes do best with consistent medication, consistent feeding, and a stable lifestyle that’s reasonably free of stress.
The majority of diabetic cats need insulin injections administered under the skin on a twice daily basis. This may sound difficult, but it can actually be fairly simple. In fact, most cats often don’t even notice the injections. They should receive the injections around the same time each day, according to the university. Your veterinarian can show you how to administer the shots. Since all cats are different, your vet will need to determine which type of insulin will be used, the amount of the dose, and how often it will need to be injected. In these cases, the veterinarian administers an insulin injection and tests the blood glucose profile over a period of 18-24 hours. Also, over time, the insulin dosage may change and will need to be adjusted based on new blood glucose profiles, the results of intermittent blood tests and urine sugar measurements, as well as the cat’s response to therapy, the university reports.
Some cats do fine on oral hypoglycemic medications, but most usually require insulin injections, VCA Animal Hospital reports.
At home, you’ll need to monitor the treatments to make sure that everything’s going well and to determine if any adjustments to the insulin dosage are necessary. Your vet will periodically take blood samples to make sure everything’s okay.
You can also assist the veterinarian by keeping a daily record of the following:
- Time of insulin injection.
- Amount of insulin injected.
- The amount of food that your kitty ate, and the time that you fed him.
- The amount of water that your cat drank.
- You should also weigh your kitty once a week, the VCA Animal Hospital reports.
A few words about diet
If your cat is overweight, start thinking “change is in the air.” You and your veterinarian will need to work together to start making changes in your cat’s diet in order to help him lose weight gradually, Cornell University reports.
What’s the best kind of diet for your cat? One that’s high in fiber, with plenty of high-complex carbohydrates works best for inducing weight loss. Other diabetic cats do well on carbohydrate-restricted diets. Diabetic kitties have been known to do fine with both types of diets, but cats are like snowflakes–no two are alike. So trial and error is going to be the best way to determine which diet is optimum for your cat.
While many cats are grazers–albeit carnivorous ones–they like to nibble their food all day long, but this isn’t a good idea if your cat is diabetic. Instead, if he is receiving insulin, it’s best to give him half of his daily requirement of food at the time of injection, Cornell University reports. The uneaten portion can be left for him to consume at his leisure.
You should also be aware that complications can arise from diabetes. Your veterinarian can fill you in on signs and symptoms to look for and what you should do if this happens.
Diabetes in cats can be a complex issue, but if you follow the steps provided by your vet, you’ll have a healthy, happy cat, and hopefully a furry family member for many years to come.