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Diabetes in Cats

December 28, 2017

At Peterborough West Animal Hospital one of our least favorite diagnoses to make in cats is diabetes. The veterinarians have a dislike for feline diabetes because of two indisputable facts:

  1. It’s largely preventable
  2. It can be a real challenge to treat for many owners

Fortunately, diabetes is also one of those diseases that benefits from early detection. Here are Peterborough West Animal Hospital’s top five reasons you need to test your cat early and often for diabetes:

1. Diabetic remission

One of the most interesting aspects of feline diabetes is its potential reversibility or remission, especially when diagnosed in the earliest stages. The doctors at Peterborough West Animal Hospital have seen many cats weaned off insulin when diagnosis and treatment was initiated quickly. Research has shown up to 60% of cats will experience diabetic remission within the first few months of treatment. Combining strict blood sugar regulation with precise insulin therapy, changes in diet and weight loss are a recipe for reversing diabetes in many cats. Some cats will remain diabetes-free for many months to years. Drs. Sargent, Giffen and Purvis’ advice is to have blood work and urinalysis performed at least yearly or twice yearly if you have an elderly and/or an overweight feline.

2. It’s more than high blood sugar

Many cat owners focus solely on blood sugar levels. That’s good, but too often we forget the continuous and severe damage hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) is causing throughout the body. The longer diabetes goes unchecked, the more potentially irreversible damage occurs. Prolonged high blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage (diabetic neuropathy that typically causes weakness in the rear legs), chronic infections (especially urinary tract and skin), and loss of lean muscle mass resulting in weakness and wasting. It is well recognized that untreated diabetes may cause a life-threatening emergency condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis. The sad reality is that too many cat owners fail to recognize diabetes until their cat has lost a tremendous amount of weight. Early diagnosis can preserve precious vital tissues and prolong health.

3. The litter box connection

Let’s face it; most cat owners rarely see their cat drinking water. That’s perfectly normal because, well, cats don’t drink that much in the first place. This means looking out for the classic diabetic symptom of “excessive thirst” in cats is harder. A better sign to look for is more frequent urination and wetter, heavier litter. If you suddenly notice you have to change the litter box more frequently, call the team at Peterborough West Animal Hospital to book an appointment to have your cat checked out immediately. While we’re talking about urination, if your cat suffers from chronic urinary tract infections, be sure to ask one of our veterinarians at Peterborough West Animal Hospital about screening for diabetes. One final “pee-note:” diabetes should always be ruled-out in cases of inappropriate elimination such as “accidents” on the bed or rugs. Unfortunately our veterinarians have seen one too many cats misidentified with a “behavior problem” when the correct cause was a disease such as diabetes.

4. The risk of excess fat

The team at Peterborough West Animal Hospital wants you to be aware of the link between excess fat and diabetes in cats (and dogs as well). The fact is that fat cats are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes than a lean cat. Diabetes is a disease commonly created at the food bowl. If your cat is overweight or obese, have him screened for diabetes twice a year. Blood tests are best, but even a simple urinalysis can aid in diagnosing diabetes. The great news is that when diagnosed early and weight loss programs are implemented, many cats will undergo diabetic remission.

5. Longer, better life

The real reason to test your cat early and often for diabetes is to prolong a high quality of life. The American Association of Feline Practitioners also warns that cats being diagnosed with diabetes are increasing. Don’t delay bringing your cat in to see the veterinarians at Peterborough West Animal Hospital if s/he is drinking or urinating more, has “accidents” in the house, suddenly changes eating habits, or inexplicably loses weight. For older cats, regular checkups are especially important. Learn more about what to expect during these visits in our article on A Senior Cat Checkup: What to Expect.

While it is true feline diabetes is one of our least favorite diagnoses, it’s also true that when one of the doctors at Peterborough West Animal Hospital has the opportunity to detect it early, their spirits are lifted. The only way we can identify diabetes promptly is through regular screening at least once or twice a year. It’s up to you; bring your feline companion to Peterborough West Animal Hospital for regular wellness blood and urine testing. Our Veterinary Wellness & Pet Vaccinations service provides comprehensive health checks, including diabetes screening. Together we can help your cat live a long, healthy, and happy life.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call Peterborough West Animal Hospital at 705-745-4800

Our Advice on Diabetes in Cats in 2024

What are the specific symptoms of diabetes in cats that owners should look out for, apart from increased urination and thirst?

Owners should watch for additional symptoms of diabetes in cats, such as unexplained weight loss, increased appetite, and changes in eating habits. Look for signs of diabetic neuropathy, like weakness in the rear legs. Chronic urinary tract infections and inappropriate elimination, such as accidents on beds or rugs, can also indicate diabetes. Sudden loss of muscle mass and overall weakness are critical signs. Early detection through regular blood work and urinalysis is crucial for effective management and potential remission of feline diabetes.

Are there any particular breeds of cats that are more susceptible to developing diabetes?

Certain cat breeds are more susceptible to developing diabetes, with Burmese cats being particularly at risk. Additionally, mixed-breed and domestic shorthair cats also show a higher prevalence of diabetes, especially if they are overweight. Older cats and males are more prone to the disease as well. Regular screening, especially for these high-risk breeds, alongside weight management and a balanced diet, can help in early detection and effective management of diabetes, improving the chances of remission and maintaining the cat’s quality of life.

What are the potential side effects or complications of insulin therapy in cats with diabetes?

Insulin therapy in cats with diabetes can have potential side effects and complications. Hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar, is the most serious risk, often caused by excessive insulin doses. Symptoms include weakness, seizures, and even coma. Other side effects may include allergic reactions at the injection site, such as redness or swelling. Over time, improper insulin management can lead to insulin resistance, making diabetes harder to control. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels and close veterinary supervision are essential to minimize these risks and ensure effective treatment.

Are there any alternative or complementary therapies that can be used in conjunction with insulin to manage feline diabetes?

In conjunction with insulin therapy, alternative and complementary therapies can help manage feline diabetes. Dietary changes, particularly a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, are crucial in regulating blood glucose levels. Weight management through controlled feeding and regular exercise can also improve insulin sensitivity. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids may support overall health. Additionally, consistent monitoring of blood glucose levels at home and regular veterinary check-ups ensure optimal treatment efficacy. These combined approaches can enhance the quality of life and potentially lead to diabetic remission in cats.

What is the average life expectancy of a cat diagnosed with diabetes, and how does early detection and treatment affect this?

The average life expectancy of a cat diagnosed with diabetes varies, but with proper management, many cats live healthy lives for several years. Early detection and treatment are crucial, as they significantly improve prognosis. Initiating insulin therapy, dietary changes, and regular monitoring early can lead to diabetic remission in up to 60% of cats. This proactive approach helps prevent complications such as neuropathy and infections, ultimately enhancing the cat’s quality of life and potentially extending its lifespan. Regular veterinary check-ups are essential to ensure effective disease management.

Contact us, your local animal hospital in Cavan Monaghan, ON!