Diabetes mellitus is a common endocrine (hormonal) disorder in cats characterised by a persistent high blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels are controlled by insulin but if the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to balance the blood glucose or if there is a resistance to insulin or lack of response to insulin the blood glucose levels become elevated resulting in diabetes.
Diabetes usually has a gradual onset of weeks to months before being diagnosed however many cats will go undiagnosed. It is more common in middle aged to senior cats but it can occasionally affect younger animals. Cats that are overweight and certain breeds such as Burmese are more genetically predisposed to the disease. Signs and symptoms of diabetes mellitus in cats that all owners should be aware of include;
- Excessive or increased drinking
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Dull, dry or poor coat
- Muscle wastage
- Hind leg weakness, problems walking or jumping.
Diabetes needs to be diagnosed by a veterinarian with early intervention always best. The earlier a diagnosis is made the easier it is to get the condition under control. To diagnose diabetes a veterinarian will look for signs and confirm a diagnosis using blood and urine tests.
The goal in treating diabetes is to control the blood glucose levels. For all cases diet is the number one factor to be addressed. A specifically formulated diabetic diet is usually prescribed by the vet along with strict feeding guidelines and in some mild cases diabetes can be controlled with diet only. Most cases of feline diabetes will also require the administration of insulin twice daily via injection under the skin. This is something that most owners are able to do from home once shown how by a vet.
Regular and careful monitoring of the cat’s blood glucose levels will also be required. This is particularly important in the early days while trying to determine the correct balance and to ensure that blood glucose levels do not become too high or too low. Blood glucose testing can be done at home with a blood glucose monitor and just a prick to the cat to obtain a small drop of blood. This may need to be done twice daily until the levels stabilise and the treatment plan is working. Your vet may also want to do regular urine tests to check for ketones and glucose.
With treatment and management some cats can go into remission, which is when they no longer require insulin to control diabetic symptoms. This usually only happens within the first few months of diabetic onset but unfortunately many cats will at some point come out of remission so they do still need to be monitored closely.
It is important to remember that diabetes is not a death sentence. With commitment from an owner and working with a veterinarian a cat can go on to reach a normal life expectancy.
Originally published in My Pet Magazine Issue 14.
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