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Diabetes Mellitus in Cats

Diabetes is the lack of or inefficiency of the hormone insulin. Insulin brings glucose (sugar) into the cells to use for energy.

If there is no energy brought into the cells, they starve. Insulin is produced by the body in the pancreas organ which is located next to the small intestine and stomach. Insulin is produced in specialized cells in the pancreas called the islets of Langerhorn. The diabetic cat has a blood sugar higher than 180 mg/dl with sugar in the urine also.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  1. excessive thirst
  2.  excessive urination
  3. weight loss
  4. neuropathy.

Because of the inability to bring insulin into the cells, the sugar in the blood becomes very high. The kidneys then try to flush the excessive sugar into the urine. Because of the fluid loss, the cat becomes very thirsty. The weight loss occurs because the sugar is not being used by the cells, and so fat cells are used for energy.

Risk factors for developing diabetes include:

  1. obesity 
  2. a diet high in carbohydrates
  3. sedentary lifestyle
  4. middle age.

When cats become overweight, the insulin they produce becomes more resistant and does not work as well. A diet high in carbohydrates and low in protein can change the cat's basic metabolism, causing diabetes to become more likely. Lack of exercise contributes to the development of diabetes.

This is a disease of middle aged cats. Most cats that develop diabetes are age 8 years or older. The peak age is 10-13 years. It is seen most commonly in indoor cats. The incidence is 7.4 cats per 1000. The disease is more common in males than females.

Cats usually suffer from type ii diabetes. This means that they are producing some insulin of their own, but it is either not enough or not working very well. Changing their diet and getting them to lose weight can cause remission of the diabetes, or they can require less insulin. We don't know if cats will go into remission or not. They may or may not still have insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

Cats are obligate carnivores. This means their diet should contain high protein and fat. They do not need any carbohydrates in their diet. Carbohydrates are not metabolized very well in cats and can contribute to the development of diabetes. Dry foods contain carbohydrates in order to make them crunchy. The lifestyles of many cat owners do not make it easy to feed only canned food. There are some dry foods that have higher proteins that can help treat the diabetic cat or prevent diabetes.

Canned food is the best food for cats, although not always practical. The ways to prevent diabetes in cats include:

  1. keeping the cat at a normal weight
  2. feeding the cat a high protein diet
  3. including play or exercise in the cat's routine.

Treating your diabetic cat includes diet change, weight loss, insulin, and consisitency of daily feeding and routines.

Complications of diabetes include life-threatening low blood sugar called hypoglycemia. The symptoms are staggering, yowling and acting as if drunk.High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, can also be life-threatening and develop into a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. This usually happens when the cat has not been diagnosed yet and for some reason stops eating. Both of these conditions require immediate veterinary care. Some cats can develop neuropathy, or weakness of the hind legs. This complication usually resolves by getting the blood sugar down to an acceptable level. Cataracts of the lens in the eyes are seen in diabetic dogs, but not cats.

With good consistent care, a diabetic cat can live many years of high quality life.

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