Feline DiabetesWhat is Feline Diabetes?
Diabetes in pets, just as it is in humans, is on the rise. In Canada, an average clinic will diagnose 8 in 50 cats with feline diabetes. This number may be higher due to non-diagnosed animals! (Source: Ipsos Survey 2008)

Diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes” is caused by a lack of available insulin in your pet’s body due to insufficient production by the pancreas, or failure of the body cells to respond to insulin, or both.

In a healthy cat, food is broken down during digestion into nutrients that can be used by the body. Carbohydrates (starches) are converted into sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the blood and provides the body cells with energy. Insulin transfers the glucose from the bloodstream to the body cells - but this can only occur if enough insulin is present. In a cat with diabetes, the pancreas, a special gland situated near the intestines produces insufficient insulin for this to occur, resulting in blood glucose concentrations that exceed the “glucose threshold” of the kidneys.

When this happens the excess glucose is excreted in the urine, causing your cat to drink and urinate more. And because this energy source is being lost, your cat may eat more than normal, but still lose weight.

Signs of Feline Diabetes

  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive urination and/or inappropriate urination in the house
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy, weakness in hind legs
  • Deterioration of coat and/or body condition
  • Lowered resistance to infection-especially urinary tract infections

Feline diabetes has been diagnosed in cats of all ages, sexes and breeds. Although diabetes most typically occurs in middle-aged to older cats, a pet that is overweight has a higher chance of becoming diabetic. Castrated male cats are most commonly affected.

The exact cause of diabetes mellitus in cats is not known, although genetics, obesity, pancreatic disease, hormonal imbalances and certain medications (certain corticosteroids) are all possible factors.

Prevention through early diagnosis is the best treatment you can give to your pet.

Diagnosis of diabetes mellitus
If you suspect your cat may be suffering from, or may be predisposed to developing diabetes, take your cat to your veterinarian for a general examination. Symptoms of diabetes mellitus can also be seen in other conditions and infections, and some diseases can be obstacles to treatment. Early screening and a confirmed diagnosis is essential to establishing the right care.

Your veterinarian will check your cat’s general health to rule out the presence of other diseases and/or infections. He or she will also conduct the following tests:

  • Urine samples (To determine if there is glucose in the urine and/or a urinary tract infection.)
  • Blood samples (To confirm the diagnosis and determine the blood glucose concentration in your cat’s blood.)

If the blood glucose concentration is consistently higher than normal, it may indicate that your cat’s pancreas is not secreting (enough) insulin. Or it may indicate that your cat’s body is “resistant” to the insulin its pancreas is producing, or both situations may exist. In both cases, your cat suffers from diabetes mellitus.


Long-term complications of diabetes are a result of prolonged high blood glucose.

The most common complication of feline diabetes is neuropathy- weakness in the hind legs. Persistently high concentrations of glucose in the blood may cause nerve damage, resulting in weakness and muscle wasting, usually of the rear legs. Although there is no specific treatment for neuropathy, control of high blood glucose concentrations can help prevent, reduce the severity, or even delay the onset of this condition.

If left untreated, feline diabetes can also cause kidney damage, recurring infections and even death.

In the early stages of feline diabetes, cats remain active and alert, with few obvious signs. Sometimes the diabetes progresses so slowly symptoms can be missed. If left undetected, your pet can become very sick, very suddenly, which is why this disease is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer.”

A diagnosis of diabetes sounds frightening, but it doesn’t have to be. Although it is a serious condition, diabetic cats can enjoy a good quality of life for many years. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for stopping the signs of diabetes mellitus and to prevent further complications from developing.

You can successfully manage your diabetic cat’s health with insulin therapy and a proper diet.

The majority of cats with diabetes mellitus, will need insulin injections twice a day. Your veterinarian will determine the dose that’s right for your cat and teach you everything you need to know about administering the injection and monitoring your cat’s blood glucose (sugar) level.

  • Hyperglycaemia indicates a high level of blood sugar
  • Hypoglycaemia indicates a low level of blood sugar

Based on blood and glucose levels and clinical signs, your veterinarian will adjust the dose until the correct dose is established.

Most diabetic cats will require insulin treatments for the rest of their lives, but many diabetic cats no longer need insulin after a few weeks or months of treatment- this is known as clinical remission.

Diabetic cats that go into clinical remission have remaining functional cells in the pancreas which are able to produce sufficient insulin once persistently high blood sugar levels are treated adequately with insulin.

Remission does not mean a cure, and in order to delay the return to diabetic state, care must still be taken with your cat’s diet and lifestyle.

Administering insulin to your cat

Canine Diabetes - Administering insulin to your cat
 Step 1
• Gently mix the insulin by inverting the bottle a few times.
Step 2
• Fill the syringe slightly past the recommended dose.
Step 3
• Remove any small air bubbles by tapping the syringe with your finger.
Step 4
• Depress the plunger up to the correct dose of insulin for your cat.
Step 5
• Draw the loose skin on the cat’s side gently upwards.
Step 6
• Make a small hollow with your index finger.
Step 7
• Rotate injection sites on each side of and along the spine.
  This will avoid fibrosis and decreased insulin absorption.
Step 8
• After inserting the needle, release the skin and depress the plunger slowly.

Living with your diabetic pet
Following a regular routine, as recommended by your veterinarian, is vital for successful diabetes management.

Monitoring your pet’s blood glucose level

You may be asked by your veterinarian to monitor your pet’s clinical signs as well as regularly checking the glucose concentrations in urine and/or blood samples using a handheld glucose meter.
Based on your findings, your veterinarian will be able to make the right decision about the insulin dose your pet is receiving (increase, decrease, or maintain). One of the most important aspects of managing the health of your diabetic cat is consistency. Medication and food must come at regular times, so make sure you always have an adequate supply of both and never skip or substitute.

Nutrition and diet
As well as a strict regimen of insulin therapy, your diabetic cat will also require a regular feeding schedule. The diet should be consistent from day to day. A diet high in protein and fibre, and low in carbohydrates is preferred. Ideally the diet for a diabetic cat should supply more than 40% of the calories from carbohydrates and less than 25% of the calories from fat. A high quality, highly digestible protein source (e.g. chicken, lamb, etc.) is preferable to protein from cereal sources (soya bean meal, corn gluten meal). The calorific value should maintain or reach the ideal body weight.
Clean drinking water should be available at all times.

Always ask your veterinarian before making any change to your diabetic pet’s diet.

Talk to your veterinarian before starting any new exercise routine with your cat.

For most diabetic cats, strenuous exercise is not an option due to fatigue, obesity or nerve damage (neuropathy). This doesn’t mean that you can’t set aside a few minutes a day for some active play. Whatever exercise you do with your cat, it should be reasonably consistent. Start carefully, in short sessions, and don’t force your cat to move around if he or she clearly does not want to.

Effective treatment of feline diabetes is very rewarding. You, along with your veterinarian, can restore your cat’s quality of life for years to come.

Visit cat-dog-diabetes.com and caninsulin.ca for more information.

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