Feline Diabetes : Symptoms, Treatment and Care

Feline Diabetes : Symptoms, Treatment and Care

Diabetes mellitus is a disease resulting from a deficiency of insulin, which causes a decreased tolerance to carbohydrates (sugars). Insulin is a hormone secreted by special cells in the pancreas, which is responsible for the proper metabolism of all body tissues. Without proper insulin levels, serious changes occur within the body that will eventually lead to coma and death.

Although the exact cause of diabetes mellitus is not known, several factors are known to be involved, including genetics, diet, obesity, age, and complications from injury and illness. It is a common problem in both cats and dogs.

Symptoms Of Diabetes

Symptoms commonly seen with diabetes are:

  • Excess urine production
  • Weight loss
  • Poor skin and hair coat
  • Liver disease
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness in the rear legs
  • Dehydration
  • Prone to bacterial infections
  • Blindness (cataract formation)
  • Kidney failure

In unregulated cases of diabetes, a life-threatening disease known as keto-acidosis can develop. This occurs due to the cat’s body utilizing fat as an energy source, instead of glucose (sugar). As the fats are metabolized, ketones are formed, resulting in high ketone levels in both the blood and the urine.

Keto-acidosis results in extreme lethargy, vomiting and a lack of appetite. This is an emergency situation when it occurs and will require intensive treatment by your cat’s veterinarian, including fluid therapy, insulin treatment, and correction of electrolyte balances.

Diagnosis Of Diabetes

Your cat’s veterinarian will need to examine your cat and perform some routine blood and urine tests in order to diagnose diabetes. These tests are also necessary to rule out other disease conditions which can cause similar symptoms.

Specialized blood tests may be necessary both to diagnose diabetes and to monitor the progress of treatment.

Treatment Of Diabetes

Despite extensive research (especially in the field of human medicine), there is no known cure. Therefore, once it has been diagnosed, all medical attempts are to control the disease. This usually involves daily administration of insulin for the remainder of the cat’s life. The oral medications frequently used for humans are often not effective in animals, although they have been tried in some cases. Once properly regulated, the majority of diabetic cats can maintain normal lives.

Home care involves daily administration of insulin and feeding a well-regulated high quality diet.  A high-protein, low-carbohydrate commercial food should be fed at a constant time and quantity level. The amount of food ingested will affect the amount of insulin required.

The diabetic cat should be fed twice daily, or in small multiple feedings to coincide with the peak insulin levels. You may consider an automatic cat feeder with a timer if you are away during the day. Constant moderate exercise is important to properly maintain the daily insulin requirement. For female diabetic cats, ovariohysterectomy (spaying) should be performed as soon as possible due to complicated interactions between insulin and the female hormones secreted by the ovaries.

During the first few weeks of treatment, several consultations and blood and urine tests with your cat’s veterinarian may be necessary to properly regulate the patient to insulin therapy. Changes in insulin dosage, frequency of injection, diet, or exercise may be required.

Notify your cat’s veterinarian if any of the following complications occur:

  • You are unable to administer the medication as directed.
  • Your cat develops weakness or fatigue after exercise, begins to shake or tremble, or seems mentally confused. These symptoms may be the result of a low blood sugar. This may result from refusal to eat, sudden vigorous exercise, or from vomiting of the most recent meal. Excessive insulin dosage may also cause these problems. Giving several tablespoons of corn syrup, Karo syrup or honey may control the low blood sugar episodes.
  • Your cat experiences difficult breathing, weakness, depression, or will not eat.
  • Your cat develops diarrhea or vomits.

Home Care For Cats With Diabetes:

There is no cure for diabetes. Treatment will be required for the rest of your cat’s life. It is important you understand your role in therapy to insure success.

Exercise – Allow your cat to determine how active he/she will be. The important key to remember is to be consistent every day. Heavy exercise affects blood sugar and insulin requirements. If you allow your cat to run around for many hours over the weekend when he/she normally sleeps all day, you may find it extremely difficult and frustrating to determine the correct insulin dosage from day to day. On the other hand, consistent amounts of exercise make this task much easier to accomplish.

Diet – Normally, the body monitors the amount of sugar in the blood at each moment and determines how much insulin the pancreas should produce. Since you can only “guess” the amount of blood sugar based upon glucose measurements, you must carefully regulate how much sugar your cat receives. This is where most cat owners have the greatest problem.

Your cat’s veterinarian may recommend a special diabetic cat food diet. Follow any feeding instructions from your veterinarian closely. Generally, your cat should receive a small meal (1/3 daily amount) in the morning and the main meal 6-8 hours later, unless your cat’s veterinarian advises otherwise. There absolutely cannot be any snacks, biscuits, or people food at other times. If you waver or deviate from this feeding regimen, you may upset your cat’ internal metabolism by failing to regulate the blood sugar. Adherence to this program will make controlling your cat’s disease much more successful.

Blood testing – Home blood testing is increasingly becoming the preferred way to monitor diabetes in cats. Obtaining blood glucose readings at home can eliminate the possibility of measuring high glucose readings due to stress which may occur in the veterinarian’s office. Home glucose monitors are now available which can measure blood glucose with only a tiny drop of blood.

Insulin – Your cat’s veterinarian will instruct you on the proper use of the syringes and medication.

While insulin may be necessary in managing diabetes in your cat, you can also take a natural approach to diet and lifestyle changes following a diabetes diagnosis. A low-carb diet without the addition of grains, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and green peas. In addition to natural dietary changes,  your cat may also benefit from a cranberry based urinary supplement since diabetic cats can be at a higher risk for bladder infections.


Occasionally, complications may arise with your diabetic cat. The most serious is an insulin over-dosage. The signs are weakness & occasionally seizures. Keep Karo syrup on hand and if weakness is observed, give your cat 2-3 tablespoons per 10 pounds of body weight and offer food. If seizures or collapse occurs, massage Karo syrup onto the your cat’s gums and call your cat’s veterinarian immediately. Do not force an unconscious animal to swallow the syrup.

Another problem can occur if your cat is sick from some other illness and does not eat for a day. If your cat is not eating and not feeling well, contact your cat’s veterinarian. If your cat is not eating, do not administer insulin.

Finally, if your cat jumps during the injection, or if you accidentally push the needle all the way through the skin so that some of the insulin is “lost,” or if you are not sure whether your cat received the total dose, do not repeat the injection or try to supplement with additional insulin. There is more danger from too much insulin than not enough.


While there is no cure for feline diabetes, this disease can usually be managed fairly well with your education and support. Cats with well controlled diabetes can live a long, high quality life. Some cats may no longer need insulin treatments, but even in these cases it is recommended that you continue to monitor your cat for the recurrence of clinical signs of diabetes and keep the cat on a low carbohydrate diet.

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