Perhaps you found out that your cat has diabetes, or you have noticed some changes to their health. This article includes important information for anyone who wants to learn more about diabetes in cats. We dig into the latest science to support you in giving the best care to your cat at any stage of feline diabetes.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine condition where the body’s cells are not getting enough energy to function. This energy comes in the form of glucose. Insulin is an important hormone that delivers glucose to the body’s cells. Diabetes occurs when this delivery process doesn’t function properly, so the cat’s body cells don’t get the energy they need.
The Two Types of Diabetes:
Just like in humans, there are two types of diabetes that can affect cats. Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas has problems producing enough insulin to deliver glucose to the body’s cells.
Type II diabetes, also called insulin-resistant diabetes, occurs when the body has enough insulin, but has trouble using that insulin correctly. This type of diabetes is more common in cats.
According to research published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, about 0.58% of cats have diabetes mellitus. Occurring in 1 out of every 200 cats, diabetes is one of the more common conditions seen in veterinary practices around the world.
Signs Of Diabetes In Cats
Explanation of Common Symptoms
- Excessive thirst and increased urination. When glucose has difficulty getting into the body’s cells, it instead accumulates in the blood. The cat’s body then signals ‘thirst’ to dilute the excess sugar in the blood. With increased water intake comes increased trips to the litter box.
- Sudden change in appetite. In diabetes, the body’s cells aren’t getting enough glucose. As a result, they send out the “hungry” signal to get more food and increase glucose levels in the blood.
- Weight loss. Despite an increased appetite, cats with diabetes tend to lose weight. This is because the body’s cells aren’t getting enough glucose, so the body breaks down fat and muscle to supply energy to the cells.
- Weak hind legs. This is a clinical sign of diabetes that is unique to cats. It is caused by diabetic neuropathy, a complication of diabetes that causes nerve damage. In cats, the major nerve to their legs is most commonly affected. This can cause a “plantigrade gait,” which refers to cats walking on their heels or ankles, rather than up on their paws, due to the weakness in their legs.
Speak to your veterinarian (DVM) immediately if you have noticed any of the above symptoms in your cat. The earlier you can catch diabetes, the easier it is to manage. If you have an outdoor cat, it may be harder to notice symptoms like increased thirst and urination. Pay close attention to any sudden changes in their weight and appetite.
How Is Feline Diabetes Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will take a blood sample to test your cat’s blood glucose levels. They are testing for hyperglycemia (high blood sugar levels) and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels). The concentration of blood glucose can help your veterinarian determine how advanced your cat’s diabetes is and what type of diabetes they have.
They will also run urine tests to measure urine glucose levels and ketones. Ketones are acidic molecules that can build up when the body is breaking down fat and muscle. While they are at it, they may check that your cat isn’t suffering from a urinary tract infection, which could also explain an increase in urination.
While blood tests and urine tests are enough to diagnose feline diabetes mellitus, your vet may run a few extra tests to rule out other diseases. For example, conditions like pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism can have similar clinical signs as diabetes mellitus.
Risk Factors For Feline Diabetes
Cats are more likely to be affected by diabetes mellitus if they are:
- Older than six years of age
- Physically inactive
- On certain medications (e.g. long-term use of corticosteroids like prednisone)
- Of Burmese, Norwegian Forest, or Tonkinese breed
- Dysbiotic, which means they have poor gut health
Treatment for Diabetes in Cats
The best treatment for diabetes is to prevent it in the first place. Cats can have a pre-diabetic state where they have elevated levels of glucose but don’t have diabetes yet. This can be caught at your cat’s annual vet checkups. Simple lifestyle changes, including increased exercise and dietary changes, can return your cat’s blood sugar levels back to normal and prevent the onset of feline diabetes.
There is no cure for feline diabetes mellitus, but diabetic remission is possible in some cases. Managed effectively, diabetic cats can live just as long as non-diabetic cats with little compromise to their quality of life. Here are the common ways pet parents manage their cat’s diabetes:
Blood Sugar Management
Cat owners can use a glucometer to regularly test their kitty’s blood sugar level. There is no need for a special cat glucometer; most human ones are very accurate at measuring cat blood. Glucometers can be hard to use with some cats, so talk with your veterinarian about your best options.
Some cats with feline diabetes need insulin therapy. Regular insulin injections help ensure that glucose levels remain in a healthy range. Some pet parents struggle with the idea of poking a needle into their cat, and rightfully so. Your veterinarian will teach you how to administer insulin in a way that is not painful for your cat. You will find that your cat will become habituated to the injections.
It is important that you and your vet monitor your cat closely once you have started insulin injections because diabetic remission can happen suddenly and without notice.
Talk to your veterinarian about a new ultra-long-acting insulin that reduces the frequency of insulin injections from daily to once a week while still controlling blood glucose levels. Many cat parents report that this is much easier than collecting blood samples from their cats.
A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet is recommended for the prevention and management of feline diabetes. Dry cat food tends to be higher in carbohydrates, so introducing a higher-protein wet food or canned food is beneficial for your cat’s health.
If your cat has obesity and/or has a sedentary lifestyle, a little exercise can go a long way in addition to an improved diet. Bring on the laser pointer!
A healthy diet isn’t just important for your cat’s nutrition. The friendly bacteria that live along your cat’s digestive tract rely on the food you give your cat. Learn more about how to create the best diet for your cat here.
Gut Health Support
The bacteria that live in your cat’s intestines play an important role in breaking down their food so it can be used by your cat’s body cells. These bacteria are part of the gut microbiome, that is, the community of microorganisms that live in your cat’s gut.
Dozens of scientific studies have found a connection between diabetes and a poorly balanced gut microbiome. Diabetic cats are more likely to be missing important gut bacteria and experience an imbalance of gut bacteria, called ‘dysbiosis’. You can read more about this research here, here, and here.
An imbalanced gut microbiome can wreak havoc on nearly all aspects of your cat’s health. The good news is that it can be treated, especially if caught early. Supporting a healthy microbiome for your cat is essential for their long-term health. Here are some ways you can support your cat’s gut health:
Prebiotic, Probiotic, and Postbiotic Support
Effective supplements for your cat’s gut health include prebiotics, which are food for good gut bacteria; probiotics, which are beneficial gut bacteria; and postbiotics, which are molecules to help good bacteria do their jobs. Learn more about prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic supplements here.
For a cat struggling with a bacterial imbalance that can or has led to diabetes, we recommend giving your cat KittyBiome™ S. boulardii + FOS Powder. The prebiotic and probiotic formula can set your cat’s gut health on track by encouraging the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
For more serious bacterial imbalances, fecal microbiota transplants (FMTs) are a more effective solution than strain-specific supplements. Fecal transplants take fecal material – bacteria and all – from a healthy cat. That material is made into a small oral capsule and transferred to the intestines of the recipient, with the goal of restoring a healthy and balanced community of gut bacteria.
Research has shown that fecal transplants are able to reverse insulin resistance in diabetic animals. This is great news for patients with type II diabetes – the type that is most common in cats.
Do you want to contribute to scientific research and have a diabetic cat? Veterinarian Dr. Arnon Gal at the University of Illinois is looking for diabetic cats to enroll in a study.
Fecal transplants can be administered several ways, the easiest of which is by giving your cat oral capsules. We recommend KittyBiome™ Gut Restore Supplement, which is a safe and effective fecal transplant that uses fecal material from rigorously screened donors.
Not sure if your cat has a microbiome imbalance? A gut health test can give you a detailed report on the state of your cat’s GI health. It also comes with custom recommendations for how you can address any imbalances that may be present.
- Excessive thirst or urination, and sudden changes in weight & appetite are early signs that your cat may have feline diabetes
- Especially if caught early, diabetic cats can live long and healthy lives with proper disease management
- In addition to blood sugar control and lifestyle changes, supporting your cat’s gut health is a key part of disease management
- We hope the information here has helped you be more informed when you talk with your veterinarian about feline diabetes
- Visit our website or send us a message to learn more about how we can help you support your cat’s health
Questions You Can Ask Your Veterinarian
Where are the best places on my cat to get blood for a glucometer check?
What if I miss an insulin dose or give too much?
If I’m not sure I got the insulin injection into my cat, what should I do?
What signs should I look out for that my cat’s treatment is/isn’t working?
How do I manage my cat’s diabetes in a multi-cat household?
Can I still give my cat treats?
Can you give me an idea about what the time commitment will be to properly manage my cat’s diabetes?