In honor of National Diabetes Awareness Month, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the prevalence of diabetes in our pet cats. As in their people, the epidemic of diabetes in cats is growing all of the time. As we keep getting bigger and pay less attention to what we eat and how we exercise, diabetes becomes more and more common. Similarly, our cats keep getting bigger, and this combined with less than ideal nutrition, we are seeing more and more diabetic cats.
As in people, diabetes can be prevented in many of our feline patients. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition is a great step in avoiding this potentially life-threatening disease. Meal feeding and using a high protein/low carbohydrate diet can’t be underemphasized.
Although there are exceptions to everything, diabetes is most common in middle aged (5-11 years), overweight, male cats. Common symptoms include drinking more, urinating more, eating more, and losing weight. A lot of us never see our cats drink, so sometimes just noticing them at the water bowl is the first clue. Maybe they start asking for water from the sink, or start wanting to lick the shower when you are done – what we are looking for are changes in behavior. In addition, maybe instead or one or two urine clumps in the box per day there are 4 or 5, or the urine clumps go from walnut sized to lemon sized. Again, changes are the important factors.
Diagnosis of diabetes is usually pretty straightforward, using blood and urine tests. Most cats will require insulin, but there is a small minority of cats who can be managed with a diet change. It can take several weeks for a cat to become regulated on insulin, and close contact with your veterinarian is imperative. It’s also important to have a veterinarian who is familiar with current recommendations for diabetic cats, as taking care of a diabetic cat is much different than taking care of a diabetic dog. Once regulated, cats usually have insulin injections twice daily.
Just like with people, cats with diabetes can have complications, including kidney disease, poor healing, and neurologic problems. If left untreated, or if it’s not recognized soon enough, cats can develop a toxic condition called Ketoacidosis, which can be difficult to treat and can actually lead to death.
We are starting to see more cats who have what we consider pre-diabetes. These cats are found to have high normal blood sugar levels on routine screens, and have other risk factors, such as being overweight, or eating a high carbohydrate diet. Have a serious talk with your vet about what you can do to prevent your cat from becoming a full-blown diabetic cat.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, contact your veterinarian. You know your cat better than anyone, and if you think something may be wrong, you’re probably right!