by Dorrie Jordan, DVM
Is your cat drinking a lot more water? Are you seeing more urine in the litter box? Does your cat seem more hungry than usual and yet losing weight?
While these symptoms can indicate several different problems, one big one that needs to be considered is diabetes. Diabetes mellitus is an endocrine disease that has become quite common in cats and is a serious health risk, especially in overweight cats. It can be managed and in some cases in cats, can disappear with the right management.
Diabetes affects the sugar metabolism in the body. Cells need sugar to function and will starve without it. Insulin is needed to allow glucose (sugar) to move from the blood stream into the cells. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and a deficiency of insulin causes diabetes mellitus. The high levels of glucose in the blood stream causes glucose to spill over into the urine and this pulls more water into the urine, causing the increased thirst and increased urinating. Because the cells are unable to use the glucose without insulin, they are starving, which increases the appetite but still causes weight loss.
In cats, obesity has been linked to diabetes, so overweight cats are much more prone to developing diabetes. Part of this is due to sustained high blood sugar levels for long periods of time. High carbohydrate diets increase the sugar levels for 8-12 hours in cats. If they are snacking on dry food through the day, their blood sugar levels remain high almost continuously. This causes the pancreas to be secreting insulin all the time and depletes the level of insulin, causing a deficiency.
Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests and urinalysis run by your veterinarian. Once it has been diagnosed, insulin is generally required to control the disease. Cats need to be given insulin injections every 12 hours to regulate their glucose levels. These injections are easier than you think to give your cat. Monitoring is very important so your cat does not get too much insulin, which can cause the blood sugar level to drop too low. Low blood sugar will cause your cat to be wobbly or in severe cases, to have seizures. Home monitoring devices are available or monitoring at your veterinarian is done on a schedule recommended by your veterinarian.
Diet is very important in controlling diabetes in cats. Most recent research indicates that low carbohydrate diets work the best in most cats. Canned food is generally lower in carbohydrates than dry food. Feeding 3-4 small meals through the day is also considered ideal. There are prescription diabetic diets available, but low carbohydrate canned foods available over the counter can also work well.
A small percentage of cats will revert to a non-diabetic state once their blood glucose levels have been controlled for a period of time. Again, monitoring is important so we can detect if theses cats no longer need an outside insulin source. Other disease problems concurrent with diabetes make it more difficult to manage.
Here are some websites which can give you more information regarding diabetes:
www.vin.com — look under VIN Family and then select Veterinary Partners for articles
www.catinfo.org – this is a resource on canned foods and carbohydrate/protein levels