Diabetes is a relatively common medical condition in older cats. It is usually associated with obesity and the onset of symptoms can be quite gradual. Diabetes occurs when there is insufficient insulin produced by the pancreas. Insulin is needed to move glucose into the cells of your cat’s body. A lack of this hormone results in high levels of glucose in his blood and urine.
The first indication that your cat has a problem is that he will start to drink more water than normal. He will spend a lot of time hanging over his water bowl and you'll need to fill it up more frequently. He will also have an increased appetite but in spite of this, he will lose weight. Your veterinarian will suspect he has diabetes based on his symptoms, and will confirm it by testing his blood and urine for excess glucose.
The main way of managing diabetes in your cat is to give him insulin injections twice daily to replace that which is lacking in his body. It can take a few days to work out how much insulin he needs; he will stay in hospital and have insulin injections, and his blood will be tested every two hours. By doing this glucose curve test, your vet can work out the right amount of insulin for him.
When he is home, you will need to continue these injections. This isn't hard and your cat will tolerate it very well. You will also need to regularly check his blood glucose levels to make sure the insulin dose is still correct. You can do this by taking a pin prick of blood from his ear or foot pad and testing it with a home glucose meter. Alternatively, it can be done at your vet’s office.
Many cats go into remission and no longer need insulin injections. This is more likely to occur if the diabetes is diagnosed and treated early, they lose the excess weight, and they are maintained on a low carbohydrate canned food.
The most important part of treating diabetes is to stick to a schedule. Feed your cat the same amount of food at the same time each day. This will make it easier to regulate the amount of insulin he needs.
Complications of Diabetes
• Diabetic Ketoacidosis. This condition occurs when your cat starts to metabolize his body fats to provide energy. It is a medical emergency and your cat must be rushed to his vet immediately. Symptoms include vomiting, lack of interest in food and extreme depression. He will also have an acetone smell to his breath, a bit like nail enamel remover.
• Cystitis. Bacteria love the increased glucose in your cat's urine, and they multiply readily. This leads to frequent bladder infections. These are less likely to occur if your cat's diabetes is well managed.
Your diabetic cat can live a perfectly normal life, providing you are prepared to regulate his diet and test his blood sugar levels frequently. You will also need to be comfortable giving him injections. If you can master this, then his quality of life will remain high.
Article courtesy Dr Rosie Brown BVSc (Hons)
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