Diabetes in Cats

In addition to humans, cats can also develop diabetes. We’ll tell you how to recognize symptoms in your cat, what types of diabetes there are in cats, and how the disease can be treated.

Diabetes is probably the most common hormonal metabolic disease in cats. Here, diabetes mellitus (diabetes) can be observed much more often than diabetes insipidus (urinary urgency). Often it initially manifests itself with an increased urge to urinate. Older hangovers are particularly affected.

For a better understanding of the complex hormonal disease, it makes sense to first consider both forms of the disease individually.

Diabetes Mellitus

The sugar hormone insulin is formed in the so-called endocrine part of the pancreas. The ß-cells responsible for this increase insulin production as soon as the blood sugar level is increased. The anabolic hormone then enters the bloodstream and leads to increased uptake of sugar in the cells of various organs (e.g. liver, muscles, brain).

In particular, the liver cells can then convert the ingested sugar into starch (glycogen). This starch acts as a carbohydrate reserve and can be converted back into sugar in the event of a sugar deficiency.

Causes of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats

Diabetes mellitus is most common in cats. It is caused by an increase in blood sugar levels due to a lack of insulin.

As soon as the sugar content in the blood exceeds a certain threshold, sugar formation (gluconeogenesis) and the breakdown of starch into sugar (glycogenolysis) is inhibited.

Causes that can cause an insulin deficiency:

  • Juvenile diabetes mellitus (type 1) is caused by an absolute lack of insulin. Since the own body uses autoimmune antibodies to fight its own pancreas, the ß-cells perish. This causes a decreasing or even discontinued production of insulin so that the sugar is no longer transported out of the blood.
  • Adult diabetes mellitus (type 2) is caused by a relative lack of insulin. This does not result in a destruction of the ß-cells, but in a loss of function or insulin resistance. The insulin produced is sufficient, but no longer has sufficient effect.
    Other diseases such as kidney disease, the administration of cortisone preparations, or infectious diseases can lead to insulin resistance. Being overweight (obesity) is also a frequently observed reason. This is the most common form in cats.

Diabetes Insipidus

The antidiuretic hormone (ADH) forms in a part of the diencephalon, in the hypothalamus. It controls the recovery of water from the primary urine and thus has an important function in the cat’s water balance.

If a lot of ADH is released, the hormone binds to the associated receptors in the kidneys. This causes more water to be recovered so that the cat excretes less volume of urine. If less ADH binds to the receptors, less water is reabsorbed and the cat excretes more volume of urine.

Causes of diabetes insipidus in cats

A cat with diabetes insipidus therefore typically has an increased urge to urinate. This is due to either an insufficient formation of ADH in the brain or a disruption in the responsiveness of the kidneys to ADH.

This can be caused by congenital diseases such as malformations of the brain or kidneys as well as acquired diseases such as injuries or poisoning. Depending on the cause, diabetes insipidus is therefore divided into two further subtypes:

  • Central diabetes insipidus = lack of ADH
  • Renal (Ren = kidney) diabetes insipidus = impaired responsiveness of the kidneys to ADH

What are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats?

The following symptoms are particularly often associated with diabetes in cats:

  • an increase in drinking behavior and the urge to urinate (polyuria and polydipsia)
  • Weight loss despite increased feed intake (polyphagia)
  • General symptoms such as tiredness and reluctance to move
  • Dull fur and decreased wound healing

A particularly severe form of the disease is so-called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). If you recognize diabetes in the cat too late or not at all, this can lead to a lack of energy in the cat due to the reduced sugar absorption in the cells.

This in turn promotes the formation of ketone bodies, which are formed from fat reserves. An excessive increase in these ketone bodies triggers ketosis, which leads to acidosis in the blood. In addition to the occurrence of severe weaknesses and vomiting, this condition can be life-threatening for the cat.

Diagnosing Diabetes in Cats

If your cat suddenly drinks significantly more and has to urinate very often, then these are the key symptoms of diabetes. In this case, you should consult a veterinarian to be on the safe side. On the basis of the owner survey (anamnesis) and the general clinical examination, the latter can confirm the suspicion.

Various diagnostic options are then available to the veterinarian to confirm the diagnosis.

The vet measures the current blood sugar level by taking a blood sample. However, since this can fluctuate greatly due to stress or previous feed intake, the so-called fructosamines can also be analyzed.

This is a long-term parameter that can be used to estimate the blood sugar level for the past one to three weeks. In addition, a blood test enables various organ parameters to be measured so that the vet can rule out pancreatitis, for example.

Evidence of increased sugar content or ketone body is also possible in urine. In addition, the specific gravity of the urine can be determined. This is often increased in the context of diabetes.

An ADH attempt helps to rule out diabetic insipidus. Following the administration of ADH, water recovery is checked by measuring the urine volume of the cat. If the cat’s urinary behavior drops, this is a sign of central diabetes insipidus.

How to Treat Diabetes in Cats

Diabetes Mellitus

Depending on the severity of the disease, the cat needs a different amount and form of insulin (old insulin, intermediate insulin, or long-term insulin). This is regularly readjusted by measuring blood sugar. In many cases, insulin is administered daily for life by injection into the skin.

In addition, a change in feed is recommended, as inferior carbohydrates and fats are avoided, while feed rich in crude fiber should be preferred. Regular exercise is also advisable for weight loss.

Diabetes insipidus

The central form requires the administration of synthetic ADH, while the renal form is treated by treating the underlying disease.

What is the Prognosis?

Since diabetes in cats is a very complex disease and can take very different courses, no general prognosis can be given.

The quality of life of cats with diabetes mellitus is definitely significantly higher if the administration of insulin is well controlled. Central diabetes insipidus can also usually be managed well through the administration of ADH. The prognosis of renal diabetes insipidus, on the other hand, depends on the underlying disease.

Can You Prevent Diabetes in Cats?

Since obesity in cats is one of the most common causes of diabetes mellitus, it is important that you eat a balanced diet and exercise early on. Good general health strengthens the immune system and prevents infectious diseases and other underlying diseases.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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