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Feline Diabetes


Mr. Grey, a Diabetic Cat at Tabby's Place in Ringoes, NJ

Mr. Grey, a Diabetic Cat at Tabby's Place in Ringoes, NJ

Photo Credit: © Danielle Rice, Tabby's Place

What is Feline Diabetes?

Feline Diabetes is a disease of the endocrine system, which includes the pancreas, thyroid glands, and parathyroid gland.

Feline Diabetes Mellitus presents as one of two types: Type 1, caused by the insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas, and Type 2, related to the body's cells inability to handle insulin efficiently. Although diabetes can strike cats of any age, it is more prevalent in older, obese cats, and is found more often in male cats.

Secondary Diabetes can be caused by drugs or diseases that either impair the natural secretion of insulin, or its effects on tissues. Ovoban and corticosteroids are suspects, as well as hyperthyroidism and certain pancreatic conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Feline Diabetes?

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Loss of weight due to the body's inability to handle glucose
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Poor skin and coat condition
  • Breathing abnormalities
  • Dehydration
  • Early Onset Diabetic Neuropathy (signs of weakness in limbs evidenced by limping)

Since many of these symptoms are the same as those of other serious diseases, including pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, and liver disease, it is important to quickly get a thorough veterinary examination to rule out other diseases.

How is Feline Diabetes Diagnosed?

Cats presenting with the above symptoms will be tested both for blood sugar levels and levels of sugar in the urine. The reason for both tests is that stressed cats (as is typical in the veterinary office) may have temporary increases of the blood glucose level.

How is Feline Diabetes Treated?

Depending on the type of diabetes, it may be controlled by diet and/or insulin.

Diet and Weight Control Although traditional veterinary advice includs a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, J.D. vehemently disagrees. Dr. Hodgkins has been in practice for 30 years, and has studied feline diabetes for 15 years. Her conclusion is that a strict diet of canned, pouch, or raw meat with a minimum of carbohydrates, can help obese diabetic cats lose weight, and actually can wean many insulin-dependent cats of insulin.

Dr. Hodgkin says:

"Diabetes in the cat is a man-made disease, which is completely preventable by avoiding the "kitty junk-food" that is dry kibbled cat food. Without question, it is the continuous, day-in, day-out consumption of this poor-quality, highly processed, carbohydrate rich "breakfast cereal for cats" that causes so many felines to become diabetic."

First and foremost, always choose a canned, pouched, or raw meat diet for your cat. No type, brand or variety of dry food is acceptable for any cat, but especially not for any diabetic cat!"

You can read more about Dr. Hodgkins' protocol on her web site, Your Diabetic Cat.com

Insulin by injection

Almost all cats with Type 1 diabetes will need insulin, as well as some Type 2 cats. Ideally, your veterinarian will conduct an 18-24 hour blood glucose profile to determine the amount and frequency of insulin injections. This test is done in hospital, and consists of injections of insulin followed by close monitoring of the blood glucose values.

You will be trained to give the injections at home. Although the prospect may be daunting, be assured that thousands of cat caregivers are doing it. You should also get a glucometer so you can monitor kitty's blood glucose levels regularly.

Oral Medications

Rather than injectible insulin, your veterinarian may prescribe glipizide, an oral medication which lowers blood sugar. However it comes with potential problems. Holly Nash, DVM, MS, writes for PetEducation.com:

Glipizide therapy is not without risks. Although rare, a cat may develop hypoglycemia while being treated with glipizide. This is an emergency, and signs include lethargy, depression, incoordination, coma and seizures."

This condition can be counteracted by giving the cat its normal food if it is able to eat, or a bit of Karo syrup rubbed on the gums, followed, of course, by a trip to the veterinarian.

Some owners monitor their cat's blood glucose level, using a "human" monitoring kit, which can help avoid the stress of regular trips to the vet. Dr. Mike gives instructions for its use in his excellent column. (Of course, you should clear this with your own vet before proceeding.)

Nutrient and Botanical Supplements

Vanadium shows promise as an adjunct to regulate blood insulin, and antioxidants help to relieve oxidative stress on tissues. However, natural supplements may have negative side effects, and should be used only under supervision of a veterinarian familiar with their uses.

Living With a Diabetic Cat

There is no doubt that feline diabetes is a serious disease. Managing the health of a diabetic cat can be time consuming, especially if insulin injections are necessary. However, thousands of cat moms and dads have been successful in working out a manageable schedule, until injections become a part of their daily routines.

Thousands of others have been able to help their T2 diabetic kitties solely by following the protocols outlined by Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, D.V.M. on her web site. Dr. Hodgkins has also written a book: "Your Cat - Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, which is a must-read for care-givers of diabetic cats. (Compare Prices)

You, too, may also be able to enjoy many happy years with your own diabetic cat, by providing the best foods, fresh water, a stress-free environment, mutual play and cuddle time, and following an insulin protocol as outlined by your veterinarian. It's all a matter of perspective.

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian, nor a feline health professional. Your veterinarian should always be your first and foremost resource for health treatment for your cat. This article is meant only to give you a basic understanding of feline diabetes, along with a starting place to do your own research so you can fully understand this disease, should your cat ever develop it.

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