Can Cats Get Diabetes, and How Do You Care for a Diabetic Cat?

Pet Care


May 3, 2020

A lot of people may not realize it, but there are a lot of diseases that humans and animals can share. One of the most common examples of this can be found in the plethora of infections and sicknesses that are spread between both cats and people.

There are also plenty of skeletal issues that are shared between animals and people as well. Cancers, as unfortunate as they are to think about, function somewhat similarly in both animals and people. With that being said, cats express themselves quite a bit differently than people do, and it can be hard to pinpoint what has made your cat sick.

If your veterinarian has diagnosed your cat with diabetes, you might be confused at first as this disease is really only talked about in humans. However, there are plenty of occurrences of diabetes in cats. Learning how to notice the signs and how to manage diabetes is going to be the first step in helping your cat live a long and healthy life.

What Is Diabetes?

First things first, to understand how to treat your cat and make sure that it will be able to survive for as long as possible, you need to have a basic understanding of how diabetes works. In people, diabetes is a disease of the pancreas and it can present in one of two forms. To understand how diabetes affects the body (in both cats and people), you should understand what a few things are. You will need to understand what the pancreas’ purpose is and what insulin does for the body.

The pancreas is a relatively small organ in the body and its main purpose is to produce insulin. The pancreas also produces other enzymes and hormones that are needed in the breakdown and absorption of food, but diabetes does not affect this production. The insulin that your pancreas produces (or should produce) is a hormone that aids in the production of energy inside the body. Insulin essentially allows sugar (glucose) to enter cells so that the cell can use that glucose to produce energy. Cells do not allow sugar to enter on their own.

Instead, when the body senses that blood sugar is high (typically after a meal is eaten), the pancreas cells are signaled to produce insulin to take the sugar from the bloodstream and allow it to enter cells. This reduces blood sugar levels and it helps cells produce energy so that your entire body can function. As you can imagine, when the pancreas is having problems with insulin, this can cause a number of health issues.

There are two types of diabetes that a human can have: Type 1 and Type 2. In Type 1 diabetes, your pancreas simply doesn’t produce the insulin your body needs. It is an autoimmune condition, meaning that the body attacks itself. In this case, it attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. To treat it, a person will need to take insulin every day at specific times and measure blood sugar levels regularly. Type 2 diabetes is a bit different. The pancreas still produces insulin, but the body does not respond to insulin the way it should, resulting in high blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is managed by changing lifestyles and insulin, as well as other medicines.

In cats, there are also two types of diabetes, and they are Type 1 and Type 2. Much like humans, the majority of them suffer from Type 2 diabetes, where the body still produces insulin, it just doesn’t respond properly. The treatment for feline diabetes depends on the type of diabetes it has.

What Are the Signs of Feline Diabetes?

Because cats cannot explain the way they feel the way that people can, it can be much more difficult to diagnose diabetes in cats, or even realize that there is a problem in the first place. For instance, a cat cannot physically tell you that it is irritable or tired. Your cat cannot tell you that it has numbness in its paws, or that it has a dry mouth. These are all symptoms of diabetes. Because your cat cannot tell you these things, you will need to simply watch to see if there are any changes in the way your cat acts.

The most common symptoms that you can physically see are going to be food and water related. These symptoms include an increased appetite, weight loss, excessive thirst, and increased urination. While you won’t be able to “see” how hungry your cat is, you will be able to see how much food your cat eats. The same applies to excessive thirst. You can’t “see” how thirsty your cat is, but you will be able to see how much water your cat is drinking and if it is significantly more than usual.

Weight changes from diabetes will become noticeable, so while you won’t need to weigh your cat, you should keep a close eye on just how much fat your cat has on it. Increased urination often comes side by side with excessive thirst. To quench that thirst, most cats will drink more water. When more water enters the system, the cat will need to urinate more. This is something you will notice when you clean out your cat’s litter box.

If it gets bad enough, diabetic cats will need to relieve themselves so urgently that it will happen outside the litter box as well. If your cat is urinating outside the litter box for reasons that are not territorial, it is a sign that there is something wrong and that your cat needs a visit to the vet.

If these symptoms are not noticeable or are not something that you have paid attention to, your cat will develop other health complications from diabetes. These health complications can include infections, liver disease, unhealthy skin and coat, and a loss of mobility in the hind legs not due to age. The most dangerous complication of untreated diabetes is known as ketoacidosis (too many ketonic acid in the blood). This can show as appetite loss, weakness, abnormal breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea. Ketoacidosis is a potentially fatal condition and must be tended to by a vet as urgently as possible.

How Do You Care for a Diabetic Cat?

Caring for a diabetic cat is an undertaking that takes even more commitment than caring for a healthy cat. It is a lifelong condition that will shorten your cat’s lifespan and lower its quality of life if it is left untreated. Cats are physically unable to treat their diabetes themselves so it is up to you as their caretaker to make sure that they can live their lives to their full potential. There are a few different categories of changes that you will need to make. You will need to change your cat’s diet immensely. You will need to change how much exercise your cat gets. You will need to take your cat in for regular testing. Most importantly, you will need to give your cat insulin injections.

Insulin injections are fairly straightforward. Your vet will provide you with insulin needles and instructions on the best way to inject your cat without too much harm to you or your cat. These injections are done daily, and you will need to be monitoring how your cat reacts to the insulin. In addition to this, you will need to monitor glucose levels (among other things). This can be done through a blood test or a urine test, although blood testing is the most accurate method. It will need to be done on a daily or twice-daily basis.

Changing what your cat eats, how much it eats, and when it eats is important. Chances are that you will not be free-feeding your cat anymore. Your vet will help you determine which foods you should look at, based on the health and weight of your cat as it is. You will need to monitor when your cat eats, how much it eats, and so on. The same applies to water.

Exercise is important, but it will need to be monitored as well. Exercising burns up energy. To produce that energy, your body needs glucose. If your cat is diabetic, this can lead to low blood sugar, which can be dangerous depending on how low it goes. You will need to talk to your vet about plans for your cat’s specific exercise plans.

Finally, there are the vet visits. These are crucial as it will help your vet monitor if your cat’s condition is improving or not. Most vets recommend visiting two to four times a year for physical exams and often lab testing. If your cat displays signs that treatment isn’t working, you will have to visit the vet even more.

For most people, the commitment it takes to care for a diabetic cat will be well worth being able to have their cat live out a full lifespan.

How Does Diabetes Change Lifestyle?

Having diabetes will completely change the way your cat lives its life, and by proxy, the way you live your life. After all, you are likely going to have to be giving your cat regular insulin injections, and that is a pretty major change. You will also have to set aside the time for regular vet visits so that your vet can check and see how your cat’s condition is.

You are also going to need to monitor and record how your cat is doing so that you can track any signs of improvement or deterioration. This includes monitoring glucose levels, the time you inject insulin, the amount of insulin you inject, how much food your cat eats and when, and how much your cat drinks water. You will have to record all of this on a daily basis, so there’s a good chance that you will have to move your cat’s food and water someplace that you can easily look at.

At a weekly level, you will need to weigh your cat. Knowing how much many cats do not enjoy being picked up, there’s a good chance that this will be a problematic process that both you and your cat will need to learn how to adapt to. Taking care of a diabetic cat is a large undertaking, but with dedicated care, your cat can live just as long as any other cat.