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Worried about your cat's diabetes symptoms? Find out more in our expert guide.

Diabetes in cats

Concerned about possible symptoms of diabetes in cats, or what to do once your cat has been diagnosed? If you're looking for help and advice on this increasingly common issue in cats, read our guide.

What does it mean if my cat has diabetes?

Diabetes affects the control of blood sugar levels and usually occurs in middle-aged and older cats, particularly those who are overweight. In a healthy cat, food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose, a form of sugar, is the result from this digestion and provides the body with energy. As the glucose level begins to rise after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin and allows glucose to enter the body cells where it is needed as a source of energy.

In a diabetic cat, the pancreas either doesn't produce enough insulin or the body doesn't respond to it properly. Once the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is unable to reach the body cells - this results in high levels of glucose circulating around the body. As the glucose can't be used, other substances such as fat or muscle protein are used to provide energy. If diabetes isn't treated, the process will create by-products and will make the cat extremely ill.

Is my cat at risk of developing diabetes?

Some cats are more at risk than others in developing this health issue. Obese cats are four times as likely to develop diabetes, while older cats (those over seven years) and male cats are at higher risk. It is also common for diabetic cats to suffer from other diseases too, such as inflammation of the pancreas or urinary tract infections.

What are the signs of diabetes in my cat?

The signs of diabetes can be similar to a number of other diseases and include:

  • increased thirst and or appetite
  • passing more urine
  • weight loss
  • lethargy and weakness
  • vomiting
  • being more prone to infections
  • some affected cats may have sunken back legs so the cat is standing on its ankles, as a result of nerve damage.

How is diabetes diagnosed in cats?

To diagnose diabetes, your vet will want to take blood and urine samples from your cat to assess glucose levels. They will not be allowed any food for several hours before the blood test is taken. Your vet may also want to monitor your cat's body weight.

How is diabetes treated?

Diabetes is often treated more successfully if detected and treated in the early stages. Treatment may include:

  • insulin injections - insulin must be given by injection, with most diabetic cats requiring one or two injections a day. While some cats will require insulin for the rest of their lives, some cats, if treated early enough, can become non-diabetic again. Talk to your vet if you are concerned about administering insulin injections to your cat
  • diet - take your vet's advice on diet, as these recommendations may change as your cat's diabetes becomes stabilised. If your cat is overweight, your vet will aim to help your cat slowly lose weight
  • medication - while in many cases insulin treatment is necessary, some cats respond to a combination of glucose-lowering drugs and a weight-reducing diet
  • routine - routine is important for cats with diabetes and daily injections and feeding regimes should be carried out at the same time each day

What will happen to my diabetic cat?

Providing that treatment is received and your cat responds well, there is no reason why diabetic cats should not live a relatively normal life for years. If you have any other concerns, speak to your vet.

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