The Bad News Is Your Cat Has Diabetes; The Good News Is…

by Teresa Garden, DVM

Most of us have a friend, family member, or coworker who is a diabetic. But many people are unaware that diabetes is a common endocrine disease afflicting our pet cats. It results from a decrease in insulin secretion from the beta cells of the pancreas and/or a decrease in insulin action. The most common causes of diabetes in cats are obesity, pancreatitis, and amyloidosis of the pancreatic beta cells. Diabetes occurs most often in middle age and is common to male and female cats.

How would you know if your cat has diabetes? Most pet owners will witness increased drinking and urination from hyperglycemia. Your cat may be eating more and losing weight at the same time. Cats may be jaundiced due to concurrent liver or pancreatic disease. Some cats may exhibit a plantigrade stance (standing and walking flat-footed on their rear feet) due to peripheral neuropathy. If you see these symptoms in your cat, please see your veterinarian immediately. Diabetes is diagnosed by blood tests showing elevated glucose and fructosamine. Urine will test positive for the presence of glucose. Forty percent of diabetic cats will have concurrent urinary tract infections which can be confirmed with a urine culture and treated with appropriate antibiotics.

So the bad news is your cat has diabetes. The good news is this disease may last only months rather than a lifetime. Prompt treatment with appropriate dietary and insulin therapy will allow many cats to revert back to normal. The goal of therapy is to control clinical signs, prevent and treat concurrent disease, avoid hypoglycemia, and maintain ideal body weight. It is essential to feed low carbohydrate-high protein diets. Grain-free foods such as Evo, Orijens, Taste of the Wild, and Wellness Core are some examples of these foods. They are available in canned or dry form at pet stores featuring natural pet foods. We prefer the canned versions since they are always a little lower in carbohydrates than their dry counterparts. Canned foods will provide more moisture to the cat and are a great vehicle to hide supplements. Grain-free foods have lower glycemic indices, can improve weight loss in obese cats, and are very tasty. Your veterinarian can also provide low carb-high protein prescription diets to treat diabetes. Examples are Hills MD and Purina DM. Meal feeding is recommended. This allows you, the pet owner, to monitor your cat’s food intake closely so that insulin is given only when the cat is observed to eat a meal.

Injectable insulin is the mainstay of therapy for diabetic cats. Long acting insulins such as PZI, Lantus, Humulin N and Vetsulin are chosen for cats. Pet owners are taught to give the injections subcutaneously twice daily. While the challenge is daunting at first, most pet owners become quite proficient at administrating the injections. Pet owners are instructed to keep the bottle of insulin refrigerated so it will last for a few months rather than the labeled 28 days. This cuts down on the expense of buying it greatly. When ready for use, the bottle is rocked gently back and forth to mix the crystalline solution thoroughly prior to drawing it into the syringe. Each syringe is to be used only once and then discarded. The type of insulin syringe must match the type of insulin used. They both need to be labeled U-40 or U-100. It is important to rotate injection sites on your cat. Using the same area all the time can cause granulation tissue which will decrease insulin absorption from the subcutaneous tissue. And, of course, it is vitally important to measure the dosage accurately. Your veterinarian or vet tech will teach you to do all of these things. Always give kitty a treat after the injection. This could be an edible treat or perhaps combing, playing or petting time.

Clinical studies are showing cats treated with Lantus insulin have an 80-90% chance of going into remission within 4 months. Those treated with Protamine Zinc insulin have a 40-50% chance of reverting to normal. These numbers can only be achieved when feeding a low carbohydrate-high protein diet. Cats will stay in remission if kept on a low carbohydrate-high protein diet and if not allowed to gain weight! The success of treatment can be monitored in various ways. As the pet owner, you should see a decrease in excessive drinking and urination within a few weeks of starting therapy. Appetite should return to normal and ideal body weight should be reached. Your veterinarian will monitor the disease by performing blood and urine tests. Clients can be taught to check blood glucose levels at home using the Alpha Trak Blood Glucose Monitoring Kit (Abbott). All of this information will allow your veterinarian to decide if the insulin dosage needs to be increased or decreased or maintained for your particular pet. Diabetes can be very successfully treated in our pet cats. And again, the good news is that treatment for some pets may be required for only months rather than years.
In our next article we will focus on diabetes in dogs and supplements to use for diabetes in pets.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewwod/Richmond Heights area. Visit online at www.AnimalHealthandHealing.com; phone: 314-781-1738.