Cat Diabetes: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Cat Diabetes is a fairly common condition of cats. My clients are sometimes surprised to hear that a cat can develop diabetes. It comes down again to the fact that cats have almost all of the same organs we do and if they malfunction, our kitties develop the same diseases we do.

After treating diabetic cats for over 20 years in my feline veterinary practice, I, for the first time, diagnosed diabetes in my own cat a couple of years ago. In this article, I will include my first-hand experience living with a diabetic cat as well as my professional experience as a feline vet.

Symptoms of Cat Diabetes


Even though I didn't see any of the hallmark symptoms in my own cat, it was probably because I have multiple cats and work long, crazy hours, and he was in the very early stages when he was diagnosed. However, it's important to know the most frequent symptoms of feline diabetes because they are usually easy to recognize and it's important to catch them early and begin treatment early.

(1) Increased Thirst

(2) Increased Urination

(3) An increased appetite in the beginning which may decrease over time if not diagnosed and treated

(4) Weight loss, although diabetic cats often begin as overweight cats

(5) As time goes on, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea may appear

(6) If a cat is diabetic too long without diagnosis and treatment, you will begin to see a change in the back legs as he walks. Instead of walking up on his "toes" as cats do, his hocks will become lower to the ground and the cat will almost walk flat-footed.

This is due to a condition called diabetic neuropathy and indicates the disease has been present for quite some time. The good news is that it can be reversed if treatment is successful and the kitty becomes stable. It takes time, but most cats can once again walk fairly normally.

Before I reassure you about how easy it can be for ANYONE to treat their diabetic cat, I have a short video for you that one of my clients shared that will show you how healthy a diabetic cat can be with good care.



That was Cole, a 15 year old cat with diabetes, who still enjoys life and is very healthy thanks to the love, proper diet, and insulin he receives each day.

Overcoming Your Fears of Treating Cat Diabetes

If your cat has just been diagnosed with cat diabetes and you're feeling frightened and overwhelmed, I want to reassure you. I want you to remember and believe the following:

(1) Yes, you CAN inject your cat with a needle to give insulin. The needle is very fine - your cat won't even feel it, especially if he is eating or sleeping when you do it.

(2) Yes, your cat CAN tolerate the insulin needle easily even if he/she is not typically a physically affectionate, easily approachable cat.

(3) Injecting insulin into a cat is easier than giving medication by mouth to a cat if you've ever done that.

(4) Diabetic cats can live long healthy, happy lives with treatment.

(5) There are relatively easy solutions to all your objections or fears about treating your diabetic cat.

Watch this short video to see how easy it is
to inject your cat with insulin.



As you can see in the above video, the cat received his injection and didn't even get up from his relaxed position afterwards. He continued to act as if nothing happened. This is typical.
diabetic cat sleeping

In spite of the large numbers of cats I have lived with during my lifetime, it wasn't until two years ago that I lived with a cat with diabetes.

I have been treating feline diabetics for over 20 years as a feline veterinarian, but when it's your own and you live with it, it's much different.

Keep in mind that when you live with multiple cats, it's not always possible to know if one is drinking or urinating excessively, two of the hallmark signs of diabetes in cats. I wasn't aware it was going on in my house and I'm a vet. The only reason Calvin was diagnosed when he was was due to the fact I was running routine blood work on all my cats in preparation for their dental cleanings. The day after obtaining their blood samples, I watched the fax machine with a bit of anxiety, just as any other cat parent would do, waiting for the results. I didn't really expect there to be anything wrong. I was just being an anxious cat mommy.

What a surprise! Everyone had perfect blood results except Calvin. This surprised me because Calvin appeared to be the healthiest of all my cats, but he had a glucose level of 476! He had cat diabetes.

Confirming the Diagnosis of Calvin, My Diabetic Cat

Cat Diabetes Calvin an Orange Tabby Cat

I really had a difficult time believing the results. As I said, I had not seen any symptoms of feline diabetes in any of my cats, including Calvin. At any rate, I proceeded according to the correct diagnostic protocol. If a cat has a high blood glucose reading, one should never start treatment with cat insulin without verifying the results by repeating the blood test and collecting urine.

I did both. I did another blood glucose test on Calvin and a urinalysis. The results were clear. He was definitely a diabetic feline.

I won't lie to you and say that it was no big deal. I love my cats deeply and and it made me very sad and a little scared even to learn of Calvin's diabetes even though I had helped hundreds of cats with feline diabetes before. But this was my own cat and it felt different. I was nervous, just as you may be. But I mustered up my optimism and courage and our cat diabetes journey began.

Feline Diabetes Treatment

All the proper testing had been completed to see if my cat, Calvin, was a diabetic feline. I now knew for certain that he was and that it was time to start treatment for cat diabetes.

It was time to follow my own advice that I had given for so many years to my clients who lived with a diabetic feline. The main considerations in treating cat diabetes are selection of the best type of pet insulin, finding a feline diabetic diet your cat will like, and learning to test the glucose levels of your cat at home.

If that sounds scary, just watch the following video to see a demonstration of the home testing procedure. It's easy!

Your veterinarian or vet technician will be able to help you learn to test your kitty. It is very, very important to get a glucose meter and test your cat in your own home. I have not seen an owner or cat yet that could not get used to doing this. That is the only way you will really know your cat’s glucose levels and know how much insulin to give.

This information may sound very new to many, most of you and it will even be unfamiliar to many of your veterinarians. However, I assure you, it works well and makes total sense. I know how successful this feline diabetes treatment can be from my experience with my own cat over the last months as well as many of my clients' cats.

The diabetic cats that do the best follow the "tight regulation" method of treating cat diabetes. My patient, Cole, that was fetching in the video above was treated with the tight regulation method and has eaten only a low carb diet since being diagnosed and has lost his requirement for insulin! I have not gone into more detail about the tight regulation method here because it is covered thoroughly on Dr. Hodgkins website at the above link. Home testing is SO important for achieving the best glycemic control of your diabetic cat.

Insulin

Insulin is necessary for treating cat diabetes because it is critical for regulating the blood glucose of a cat. Cats without diabetes produce their own insulin in the amounts they need to stay healthy. A diabetic feline, on the other hand, does not produce enough of their own insulin so they must get insulin through injections.

Treating diabetes in cats can be challenging for both veterinarians and cat owners for two reasons:

(1) Cat diabetes can be unpredictable. There is more variation in the way they respond to treatment than there is with other species.

(2) Not all insulin works well for cats.





More About Cat Insulin

Over the years, many different types of insulin have been used for cat diabetes. Beef insulin is the closest match to cat insulin, then pork, and the least compatible is human. At times, we have had few choices and just had to use whatever was available. In fact, most of the time, we have had to treat cat diabetes with insulin that was actually best for dogs or people.

At the time Calvin was diagnosed, the pet insulin that I was using most frequently for cats was called ProZinc (protamine zinc recombinant human insulin.) PROZINC was designed specifically for the feline diabetic. I have found it to be quite satisfactory in the treatment of diabetes in cats. There are other types of insulin which you will hear about on the internet and from other veterinarians, but most of my clients are still using primarily PROZINC.

PROZINC is labeled by the manufacturer as being the first protamine zinc insulin specifically for use for cat diabetes that has been approved by the FDA. It is superior than many other insulins for cats due to its ability to continue working longer than most other types of insulin. It maintains a more consistent, stable blood glucose during the day because it is slowly released over time.

An injection of ProZinc cat insulin usually lasts around 12 hours in cats. Cats metabolize insulin more quickly than dogs or people. For this reason, cats almost always require an injection twice daily.

I started Calvin on ProZinc at first and used it for a year or longer. At first, it seemed ideal, but as time went on, his injections were not lasting 12 hours and his readings were not low enough even with an increased dosage. I decided to switch him to Lantus, a human insulin that I had heard worked well for many feline diabetics.

Another year has gone by and we are still using Lantus. I have found it to be better for Calvin. It has its disadvantages. The dosage most cats need is smaller than the lowest mark on an insulin syringe so you have to use your judgment when drawing up something as little as 0.25 units. It also has an unpleasant smell. It is expensive and only has a shelf life of about 30 days. You have to handle it with great care. You can't shake it or accidentally let air from the syringe back into the insulin bottle or the insulin will become unstable.

However, the benefits have been well worth it. It immediately lasted at least 12 hours for Calvin and many days lasts for even 24 hours. His glucose stays in a very normal range without fluctuations most of the time. He is doing great. If you saw him, you would have no idea that he has any health condition whatsoever.

Insulin and blood glucose testing, however, are not the only factors I give credit to for Calvin's great health. While the manufacturer of ProZinc, for example, claims that their cat insulin is formulated to control cat diabetes regardless of the diet they eat, I have found that the type of feline diabetic diet used is still a very important factor.

Feeding a Diabetic Cat

The diet that you feed your cat is as important as the insulin you give. In fact, the cat food your kitty has eaten may be a large part of the reason he became diabetic to begin with. Now, it's time to change.

One of the greatest things that ever happened to my other cats is their brother becoming diabetic and the whole family changing to his "diabetic diet". Everyone's health has improved. Everyone that was overweight is now trim and fit. They are more active and they are happier. And if I were a betting person, I'd put my money on the belief that none of these cats will ever become diabetic because of the diet they are eating.

Why Do Cats Have A Problem Eating A Diet High in Carbohydrates?

The most important thing to remember about any cat diet is that cats are true carnivores. A diet high in carbohydrates is bad for all cats and certainly will make it more difficult to successfully treat a diabetic feline.

Cats lack the enzymes needed to use carbohydrates for their energy requirements. Instead, they utilize proteins and fats for their energy. For example, birds and mice only have three to five percent carbohydrates. However, most dry food contains more than 35% and even as high as 50% carbs.

If a cat is fed a diet high in carbohydrates, the excess carbs end up as fat deposits in the cat’s body. This excess fat leads to greater insulin resistance, leading to the development of feline diabetes.

There are several different companies that manufacture a feline diabetic diet. Royal Canin cat prescription diets include diabetic cat food. Hills prescription cat food is another line of food for cats that includes a feline diabetic diet. Purina also has a feline diabetes diet.

Royal Canin's diabetic cat food comes only in a dry form. Hill's cat food line for cat diabetes has both canned and dry. Purina also has canned and dry versions.

A high protein, moderate fat, low carbohydrate diet will be healthier for all cats and especially beneficial to diabetic cats. But not all such diets are created equally.

If you compare the carbohydrate content of different feline diabetic diets, you will find the following:

Hill's Prescription dry m/d: (16% carbohydrates)

Hill's Prescription canned m/d: (16% carbohydrates)

Purina dry DM: (15% carbohydrates)

Purina canned DM: (8% carbohydrates)

The dry versions of these products are lower in carbohydrates than the majority of dry cat food products on the market. However, as you can see, Purina canned DM has the lowest carbohydrate level by far. Much less than the dry versions. However, the Purina diet contains many ingredients that are totally out of line with what a cat in its natural habitat would eat.

On the other hand, if we look at Wellness canned Chicken, we find that it generally has 5 percent or less carbohydrate content. This low amount of carbohydrates, the lack of grains in the diet, a good amount of muscle meat, and the absence of preservatives make it a much more desirable cat food.

If you feed your cat a proper low carb diet, your cat may actually lose his requirement for insulin. If he doesn't completely lose his need for insulin, it is very likely he will need far less insulin to maintain an appropriate blood glucose level.

Bottom line, it is important, especially with cat diabetes, to get your cat to eat far more canned food and far less dry food. Of the dry foods, the feline prescription diabetic diets have lower carb levels then non-prescription commercial diets. However, an appropriate canned diet can have far less carbohydrates than dry food. In addition, a healthier diet with healthier ingredients is, of course, desirable.

Diabetic Cat Food and Diabetic Cat Treatment

Dry cat food, any dry cat food, even the prescription diabetic cat foods, have too many carbohydrates for a diabetic cat. Cats need high protein, low carbohydrate diets!

A diabetic diet for cats MUST be low in carbohydrates. A website that has a food chart showing the carbohydrate content of various brands of cat food is Binky's Page. You can also find additional great information on treating diabetic cats the right way at www.catinfo.org and www.yourdiabeticcat.com





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