Feline Diabetes: What is it?

When diagnosed early, this disease can be treated and managed effectively. Here's some helpful information.

What is Feline Diabetes?

The exact cause of Feline Diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is a mystery. This disorder seems to be more common in neutered male cats and obese cats. Heredity may also be a factor. A diagnosis of diabetes to a cat owner may sound frightening, and it is a serious condition. However, this ailment can be treated through diet and/or insulin and managed effectively for many years allowing cats diagnosed with this condition, to live a normal, happy life. Diabetic cats can live for years once their blood sugars are regulated. Diabetes is not a death-sentence for your beloved pet, but does require constant treatment and dedication by the caregiver.

Cells in the pancreas produce the hormone insulin. If cells stop producing enough insulin or if the cells in certain body tissues become resistant to the action of insulin, Diabetes mellitus will be the result. Diabetic animals are unable to control their blood sugar; this is known as hyperglycemia, which means the blood sugar is too high. Hyperglycemia can also be brought on temporarily by stress. Your veterinarian will perform some tests in order to determine whether your cat’s condition is stress-related hyperglycemia or diabetes, as well as discuss the available treatments.

Symptoms of Diabetes

Symptoms may include but are not limited to:

• Drinking more

• Urinating more

• Weight loss (even when appetite doesn’t decrease)

• Increased appetite

• Dehydration

• Plantigrade posture (walking on their hocks)

• Sudden cataract formation

If diabetes remains uncontrolled the animal may become ketotic – cells begin to use fat as fuel for energy production; ketone bodies then begin to accumulate in the blood. If your cat is ketotic it may have these additional symptoms:

• Depression

• Weakness

• Vomiting

• Rapid breathing (breath may have an acetone odor)

If your cat has any of these symptoms see your veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosing Feline Diabetes

In order to diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will use a combination of blood and urine tests to rule out other diseases that have similar symptoms to diabetes. The blood test will check your pet’s blood sugar level to see where it falls within the normal range of 80 – 120 mg/dl. A diabetic cat’s blood sugar will be greater than 200 mg/dl, with some as high as 600 mg/dl. The urine test will check the glucose level in your cat. A diabetic cat will be spilling glucose into its urine.

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Treatment for Feline Diabetes

The treatment for diabetes in cats is similar to the treatment used for diabetes in humans - diet and insulin therapy. Your cat will need to be kept on a strict regimen of feedings and insulin injections. Your cat will probably be switched to a diet that is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates. This kind of a diet will help avoid elevations of glucose after eating and help with regulation of blood glucose.

Insulin therapy is done through injections that are given under the skin. Insulin needs to be stored in the refrigerator, if exposed to direct sunlight or warm temperatures it can become damaged and ineffective. The insulin should be rolled gently in your hands (never shaken) before each use. Insulin is drawn up in syringes that are made specifically for that type of insulin, generally you draw up more then what is needed and tap the syringe and expel any air that is in the syringe.

Make sure what is left in the syringe is the exact amount of insulin prescribed with no air. The injection is made under the skin. First tent the skin with one hand then insert the needle horizontally with the other hand making sure the needle does not go through your tent. Push the plunger in and remove the needle. The syringe used for insulin has a small needle.

Change your injection site with each injection, to help prevent any scar tissue that could build up, and to help insure the insulin is properly absorbed by the body. Never reuse your syringes, or clean syringes with cleansers! Unclean syringes could cause an infection, so always use a new syringe. If your veterinarian has prescribed an insulin schedule for your cat, he will provide training on how to properly administer an injection, as well as any additional information that may be helpful to you. If you have any questions or are unsure about the procedure, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the procedure, or watch you to make sure you are giving the injection correctly.

Additional Information

Your cat will need regular blood glucose checks to ensure it is properly regulated. Be prepared, once your pet is placed on an insulin regimen, it will require this for the rest of its life. Sometimes cats will go into remission, but will still need to be monitored closely, so a regular schedule should be established and maintained at all times. This may sound like you won’t be able to have life beyond managing your cat’s diabetes; however, that is not true. Your veterinarian will be able to help you set up a schedule that works well and effectively, allowing you and your beloved cat to enjoy life.

When deciding who will become the caretaker, it’s a good idea to select only one individual, to make sure there isn’t any confusion on who gave the last injection, or perhaps a missed treatment because of a miscommunication. It’s a good idea to post an injection sheet in a handy location, so you can write down the time each shot is given. This is a good habit to get into, and won’t require a moment or two of your time. As simple as this is, its importance is critical to your pet, because sadly this disease is deadly if untreated.

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