Feline Diabetes: When Insulin Fails

Diabetes in humans is a widespread metabolic disease that manifests itself in high levels of blood sugar. The cause is a disturbance in the body’s own insulin production: This hormone regulates the body’s sugar balance. Cats can also get diabetes. However, feline diabetes differs from human diabetes in a number of ways.

What is feline diabetes and what types of diabetes are there?

“Feline diabetes mellitus”, as the disease is called medically, is also caused by a dysfunction of the pancreas in cats, which regulates the release of the hormone insulin. Since the body is not able to supply the organism with sugar and thus energy when there is too little insulin, the sugar passes into the urine and is discharged unused. As in humans, there are different types of diabetes in cats: At 80-95%, type 2 DM is much more widespread. An abnormal deposit of proteins or a toxic effect disrupts insulin secretion. The interesting thing is that this type of diabetes can temporarily occur as a side effect of another disease or drug therapy. In the rarer type 1 DM, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are immediately damaged.

How do I recognize the feline diabetes symptoms?

The disturbed energy balance of the cat is reflected in symptoms such as increased thirst and urination. The cat shows a great appetite for food, but becomes increasingly emaciated as the disease progresses. It can lead to a decrease in muscle strength and neuronal sequelae as well as urinary tract infections. In contrast to humans, however, feline diabetes has no effects on the animal’s eyes. Castrated and overweight tomcats from about five years of age are particularly susceptible to the development of feline diabetes. Treating the cat with diabetes is essential: if no treatment is given, the disease is a slow-progressing disease with a fatal outcome. However, if diabetes is discovered early enough and corrective measures are taken right away, there is a good chance of recovery. Our vet team of Dr. Fressnapf takes enough time for you and your cat in an online consultation. You will receive a well-founded assessment of your observations and recommendations for further treatment steps.

What Feline Diabetes Treatments Are There?

Diabetes in cats is diagnosed by measuring the fructosamine value – the long-term blood sugar level. The safe and differentiated diagnosis of diabetes by means of usable measured values ​​is elementary: Under no circumstances should insulin be administered to a non-diabetic cat on the basis of incorrect measurements! However, diagnosing diabetes in cats is difficult: since cats’ blood sugar levels change in stressful situations, which undoubtedly include a trip to the vet, blood samples taken in the office may not be sufficiently reliable for laboratory testing. The same problem arises if the cat suffers from an overactive thyroid at the same time, which is reflected in the blood count in a similar way. More usable readings bring a regular check of the blood sugar levels in the animal’s familiar environment in a calm atmosphere. The doctor calls these measurements home monitoring.

With home monitoring, the cat’s blood sugar level is measured and noted several times a day with a measuring device. For the measurement, a small drop of blood is taken from the animal’s ear; a procedure to which the cat quickly becomes accustomed if it interacts calmly with its human. Based on these values, the medication is adjusted in consultation with the veterinarian: As a rule, a sick cat has to be injected twice a day with a precisely measured amount of insulin. Various insulin preparations are available for use in cats. The individual setting of the insulin dose is elementary for the treatment of feline diabetes. An incorrect measurement may prove ineffective. Contrary to popular belief, there is no connection between the cat’s weight and the amount of insulin required; nor are there guideline values ​​based on the breed or age of the animal. Every four-legged patient needs their own individual dose.

Both blood sugar measurement and insulin administration quickly become routine for animals and owners. However, avoid anything that could frighten or stress the animal so that the values ​​are not falsified and the animal does not develop an aversion to the treatment. The insulin is administered using a special insulin syringe. Pens used in human patients also exist for feline diabetes. The puncture should only be made in the flank area; this is roughly the area between the knee joint and the cat’s elbow. Never inject between the shoulder blades or in the neck and let the veterinarian show you how to grip a fold of skin on the cat’s flank with your hand, into which the prick is made, and how to draw the correct dose of insulin into the syringe. Once you have the know-how, it’s quick and easy action.

If the cat is finally adjusted to the correct ratio of nutrients through food and insulin administration and if the feline diabetes symptoms have subsided, it can live practically free of symptoms. In type 2 DM, the pancreas can even fully recover with appropriate cat diabetes treatment, reduction of obesity, and diet change.

What should I look out for in a diabetic cat?

Favoring factors of diabetes in cats are obesity and persistent feeding errors:

  • Food with too high a content of grain and sugar components. In order to alleviate diabetes, start with feeding and weight control.
  • Offer your cat high-quality diabetic food for cats with few carbohydrates and lots of protein. However, do not make any rapid diet changes and have them monitored by the veterinarian. If you have to inject your pet with insulin: only after eating.

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