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feline health problems

Diabetes in cats, explained

Is your cat peeing around the house or unusually losing weight? Learn about the signs and causes of feline diabetes.

Updated August 23, 2021

Created By

Victoria Lancaster,

The essentials

  • Diabetes in cats is rare — 0.25% to 1% of cats will receive a diabetes diagnosis during their lifetime.
  • There are three types of diabetes in cats — In all forms, a cat’s body can’t get the nutrients they need.
  • Diabetes could be life-threatening — Watch for early signs like weight loss and increased thirst.
  • Ongoing care is important A good prognosis for a diabetic cat requires management at home and frequent trips to the vet.

What is feline diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus in cats is also known as feline diabetes. Diabetes is an illness in which the body cannot produce insulin. Insulin is a necessary hormone that allows a cat’s body to release glucose from the blood. With the help of insulin, sugar transfers to cells and organs so the body can absorb it for energy.

These cats are more likely to develop it

Any cat can get diabetes, regardless of its age, body type, or medical history. However, it’s more common in:

  • Middle-aged cats
  • Older cats
  • Neutered male cats 

Common symptoms of diabetes in cats

Whether or not you suspect your cat is suffering from an illness, it’s always important to pick up on their daily habits. That way, you’ll notice any changes to their behavior and signs that they could be suffering from diabetes. You can significantly improve your cat’s prognosis by noticing some of the early signs of diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst and urination. Diabetes causes high levels of glucose in the blood which makes sugar spill into the urine. This makes a cat need to pee more often, causing dehydration and extreme thirst. Some cats will also urinate outside of the litter box. 
  • Weight loss despite a good appetite. This is one of the most common and first noticed signs of feline diabetes. Weight loss happens because diabetes starves a cat of energy.
  • Unhealthy coat and skin. Because diabetes causes dehydration, a cat’s skin may become dry.
  • Frequent UTIs. If your cat is frequently visiting the vet for urinary tract infections, this is a common sign seen in diabetic cats.

👉 Is your cat’s litter sticking to its paws? This is a strange symptom your cat may display if they have diabetes because of the excess amounts of urine that they produce. 

Late signs of disease

If your cat has been suffering from diabetes for some time, they may show advanced stages of the disease:

  • Inability to jump and loss of interest. If your cat is unable to move around the house like they used to, this may be a sign that diabetes could be taking a toll on their energy levels.
  • Change in gait. Diabetes can cause increased weakness and lack of energy, so you may notice changes in the way your cat moves. They may begin to walk flat on their hind legs, show signs of neuropathy, or start to develop permanent paralysis. 
  • Lack of appetite, vomiting, or lethargy. Over time, diabetes can begin to cause nausea in cats, prompting an upset stomach and occasional vomiting.

What causes feline diabetes?

Sometimes diabetes in cats is an unavoidable condition, but there are some proven causes of the illness:

  • Obesity 
  • Inactivity 
  • Chronic pancreatitis, kidney disease, or hypothyroidism
  • Pregnancy
  • Cats on steroid medication

👉 Obesity is the most common cause of diabetes. This is because obesity makes a cat’s body less sensitive to insulin. 

There are three types of diabetes in cats

In all types, a cat’s cells can’t access the nutrients they need. 

  • Type I (insulin-dependent). Insulin production is low and blood glucose concentrations are high. 
  • Type II (non-insulin-dependent). The cells of the body don’t respond to insulin production, causing glucose to be high. The body still makes insulin but it doesn’t respond appropriately to the hormone. Insulin resistance causes this type of diabetes.
  • Type III (insulin-resistant). Due to insulin resistance secondary to increased levels of hormones (gestational or hormone-induced). 

👉 Type II diabetes is the most common form seen in cats.

How to treat cat diabetes

Now that you know your cat has diabetes, the vet will prescribe a treatment or therapy plan. The major goal of diabetes treatment is to normalize the blood glucose concentrations in a cat’s body

. Through stabilizing blood glucose levels, your cat’s symptoms should resolve.

  • Insulin therapy. Insulin injections are usually administered to a cat under their skin every 12 hours to treat diabetes. To administer injections, you’ll use a specific insulin syringe based on the type of insulin prescribed. Oral medications aren’t given to cats like they are to humans. Your vet will teach you how to inject your cat with their insulin. It’s not as daunting as it seems due to the small size of the needle, which most cats tolerate well.
  • Diet. Your vet will likely put your cat on a low-carbohydrate diet. When fed less amount of carbs, your cat’s blood sugar levels regulate. High-protein diets are best for diabetic cats.

It’s important to always administer insulin after your cat eats a meal.  Never give insulin to your diabetic cat if they’re not eating as this can cause low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) and may induce seizures or cause your cat to go into a coma. Notify your cat’s vet immediately if they aren’t eating and are unable to receive insulin.

🚨 Diabetes can quickly become deadly if you don’t get your cat to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

A note on the cost of insulin therapy

It’s not cheap to care for a diabetic cat. There are different types and doses of insulin that all vary in cost. Depending on your cat’s insulin dose, it can cost around $50 per month. Cats with milder forms of diabetes may only take an insulin dose that costs around $20 per month. You’ll also have to purchase syringes or an injection pen, depending on your preference.

It’s important to consult with your veterinarian on the correct dose of insulin for your cat. If you give your cat too much insulin, this can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).

Long-term care for your diabetic cat

If your furry friend has diabetes, the best thing you can do is monitor them closely. Be sure to record changes in their weight, appetite, thirst, and urination.

In general, regular vet visits are super important. Cats need to have regular checks of their blood glucose levels (also known as blood glucose curves). While you may be able to perform these on your own to monitor your cat’s levels, you’ll need the vet for several months after diagnosis.

Complications commonly seen with diabetes aren’t always the easiest to spot. But if you take your cat for regular check-ups, you’ll remain on top of your cat’s health. Your vet will help you monitor your feline’s diabetes and check for any other concerns.

Frequently asked questions

Can feline diabetes be genetic?

While there’s not too much evidence on the matter, diabetes in cats may sometimes seem genetic. Burmese, Tonikinese, and Norwegian cats, for example, tend to have a higher incidence of diabetes mellitus.

How do I know if my cat’s diabetes treatment is working?

After your cat starts their diabetes treatment, you should notice their habits returning to normal. They should have decreased urination and an increased appetite. If you get your cat the treatment they need, they may eventually even enter into a state of remission. This means they’ll no longer need insulin to manage their diabetes.

Should I euthanize my cat with diabetes?

Diabetic cats can live long and healthy lives thanks to treatment methods like insulin therapy! However, sometimes it’s difficult to manage diabetes due to insulin resistance or if a cat has concurrent diseases.

It’s important to talk to your vet if you feel that your cat is not improving with treatment. If you can’t care for or incur the costs of a cat with diabetes, consider putting your pet up for adoption. There’s certainly someone who would be happy to care for your companion.

How long can cats with diabetes live?

Don’t see your pet’s diabetes diagnosis as a life sentence. In fact, cats with diabetes can live long and healthy lives. The most important step toward treating your cat’s diabetes is getting an early diagnosis. If treated and maintained, diabetic cats can have a normal life expectancy.