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Feline Diabetes: The BasicsFeline Diabetes

In order to understand the basics of feline diabetes it is best to understand how diabetes develops.   When a body eats it converts food into energy.    The pancreas, an organ lying deep in the abdomen below the stomach, aids in this conversion by secreting enzymes and hormones to regulate digestion.  One of the hormones the pancreas secretes is insulin which helps to balance and regulate blood sugar levels.

Just as in human diabetes, there are different types of feline diabetes, mainly type 1 and type 2.   Type 1 diabetes occurs when insulin is not produced.  When insulin is not present there is no regulation of blood sugar levels and instead of the glucose being utilized as energy in the body’s cells glucose ends up in the bloodstream.   In type 2 diabetes insulin is produced; however, the body is not able to utilize the insulin, and again too much sugar ends up in the bloodstream.

Sometimes a cat is genetically predisposed to getting feline diabetes; however, one of the causes of diabetes in cats is the same as the cause of diabetes in humans, obesity.  Eating a high carbohydrate diet increases fat cells which in turn secrete a substance that decreases a body’s response to insulin and creates sugar imbalances.   Furthermore, cats are designed for metabolizing proteins and fats, not carbohydrates.  Controlling the amount of carbohydrate intake your cat has can be an effective method of controlling diabetes.  High fiber and high-complex carbohydrate diets have also been useful in helping overweight cats reach their goal weight.  Proper nutrition is vital and nutrition counseling for your specific cat should be discussed and planned with your veterinarian in order to achieve optimal results.

Other risk factors for feline diabetes includes age (older cats are more likely to get feline diabetes than younger cats), gender (males more likely than females), hormone imbalances, chronic pancreatitis, and certain medications.

The most common symptoms of feline diabetes are an increase in appetite, an increase in thirst, an increase in urine production, and weight loss.  Lethargy may also be reported.  Left untreated feline diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis, liver disease, bacterial infections, unhealthy skin, and neuropathy.  Feline diabetes does not cause the kidney disease and blood vessel disease than most people associate with human diabetes.  A diagnosis of feline diabetes can cause a shortened life span; however, feline diabetes does not have to be a death sentence as with proper care and management of the condition a cat may lead a normal life and even have temporary remissions from the disease.

The diagnosis of feline diabetes requires blood testing and urine testing.  Once diagnosed, treatment should begin immediately.  Treatment for feline diabetes depends on the severity of the presentation.  For more advanced cases, fluid therapy and insulin injections are needed.  For less severe cases, oral medications, insulin injections, and dietary changes are needed, with twice daily insulin injections being the most commonly recommended treatment protocol.  At home blood monitoring and insulin injections need to be performed on a relatively strict schedule.  Graze feeding is not recommended as careful monitoring of dietary intake is essential in determining if there is a shift in the cat’s eating or drinking habits.  Weight and urine production also need to be monitored closely for any variations that may indicate the diabetes is progressing.   Periodic veterinary examinations are also necessary.

Early detection is a key in maintaining your cat’s health.  If feline diabetes is detected early enough a low carbohydrate diet may allow the pancreas to recover and start producing enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels again.  This may lead to remissions and temporary discontinuation of medication.   While there is no cure for diabetes, with proper veterinary treatment and consistent, loving home care a cat can lead a normal, happy, and healthy life.



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