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Cats have the ability to mask the signs of illness far longer than one would suspect, which is why very subtle changes in behavior and activity could be indicators of a serious disease. Such is the case with feline diabetes, a common disease in cats.
What Is Diabetes?
Just like in people, diabetes in cats is a disorder of the pancreas. The pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps the body utilize glucose for energy. When the pancreas no longer produces insulin, Type 1 diabetes develops. If the pancreas produces insulin but the body does not respond correctly to it, Type 2 diabetes develops.
In either case, the end result is a cat with very high blood sugar, and a body that is starving because it cannot turn that sugar into usable energy. If left untreated, the body starts to utilize fat for energy instead. Ketones, which are a byproduct of this fat metabolism, are toxic at high levels.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
Most diabetic cats go to the veterinarian because the owner feels “I’m scooping out the litter box more than usual.” In the early stages of the disease, diabetic cats usually show a combination of increased drinking and urination; weight loss; and normal or increased appetite.
In the later stages of the disease, known as diabetic ketoacidosis, cats can progress to vomiting, diarrhea, coma and death, which is why it is vital to catch this disease early. A simple blood and urine test at the veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis.
How Is Diabetes Treated?
There are several options for treating diabetes in cats. Most cats end up getting daily injections of insulin. Although it sounds intimidating, owners pick up on the skill very easily, and most find that it’s simple to do. A smaller number of cats respond to dietary changes and/or oral medications.
Proper treatment is essential, so follow your veterinarian’s instructions. With treatment, many diabetic cats enjoy long, full lives!
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang is a small-animal veterinarian from San Diego. When she's not at work or with her family of two and her four-legged creatures, you can find her blogging about life with pets at PawCurious.com. Dr. Vogelsang's blogs have previously appeared on The Daily Cat.