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Is Feline Diabetes Becoming An Epidemic?

By Kim Boatman

Is Feline Diabetes Becoming An Epidemic?

Does your cat sport the feline equivalent of love handles? That extra cushioning might look cute, but it places your cat at risk for feline diabetes. Cases of this disease are soaring, to the point where some veterinarians consider diabetes in cats to be an epidemic. Last year a study at Edinburgh University in England found that of the estimated 90 million cats in the U.S., almost 400,000 will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.

Just what's going on with our pets? Veterinarians say the trend mirrors the rise in diabetes among humans, and feline diabetes has similar causes. Weight gain and a sedentary lifestyle are contributing culprits for both humans and cats. Similarly, a healthy diet and regular exercise work as preventative measures for our cats, just as they do for us.

Is your kitty among those cats at risk? Educating yourself about feline diabetes can go a long way toward protecting your cat's health. Here are four important steps you may follow:

Recognize the Symptoms
Just like their human counterparts, diabetic cats either don't produce enough insulin or they develop sensitivity to the insulin in their bodies. This results in high glucose, or sugar, levels in the blood. This, in turn, can cause serious long-term health problems in your cat. The warning signs of feline diabetes are quite similar to the symptoms humans experience with Type II diabetes. Dr. Karen Becnel, who operates a cats-only clinic in a New Orleans suburb, says you'll want to have your cat examined by a veterinarian if you notice any of the following:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • A disheveled appearance (A cat might not groom itself properly.)
  • Poor muscle tone

Recognizing the factors that can lead to feline diabetes is as critical as recognizing the disease's symptoms.

Understand the Causes
There's certainly more to love when it comes to the cats visiting Dr. Elizabeth Colleran's Chico, Calif., cat hospital. Increasingly, the cats she sees could afford to shed a pound -- or three.

Although there has been some discussion over the feeding of wet versus dry food when it comes to feline diabetes, a University of Missouri study last year found the type of food made no difference. The single biggest determining factor was the cat's weight -- and a whopping 40 percent of our cats are overweight.

Other factors include inactivity, longevity and perhaps genetics. Due to the latter, for example, Burmese cats are likely more at risk for developing the disease. If you have such an at-risk cat, discussions about diabetes with your veterinarian are even more critical.

Work to Prevent Diabetes
Dr. Colleran teaches cat owners how to play with their furry friends. It's all part of educating them about their cat's need for activity. Colleran and other veterinarians recommend that you should do these things to help keep your cat healthy:

  • Schedule regular checkups with blood tests.
  • Practice portion control. Free-feeding is a no-no, says Dr. Elaine Wexler-Mitchell, who frequently sees diabetic cats in her Orange, Calif., feline clinic.
  • Discuss your cat's nutritional needs with your veterinarian and carefully measure out food.
  • Play more. "We unfortunately have a generation of couch potato kitties that have all the benefits of indoor living, but they are being overfed and under-exercised,'' Dr. Becnel says.

Cats live longer when they're kept indoors, but you need to make sure your cat gets up and moving. If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, you'll take an active role in maintaining its health.

Treating Feline Diabetes
Feline diabetes is manageable, through diet and medication. Some veterinarians recommend steering clear of high-carbohydrate foods. Not exceeding your cat's caloric needs is important, says Colleran. For example, an average adult cat should daily receive about 3 ounces of cat food per 3 1/2 pounds of body weight, but check with your veterinarian to see what amounts would be best for your cat.

You'll most likely need to inject your cat with insulin. Don't worry; it's not as hard as it might seem. "Almost everyone cringes at the idea they're going to give their cat a shot,'' says Becnel, "but 99.9 percent are able to give their cats shots successfully.''

Ask your veterinarian to demonstrate several times how to give an injection. Becnel shaves a small area on a cat so that the owner can easily see where to inject the needle, and cat owners practice under her watchful eyes.

The Long-Term Outlook
Although cats that have diabetes are more prone to kidney problems, urinary tract infections and other health-related issues, many can expect to live normal lives. A new type of insulin, glargine, has been particularly effective, say Becnel and Colleran. They're actually seeing some reversals in newly diagnosed cats after treating with glargine and working to control the cats' diets.

Owners who are well-educated on the indicators of diabetes often bring their cats to the veterinarian at the first warning signs. This has helped significantly in the management of the feline diabetes epidemic. "If we can control the blood sugar and get the cat's weight under control, the prognosis is excellent,'' says Becnel. "The large majority now lives for many years."

Kim Boatman is a journalist and frequent contributor to The Daily Catbased in Northern California whose work has appeared in The Miami Herald, the Detroit Free Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She is a lifelong lover of animals and shares her home with three cats.

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Posted on June 23, 2008

Karen Spiegel says: I think it is key to feed cats, especially diabetic cats, high quality mostly meat canned food. Cats are carnivores and it is better that they do not eat dry food which has a lot of grains, etc. Our cat has been diabetic for two years. She was not overweight when she was diagnosed. Now we feed her a half a can of food twice daily with her insulin shots. We noticed that when she has very occasionally eaten dry food her blood sugar level is higher. When your cat has diabetes it can be quite expensive- insulin, syringes and good canned food. With the proper diet though the cat will be healthier, happier and more active.

Posted on February 20, 2008

jean says: Very enlightening article. A lot of information and tips to keep your cats healthy.

Posted on March 10, 2008

anastasia bennett says: My 8 month old cat named boy got sick he throw up clear stuff what's that mean he got a cold. Can cats get cold from people.

Posted on May 7, 2008

Janet DiEva says: Our 10 year female developed Diabeties about 2 years ago. At that time she was overweight and underactive. After her diagnosis she went on insulin twice daily. I began to educate myself in a hurt so I could help our little girls. I found a high protein dry food. The ingredients are of high quality and it is made specifically for special needs pets. This food was a life saver. Our cat grew up eating a dry diet and loved it. I replaced her high carbohydrate dry with the high protein one and she LOVES IT!! When I bring home a new bag I have to give her a little sample. We even give her a small "bedtime snack" of it when we go to bed. This food has helped to keep her stable during the day and it provides good nutrition. I hope you'll give it a try. Lets keep our babies healthy!!!!

Posted on February 19, 2008

Sam says: Is feeding cats some cheese, chicken, or giving them a little bit of milk such a bad thing? They love it and I cant resist their begging eyes! I had a diabetic cat. She was fat with excessive love handles on her. We just thought she was lazy and ate too much. She did eat A LOT. It turns out that she was diabetic, and we gave her shots everyday. It may seem hard to do at first, but knowing you can save the cats lives makes it easier. She died about 3 months after we found out she had diabetes from sudden kidney failure. She died with a smile though. Right before we took her to the vet to put her to rest, I gave her all her favorite foods and took her to her favorite spot.

Posted on February 17, 2008

Ellen says: It does happen, and like with Humans, it can be quite devestating medically. It is hard to control a 'big eater', but worth the effort in the long run. Hang in there if you have a "food crier"!

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