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Diabetes mellitus, or “sugar diabetes,” is a disease of the pancreas that results in the body’s inability to either make or use insulin. The pancreas is a small organ located near the stomach, very much like the pancreas in humans. The pancreas provides two functions. One is to produce enzymes that help with digestion. The other is the production of the hormone insulin, which aids in sugar metabolism. This hormone is produced by a group of cells referred to as beta-cells.
There are two types of feline diabetes mellitus, just as in humans. Type-1 diabetes results from total or near complete destruction of the beta-cells. This is rarely seen in cats. In the case of type-2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces some insulin, but it is not quite enough to meet the body’s demand. This is the most common form of diabetes seen in the cat. Diabetes mellitus is the second most common endocrine disease in cats, affecting approximately one in 400 cats. It is seen frequently in middle- to old-age cats and affects male cats more than female cats. In recent years, veterinarians have noticed an increase in the number of feline diabetics. This is likely due the overwhelming issue of obesity among cats.
The most common clinical sign a diabetic cat may exhibit is an increase in water consumption. Often these cats will consume large amounts of water in one sitting. They also will try and seek out alternative water sources such as: drinking out of the sink, jumping up on the bathroom vanity when someone is using the sink, drinking out of the bathtub, and in extreme cases drinking out of the toilet. Outdoor cats can also show an increased demand for water, but often they find water outside so it is more difficult to notice. Cats that may have diabetes may also begin to lose weight despite a very good appetite, and often they are frequently looking for more food.
The diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is made based on the clinical signs, persistently elevated blood glucose levels, and also the presence of glucose in urine. Typically your family veterinarian will run a blood panel that includes a complete blood count, chemistry profile and urinalysis. A definitive diagnosis may not always be made by the initial panels, and it is sometimes necessary to run an additional test called a fructosamine level. Fructosamine is a protein in the blood that binds to glucose. This test becomes very helpful with future monitoring of insulin therapy as it is not affected by stress, unlike a simple blood glucose level. Stress alone can falsely elevate a cat’s blood sugar.
Diabetes mellitus is a manageable condition; however it requires commitment on the part of a cat owner. Obese cats are more prone to developing diabetes and therefore weight reduction is often very helpful in managing the disease. In addition to a well-balanced diet, cats may require once or twice daily insulin injections under their skin. The needles are very small and cause no pain to the cat. Cats require frequent follow-up by a veterinarian to evaluate overall improvement and monitor blood values. It is possible that, with weight reduction and insulin therapy, a cat’s insulin dose may be lowered over times. With aggressive diet management and proper insulin therapy it is possible for the cat’s pancreas to start secreting insulin again, allowing cats no longer to need injections.
Diabetes in a cat is certainly not a death sentence. Cats with this condition live much longer than they used to, so I encourage cat owners to follow through with treatment.
For more information visit www.mycathasdiabetes.com.