Somewhere around 1% of all cats will eventually suffer from diabetes. Diabetes is a disease in which the body produces excess levels of glucose, either because not enough of the hormone insulin is being produced (Type I) or because the body’s not responding to the insulin appropriately (Type II.)
Type II feline diabetes is the most common type, and it develops over time. The good news is, cats with diabetes have a lot of treatment options and many are able to live long, healthy lives.
How can you tell whether or not your cat is showing signs of diabetes? Here’s what to look for.
1. Drastic Weight Loss
Weight loss is perhaps the most common sign of feline diabetes. When a cat’s body can’t process insulin correctly, cells aren’t able to absorb glucose. Since glucose is an important source of energy for cats, the body then begins to break down fats and proteins to feed its glucose-starved cells. It’s especially important to note whether your cat’s weight loss happens in tandem with regular eating (or even with an increase in appetite) as this is a surefire sign your cat’s energy processing system isn’t functioning correctly.
2. Increased Thirst and Urination
In cats (and in people!) a sharp uptick in thirst and/or urination can be an early warning sign of developing diabetes. As a cat’s body produces excess glucose, more of it enters the urine. High levels of glucose can actually pull additional water into the urine, making the volume much higher than normal. A urinalysis to test for glucose concentration is one of the most definitive ways to test for diabetes in cats.
Cats with diabetes can’t properly use all the calories they’re consuming, even if they’re eating more than normal. In turn, they may appear listless, tired, or less energetic than normal. A cat with undiagnosed diabetes may begin to lose muscle mass and show apathy towards physical exercise. They may even stop grooming to conserve energy, appearing greasy or disheveled.
In some rare instances, feline diabetes can begin to affect the central nervous system. This can result in a condition called “diabetic neuropathy” where a cat walks with its hocks touching the ground. Any substantial changes in your cat’s gait should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
How Do Cats Develop Diabetes?
It’s a good question. Just as in humans, there are a number of risk factors that make cats more likely to develop diabetes. Obesity, physical inactivity, being male, and old age all make a cat more likely to become diabetic.
Testing to determine whether a cat has diabetes is not always a straightforward process. Although testing the blood and/or urine for elevated glucose levels is a good start, stress – like the kind many cats experience at the vet’s office – can throw off readings. In some cases, veterinarians will measure the concentration of a molecule called fructosamine in the blood to further prove a case a chronic diabetes.
Treating Diabetes in Cats
If you have any reason to suspect your cat has developed diabetes or is even at risk of developing the disease, talk to your veterinarian. There are many different treatment options available depending on the severity of the case, and not all involve medication. From insulin therapy to weight management, you have options.