Diabetes in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention


This article is written by Pet Circle's qualified veterinarians, Dr Joey Koh and Dr Gillian Hill

What is Diabetes?
What causes Diabetes?
The Best Food for Diabetic Cats
Monitoring Diabetes
Further reading

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that occurs when when there is a failure to regulate blood sugar and inability to utilise glucose as an energy source by the body. The pancreas is an a small organ located near the stomach, containing beta cells that produces this hormone essential for controlling sugar levels in the blood.

Insulin is produced by the pancreas. Insulin regulates the glucose (sugar) level in the blood, and controls the delivery of glucose to the tissues. There are also other factors that can contribute to resistance of the effect of insulin as well, which also increases the sugar levels in our blood!

What causes Diabetes?

In cats, diabetes can be commonly caused by deposition of amyloid (a type of protein) in the pancreas. Other factors that can contribute to insulin resistance are obesity, concurrent endocrine diseases (eg. Cushings), pancreatitis and certain drugs (eg. progestogens and steroids). The most common type of diabetes in cats is type 2 - where insulin producing cells remain, but either the amount of insulin is insufficient, or tissues in the body are resistant to it. Obesity is a major factor in this type and it occurs more frequently in middle aged to older cats.

Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats

cat drinking from tap

Symptoms of diabetes in cats include:

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss often despite a ravenous appetite
  • Hindlimb weakness (can occasionally occur in cats!)

  • Poor hair coat quality

Diagnosis of Diabetes in Cats

blood tubes

Your veterinarian would first conduct a physical examination and ask questions regarding our water/food intake, and the first step would be a urine dipstick test to screen for presence of glucose in our urine. There would also be increased levels of glucose in the blood as well.

In cats, increased levels of sugar in bloods can be common so that must be differentiated from true high glucose blood levels. Definitive confirmation can be done with a serum fructosamine test. The test measures the average blood glucose levels over the past two weeks.

Early signs can be difficult to detect, especially in cats that spend lots of time outdoors. Cats on wet food diets receive their water intake from food, which makes an increased water intake harder to recognize!

Treatment of Diabetes in Cats

cat having injection

Managing your cats diabetes, and maintaining a good quality of life for them is very possible! It is important to be aware of the implications of treatment as it requires some level of commitment. Diet and daily exercise routines need to be kept constant, and insulin injections may be required twice daily for life. Your vet will be able to provide guidance on how to best give daily insulin injections. Several hospital visits may be required until the appropriate insulin dose is found. There are home glucose monitoring devices available as well which can be discussed with your regular veterinarian.

There are several potential complications to be aware of with the treatment of diabetes, especially low blood sugar levels. Monitoring of water intake, appetite and weight is useful, and periodic measurement of blood sugars is useful to monitor control.

Signs of low blood sugar in cats include:
  • Weakness
  • Listlessness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Seizure activity

If you notice these signs in a cat receiving insulin injections, provide them some food, or rub some syrup onto their gums, and have them immediately seen by a vet.

Some cats with mild disease can be managed conservatively with a high protein diet, low carbohydrate diet such as Hill's m/d or Royal Canin Diabetic, weight loss, and oral medications. This however, is only possible in small proportion of cats. Also, as obesity is a big contributing factor for diabetes in cats, reaching an ideal weight may actually lead to resolution of diabetes in some cats.

Best Food for Diabetic Cats

All diabetic cats benefit from a well balanced diet that is high in protein and relatively low in carbohydrates to reduce the amount of glucose readily absorbed from the intestinal tract into the blood stream, which then lowers the requirement for insulin.

Top Therapeutic Diets for Diabetes Management

These are prescription diet specially formulated for diabetic cats. It is necessary to speak to your vet prior to feeding these diets as they will affect the insulin dosage required.

Therapeutic Weight Loss diets for cats

The best option for diabetes management is prevention! Here are some weight management options available, that are low fat and diabetic friendly. These are often the best option for overweight, diabetic cats, as weight loss may lead to remission of diabetes. Once again, as these are prescription diets, it is necessary to speak to your vet prior to feeding.

Non-prescription Weight Management Diets

Shop All Weight Loss foods for Cats

Long-term Diabetic Monitoring

Ongoing monitoring at home and in clinic is important, to ensure good diabetic control for your cat, and increase the chance of remission.

At home monitoring includes:
  • Time of insulin dosage
  • Amount of insulin administered
  • Amount and time of food and water intake

An easy way to monitor water intake is to fill your cat's water bowl with a set amount of water, then measure the amount left 24 hours later. It's important to advise your vet of significant changes to water intake, as well as any loss or increase in appetite, weakness, vomiting or diarrhoea ASAP.

Your vet will advise the best frequency of blood glucose checks for your cat. This may involve a day in clinic for a blood glucose curve, a blood test to check fructosamine levels, or at home glucose monitoring.

Rest assured that for most cats with diabetes, long term management and good quality of life can be easily maintained, to ensure that you have many wonderful years together with your fur-baby.

Further Reading

New Kitten Guide

Stress and Anxiety in Cats

Dental Care for Kittens

What are the Best Cat Treats?

Flea, Tick and Worming Guide for Cats