By: Dr. Jane Matheys
The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital
For Pets Best Insurance
Diabetes mellitus, otherwise known as just plain “diabetes,” is a serious disease in which a cat’s body either doesn’t produce insulin or doesn’t properly use insulin. During digestion, the fats, carbohydrates and proteins that are consumed in the diet are broken down into smaller components that can be utilized by cells in the body. One component is glucose, or blood sugar, a fuel that provides the energy needed to sustain life. Because diabetes can be a very serious and very expensive condition, you should research the best pet insurance for your cat, and purchase a policy that will cover this condition.
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and is responsible for regulating the flow of glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body. Without an adequate amount of insulin, glucose is unable to get into the cells and it accumulates in the blood. When insulin is deficient, the cells become starved for a source of energy. In response to this, the body starts breaking down stores of fat and protein to use as alternate energy sources. As a consequence, the cat eats more. Therefore, a cat can have weight loss despite an increased or ravenous appetite.
The body tries to eliminate the excess glucose in the blood by eliminating it in the urine. However, glucose attracts water, so urine glucose takes large quantities of the body’s fluids with it, resulting in a large amount of urine. To avoid dehydration, the cat will drink more water. Thus you will see a cat with diabetes exhibit four classical signs of the disease: weight loss, increased appetite, increased water consumption, and increased urination. When these symptoms present themselves, it’s important to get your cat to your veterinarian right away. Having cat insurance can help diminish sometimes high costs in diagnosing this condition.
Two types of diabetes mellitus have been discovered in cats. In Type I diabetes, the cat’s body generates little to no insulin due to an insufficient number of pancreatic cells capable of producing insulin. This is the most common type of feline diabetes and is also known as Insulin Dependent Diabetes. As the name implies, cats with this type require insulin injections to stabilize blood sugar. In Type II diabetes, the pancreas may produce insulin, but the body’s cells have difficulty making efficient use of it. This is called “insulin resistance.” Most cats with Type II diabetes eventually progress to Type I and require insulin also. During September’s Pet Health Insurance Month, watch for signs and symptoms of either form of diabetes in your kitty.
While diabetes can affect any cat, it most often occurs in older or obese animals. Because of this, it’s a good idea to get your cat signed up for pet health insurance while they are young– so issues, like diabetes, that develop later in life, will be covered. Unfortunately, since the incidence if obesity is rising in our pets, the incidence of diabetes is increasing also, similar to the trend seen in people. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Obesity is the major predisposing condition, but chronic pancreatitis, other hormonal diseases and certain medications, such as steroids, have all been linked to the disease.
In addition to increased thirst and urination and weight loss, some affected cats may also exhibit a flat-footed gait with their hind feet, rather than walking up on their paws. This condition is called diabetic neuropathy, and is a result of prolonged high blood glucose on the cat’s nerves. Most diabetic cats remain bright and alert. owever, if an owner has not recognized the signs of diabetes early, a condition called ketoacidosis can develop and the cat may become very ill if medical care is not sought. Cats in this situation may become depressed, weak and dehydrated. They may also experience vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and severe weight loss. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the signs of diabetes so the condition can be recognized and treated early.
In addition to performing physical examinations, veterinarians will use laboratory analyses of blood and urine samples to diagnose diabetes mellitus. Occasionally, frightened or stressed cats may also have a fairly high blood glucose level which can be confused with diabetes. A specialized test, called a fructosamine test, can distinguish between the two and can also be very helpful in understanding difficult cases.
Treating diabetes is usually a rewarding endeavor, and a diabetic cat can live many healthy years. All diabetic cats do best with consistent medication, consistent feeding, and a stable, stress-free lifestyle.
The first step in treatment is to alter your cat’s diet. Cats are obligate carnivores. hey have very little requirement for carbohydrates. Canned diets high in protein and low in carbohydrate are preferred because of how cats digest and metabolize their food. For some cats, this type of diet alone may control the disease. For many other cats, this diet may at least decrease the amount of insulin the cat needs to control the diabetes. It is important to keep this in mind so that your cat does not get too much insulin. If your cat is overweight, you will need to help him lose weight gradually. Your veterinarian can help you choose the best diet for your cat, and can tailor a safe weight loss program.
Most diabetic cats require insulin injections administered under the skin twice daily. Although many people are initially fearful of giving insulin injections, for most cats, injections are much easier than giving tablets, and both the cat and the owner handle it very well.
Several types of insulin are used in cats. Some are made for use in humans and obtained from regular pharmacies, while others are made for pets and obtained through your veterinarian. The current recommended insulin in cats is a human insulin called glargine. Recent studies indicate that newly diagnosed diabetic cats started on glargine insulin and a high protein/low carbohydrate canned diet have a higher likelihood of eventually going into remission and no longer requiring insulin. While some cats may return to insulin dependence in the future, they can have many months or even years when insulin is not required. Owners will be instructed by their veterinarian about the techniques to properly handle and administer insulin injections.
It is necessary to check your diabetic cat’s progress on a regular basis. Monitoring is a joint project between you and your veterinarian. At home, you’ll need to be constantly aware of your cat’s appetite, weight, water consumption and urine output. It is important to feed a consistent amount of food each day so you can be aware of days that your cat either does not eat or is unusually hungry after feeding. Any significant change in your cat’s food intake, weight, water intake or urine output is an indicator that the diabetes is not well controlled, and you should contact your veterinarian.
Your cat’s blood glucose levels will also need to be monitored periodically to make sure the diabetes is regulated. This can be done at the veterinary clinic or you can be taught to do it at home by getting a tiny blood sample from your cat’s ear vein. The glucose readings obtained at home will be more accurate because of the reduced stress to your cat.
The most serious complication of insulin therapy is hypoglycemia or low blood sugar, usually at the peak of insulin activity. The cat will become weak, lethargic and disoriented and may stagger on its feet. Left untreated, this situation may progress to seizures and, in rare cases, even death. If mild signs are observed, feed the cat immediately or give 1 tablespoon of Karo syrup by mouth and consult your veterinarian. If severe symptoms occur, rub Karo syrup onto the cat’s gums and seek emergency veterinary care immediately. Never put food or liquid down the throat of an unconscious or seizuring cat, as it may accidentally enter the airways.
Beyond the monetary cost of diagnosing, stabilizing, treating and maintaining a diabetic cat, with the help of cat insurance, there is a time commitment required of owners. Such a commitment may seem daunting at first, but it can be very rewarding for both owner and cat. It will add to the quality of life and is paid back in years of healthy companionship.