Cats are creatures of habit, which is why changes in behavior are so alarming to owners. If you’ve noticed your cat suddenly lapping up water like it’s been in the desert for days and you’ve been needing to change the litter in the litter box more frequently because your cat appears to be peeing constantly, you should be on high alert.
Increased thirst and urination are two of the major signs of feline diabetes. While you aren’t able to diagnose your cat with this information alone, these two major red flags should help you get your cat into the vet as soon as possible to be tested. Quick diagnosis and treatment are instrumental in helping your cat live a long, happy life.
Understanding feline diabetes
Diabetes is a condition in which the body cannot produce enough insulin, a hormone responsible for breaking down sugars the body uses for energy (glucose). When insulin levels are too low, blood glucose will rise.
Insulin attaches to cells within the bloodstream and provides a signal that allows the cell to absorb glucose molecules and turn it into energy. In doing so, glucose levels are reduced in the bloodstream and the body is able to function properly.
There are two types of feline diabetes, similar to those found in humans. Type I occurs when the cat’s body does not produce enough insulin, which means the cells do not receive their signals to absorb glucose. Type II diabetes occurs when the cells do not respond properly to insulin and thus do not take in glucose. Both types result in high blood sugar levels in cats. Diabetes is not extremely common in cats, but most suffer from Type II diabetes.
High blood sugar levels can be detrimental to other parts of your cat’s health. Excessively high blood glucose has been linked to heart, liver and kidney disease, blindness and an increased risk of infection.
Dehydration and frequent urination are two of the tell-tale signs of feline diabetes. When the body has a lot of glucose leftover, it will try to expel as much as possible out through urination. Because there is so much glucose in the urine, the kidneys will pull extra water from the body to compensate, which causes dehydration and a need to drink excessively to make up that water loss.
Weight loss is another sign. Because the cells are unable to take in the body’s available source of energy, the body starts to break down the stored fats and sugars in your cat to fuel the cells. This results in rapid weight loss.
To diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will need to test your cat’s blood and/or urine for glucose concentrations.
Treatment options for feline diabetes
The main way to treat feline diabetes is by giving your cat routine insulin shots to supplement its body with the insulin it is missing. Ongoing treatment will include monitoring your cat’s blood glucose levels, providing insulin and taking care of peripheral effects of diabetes.
- Insulin injections: Veterinarian-approved insulin injections will likely be necessary to help your cat adjust its insulin and blood glucose levels to normal. Owners of cats with diabetes will need to learn how to perform insulin injections on their cats and also get used to regularly monitoring their cat’s blood glucose levels.
- Regulate blood sugar with supplements: Natural supplements designed to help maintain even levels of blood sugar can help bolster the body’s ability to reduce blood sugar and keep your cat feeling comfortable and healthy.
- Help your cat maintain a healthy weight: Feline obesity is one of the risk factors associated with feline diabetes. If your cat is overweight, work with your vet to develop a regimen to help your cat lose weight as needed. You must be careful, though, since weight loss is a common symptom of diabetes. You don’t want your cat to lose too much weight. If your cat was underweight when it was diagnosed, then you may need to develop a feeding regimen that allows your cat to eat multiple times a day or as often as it wants to gain weight again.
- Change your cat’s diet: Diabetic cats usually need to be fed a very low-carb, high-protein diet. Dry foods, in particular, have high levels of grains or other carbohydrates that can make your cat’s blood glucose level spike and drop dramatically throughout the day. Canned, protein-rich food can help alleviate these fluctuations and maintain a more regular blood sugar level.
- Protect the urinary tract: With all that extra thirst and urination, cats with diabetes are more susceptible to bladder and urinary tract infections. Using a supplement to regulate the urinary tract and keep it clean can mitigate these potential infections.
Diabetic cats will require ongoing support and care from their owners, but in time, a routine will develop that will be easy and simple for both the cat and owner. Make sure to continue to consult your vet about your cat’s status and help it maintain healthy routines to keep your cat comfortable.