Feline Diabetes Mellitus: Diagnosis, Treatment & Care for Your Cat

If you’re like most cat owners, the concept of any relationship between feline diabetes and dry cat food never crosses your mind. But it should. The harsh reality is that a continuous diet of dry cat food typically leads to serious health concerns like feline obesity and diabetes in cats. Here’s what you need to know if you think your kitty is doing just “fine” on dry food.

Cats Are Obligate Carnivores

What is an obligate carnivore? Simply put, it’s an animal who needs to get her protein from meat, not grains. Proteins are made up of amino acids. Meat contains all the amino acids needed by an obligate carnivore. Grains do not. People and dogs are able to make the missing amino acids, but cats can’t. This is why you can’t make your feline into a vegetarian. You can’t argue with Mother Nature.

The problem is that dry food is made up mostly of grains. Why? Because grains are cheaper than meat, so using more grain is better for the bottom line of the pet food companies.

Don’t be confused by the protein percentage on the dry food bag label. It looks like dry food has more protein in it than canned food does. You have to look at the dry matter basis, which is the accurate way to compare them. On a dry matter basis, canned food has more protein. Also, remember that the type of protein is critical too–whether it comes from grains or from meat.

Too Many Carbohydrates Leads To Feline Obesity

Another problem with grain-based dry food is that they contain too many carbohydrates. In the wild, your kitty would be eating mice and other prey animals. This diet contains only three to five percent carbohydrates. Compare this to dry food that contains 35 to 50 percent. Cheap brands contain even more.

The pet food companies recommend “free feeding,” which means leaving dry food out in a dish for your kitty to nibble on whenever she wants to. Too many carbohydrates plus too much food leads to overweight cats. This problem is becoming an epidemic among the feline population and only leads to health problems like a diabetic cats.

Can You Prevent Feline Diabetes?

Some experts believe that diabetes in cats is a man-made problem that can be avoided completely by feeding kitties the right kind of diet. Since this disease can sometimes be reversed in cats with a change in diet, this may be true. It’s much easier to prevent your pet from becoming a feline diabetic than it is to treat the disease once it’s developed.

Start by feeding your feline friend high-quality canned food. Lots of exercises is essential to burn up extra calories and keep her in top shape. Set aside time for two or three energetic play sessions every day.

Studies have shown that natural remedies for cats are also helpful in preventing diabetes in cats. Look for a product that contains astragalus, goat’s rue, fenugreek, bilberry, and chromium picolinate. These ingredients are effective in maintaining normal blood sugar levels, and they’re safe and effective.

Now that you have this information, what are you waiting for? Start making changes today to prevent feline diabetes.

Diabetes in Cats

The feline form of diabetes mellitus, also known as “sugar diabetes,” is a complicated and prevalent endocrine condition. Either the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin (which is known as type 1 diabetes) or the cells of the body do not respond adequately to insulin (which is known as type 2 diabetes) (type 2 diabetes).

Because diabetic cats are unable to correctly utilize glucose, they eventually acquire hyperglycemia, often known as high blood sugar levels, as well as the subsequent condition known as glucosuria (sugar in the urine).

The glucosuria causes polyuria (an abnormally large amount of urination) as well as polydipsia (excessive thirst). Even when they keep up a healthy appetite, diabetic cats nevertheless experience weight loss. This is because the tissues in their bodies are unable to adequately utilize glucose.

Progression of the disease ultimately leads to further metabolic disturbances and causes vomiting, loss of appetite, weakness, and dehydration.

Although affecting cats of any breed, sex, or age, diabetes mellitus most often occurs in older, obese individuals; males are more commonly afflicted than females.

The exact cause of the disease in cats is not known, although genetic predisposition, obesity, pancreatic disease, hormonal imbalances, and certain medications have all been incriminated.

After a period of time, a small percentage of diabetic cats lose their requirement for specific therapy with either insulin or hypoglycemic medications.

Signs of Diabetes Mellitus

Polyuria, polydipsia, increased appetite, and weight loss are hallmark signs of diabetes mellitus in cats. In the earlier stages of the disease, cats remain active and alert with few other signs of disease. However, as the disease progresses, poor skin and hair coat, liver disease, and secondary bacterial infections become more common.

An infrequent disorder called diabetic neuropathy may cause cats to become progressively weaker in the rear legs and assume a unique, plantigrade stance. A dangerous condition called ketoacidosis may develop in some cats. Signs of ketoacidosis include a loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, dehydration, and breathing abnormalities.

Without proper and prompt treatment, this condition ultimately proves fatal.


Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed based on the cat’s clinical signs, physical examination findings, laboratory test results, and the persistent presence of abnormally high amounts of sugar in the blood and urine.


Proper treatment of diabetes mellitus is based on the severity of the disorder. Cats with ketoacidosis require intensive care.

Treatment includes fluid therapy to correct dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities and short-acting insulin. Diabetic cats that are not ill usually require insulin injections to be given once or twice daily under the skin, and a carefully controlled diet. As an alternative to insulin, treatment with an oral hypoglycemic drug (see below) may be attempted.

  • Insulin

Adequate control of most diabetic cats requires long-acting insulin injections to be given once or twice daily.

Each cat responds differently to insulin, so the proper choice of insulin type, dose, and frequency of administration needs to be individually determined.

Selection of the appropriate insulin type, dose, and frequency of administration for an individual diabetic cat is ideally based on 18- to 24-hour blood glucose profiles.

In order to perform a glucose profile, the cat is hospitalized, and following insulin administration, frequent determinations of blood glucose values are made throughout the day. The proper dose of insulin may change with time and may need to be adjusted based on blood glucose profiles, intermittent blood and urine sugar measurements, and response to therapy.

Overdosage of insulin causes hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Signs of this potentially dangerous complication include weakness, listlessness, incoordination, convulsions and coma.

Left untreated, death may result. If hypoglycemia develops, the cat should immediately be offered its normal food if it is able to eat. Alternatively, a tablespoon of Karo syrup should be rubbed on the gums or, if the cat can swallow, given slowly by syringe into the mouth.

Never force fingers, food, or fluids into the mouth of a convulsing or comatose cat. Your veterinarian should be contacted immediately if your cat experiences an episode of hypoglycemia so that further treatment instructions can be given and a modification of insulin administration, if necessary, can be made.

Cats requiring excessively high insulin doses (greater than one to two units of insulin per pound per day) should be evaluated further. Other diseases may be underlying or complicating the diabetes mellitus and as a result, necessitate high insulin dosages.

Problems with insulin injection, poor absorption or too rapid metabolism of insulin, or even insulin overdose are potential causes of an apparently excessive insulin requirement.

  • Oral Hypoglycemic Medications

Healthy diabetic cats can sometimes be successfully treated with hypoglycemic medication, glipizide. Glipizide acts by lowering blood glucose, but unlike insulin, it is given orally. Adverse side effects are not common but include vomiting, loss of appetite, and liver damage. If hyperglycemia persists after one or two months of therapy, or if the cat becomes ill or has ketoacidosis, glipizide therapy should be discontinued and insulin therapy instituted.

  • Diet

Obese diabetic cats should lose weight gradually, with no more than 3 percent of their body weight loss per week. Your veterinarian will help in tailoring a safe weight-loss program for your cat. High fiber, high complex carbohydrate diets are useful, not only by assisting in weight loss but by helping to control blood glucose levels after eating.

Underweight diabetic cats should be fed a high-fiber diet only after reaching their ideal body weight after being fed a high-calorie diet.

Cats receiving insulin once daily should be fed half the daily food requirement at the time of the injection and the remaining half at the time of peak insulin activity (as determined by a blood glucose profile).

If receiving twice daily insulin injections, cats should be fed half the daily ration at each administration. Cats receiving oral hypoglycemic medication should be fed a high-fiber diet, but ideally as multiple small meals consumed throughout the day.

  • Home Care

Topics to be thoroughly discussed with your veterinarian include:

  1. Insulin storage and handling
  2. Insulin administration
  3. Signs and treatment of hypoglycemia
  4. Diet Monitoring at home
  • Prognosis

Managing a diabetic cat requires good communication between you and your veterinarian. A diabetic cat may live many healthy years with owners who are willing to put forth the effort of monitoring the cat’s condition daily.

Cats tend to be difficult to maintain on the same regimen for long periods of time, and increases or decreases may need to be made in drug dosages.

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