Diabetic Cats

Cats and their humans share diabetes treatments…

It’s a good thing for cats that sugar diabetes is a common human disease. Not only are pet owners more likely to treat a familiar illness, but access to human drugs and equipment makes it much cheaper.

About one in every 14 Canadians has diabetes. Statistics for cats are quoted as one in 400 and one in 200 for dogs, but the numbers are probably not too accurate when you consider how many pets get euthanized without any testing. Regardless, it’s a complicated disease that vets deal with a lot and it no longer surprises me when pet owners say, “Yup, I know all about it. My aunt/son/father has diabetes.”

Last week, I diagnosed another kitty with diabetes and the owner himself has the condition. There was no question we would treat and the lucky cat should be easy to regulate. His owner is going to test his blood sugar at home with his own equipment. Cats tested at the hospital rarely do as well. The adrenalin produced by carriers and cages, not to mention white coats cause even normal cats’ sugar levels to skyrocket , confusing the whole picture before we even pull out our needles. It will cost only $1 for each test at home, compared to about $25 in hospital and a cat might be tested dozens of times in her life.

My new diabetic duo won’t be able to share their insulin, but kitty will be on a human product, using needles also made for people. If cats were the only species to get diabetes, we wouldn’t have the choices of insulin now available and costs would be significantly higher.

Actually there are a lot of similarities between feline and human diabetics, particularly with regard to response to treatment. If cats are treated quickly for the condition, with close attention to diet, they may no longer need insulin. The trick to maintaining control is feeding a low carbohydrate diet, weight management and promoting regular exercise disguised as playtime. Sound familiar?

Since it’s really hard to produce a low carb dry food, diabetic cats generally do best on canned diets. If your cat is a dry-food addict, this might pose a problem, but it’s possible to make the transition. Of course, all of this becomes more complicated in multicat households.

Fortunately, diabetic cats aren’t usually at risk for getting cataracts or many of the other human complications such as heart and kidney disease. Dogs with diabetes almost invariably need insulin treatment for life and are highly likely to develop cataracts, leading to blindness.

Dogs, cats and humans all share the common warning signs of diabetes, excessive thirst and urination. Appetite is usually increased, although in more advanced cases food may be refused. Inevitably, the patient loses weight, but since many adult diabetics of any species are overweight, at first this may be celebrated as successful dieting.

If your chubby cat – you know, the one that has resisted all efforts at weight loss – suddenly starts to look thinner, it’s probably time for a vet visit.

For more on diabetes in pets, click on this link: Veterinary Partner’s Diabetes Centre.

Dr. Fiona Gilchrist
Hillcrest Animal Hospital – Quinte West/Trenton
June 2013