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Feline Diabetes: Symptoms, Treatments, Prevention, and Diet Tips

Thomas Graves and WebMD team up to provide feline diabetes information and tips for treatment or prevention.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature
Reviewed by Audrey Cook, BVM&S

An alarming number of cats are developing diabetes mellitus, which is the inability to produce enough insulin to balance blood sugar, or glucose, levels. Left untreated, it can lead to weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, severe depression, problems with motor function, coma, and even death. To find out why so many cats are being diagnosed with diabetes, and what owners can do, WebMD talked to Thomas Graves, a former feline practitioner who is associate professor and section head of small animal medicine at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. Graves’ research focus is on diabetes and geriatric medicine. 

Q: How common is feline diabetes?

A: The true incidence isn’t known, but it’s estimated at 0.5% to 2% of the feline population. But it’s also probably under diagnosed. 

Q: What are the signs of diabetes in cats?

A: The main symptoms are increased thirst and increased urination. And while we do see it in cats with appropriate body weight, it’s more common in obese cats. Some cats with diabetes have a ravenous appetite because their bodies cannot use the fuel supplied in their diet. 

Q: What’s the treatment for a cat with feline diabetes?

A: Diet is certainly a component. It’s felt that a low-carbohydrate diet is probably best for cats with diabetes. Treatment is insulin therapy. There are some oral medications, but they have more side effects and are mainly used when insulin can’t be used for some reason. There are blood and urine tests, physical examinations, and behavioral signals, which are used to establish insulin therapy. This is done in conjunction with your veterinarian. We don’t recommend owners adjust insulin therapy on their own because it can be sort of complicated in cats. Most patients come in every three or four months. It’s a good thing to make sure nothing else is going on. 

Q: Will I have to test my cat’s blood every day and give her shots?

A: Usually the blood tests are done during the regular visits with your veterinarian, although people can do them if they’d like. But the owners will have to give their cat shots. People are often afraid of that whole thing. But once you teach an owner how to do it properly, it’s something people find quite easy. Many people even find it a bit empowering, that they can do something like that to help their pet. 

Q: If caught early enough, can my cat be cured of diabetes?

A: It’s usually not cured. Some cats, when you start treating their diabetes and you get their blood sugar under control and get them on a reasonable diet and get them in a better body condition, their diabetes actually goes into remission or partial remission. There are cats that stay that way for many months. Some might even stay that way for years. It can happen. But for the most part diabetes is a disease that we control and don’t really cure. 

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