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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.
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Q: Can I prevent my cat from getting diabetes with diet and not letting her get too fat?

A: Nobody can tell you that you can prevent your cat from getting diabetes with diet because those studies haven’t been done. There are some commonly held beliefs, based on a handful of clinical studies, that support the use of low-carbohydrate diets in helping diabetic cats control their blood sugar better. And we do know that obesity is a risk factor. But there also are some breeds of cats that get diabetes more than others do, so that suggests there may be a genetic component involved as well. 

Q: Will it be better for my cat if I cook for her instead of buying her food?

A: It’s hard to make a decent, balanced diet for a cat if you’re cooking it. You have to make sure they get all the amino acids that they need, and their needs are different from dogs and people and other omnivores. You have to know what you’re doing. 

Q: Should I only feed her dry food or just wet food or both?

A: That’s the raging argument right now. It’s fairly controversial. If you think about what a cat’s natural diet would be, they’re carnivores. So the diet they would eat, if they were running around outside eating the animals that they prey upon, would be a very high-protein, very low-carbohydrate diet. So the argument is, that is what they have evolved to eat and that is healthier for them. So why do we have dry food for cats? Because it’s more convenient for people. Some people just don’t like dealing with canned food. And there are a gazillion cats that eat dry food and don’t get diabetes. We see 20-year-old cats that eat dry food. 

Q: Will diabetes shorten my cat’s lifespan?

A: It sure can, because it can be associated with infections, with peripheral nerve disorders, and other problems. If it’s poorly controlled you can get into some pretty severe emergency situations. But I can tell you that we see lots of diabetic cats that are older that are managed for many years and they can get into their late teens. It requires a lifelong, daily commitment, but it’s something that can be done. 

Q: What does it cost to care for a diabetic cat?

A: Most clients probably spend about $20-$30 a month on insulin, syringes, and other supplies. It’s not terribly expensive once it’s being managed. 

Q: What are the newest treatments for feline diabetes?

A: There are newer insulins that are being evaluated. Some of the insulin analogs that are available for treating human diabetics are being looked at in diabetic cats and they have some promise. These provide more blood sugar control, often with fewer side effects. People are constantly trying to find new and better ways to care for diabetic cats.

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Reviewed on April 21, 2012
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