Diabetes is a disease whereby the body’s insulin levels are insufficient to balance out sugar in the blood.
This tends to occur either as a result of the body being unable to produce enough insulin, or from the body failing to respond appropriately to the insulin being produced.
While diabetes is a reasonably well-known disease in humans, it seems to be becoming increasingly common in domestic cats. It has been estimated that up to 2% of cats may be suffering from diabetes.
The impact of diabetes in cats differs by the severity and level of care offered by owners and veterinary surgeons. On the one hand, diabetes that is left untreated can be a serious and debilitating disease, potentially resulting in coma or even death.
On the other hand, most cases of diabetes in cats can be successfully treated, either through lifestyle changes or the injection of insulin, whereupon an affected cat can be expected to live a long and healthy life.
As a result it is critical that all cat owners should recognize the symptoms of diabetes in cats in order to facilitate rapid diagnosis and treatment.
The current evidence suggests that cats are not equally at risk of suffering from diabetes. While it can occur in cats of any age or lifestyle, there are some factors which seem to greatly increase the odds of suffering from the disease.
Firstly, diabetes in cats tends to be most prevalent among older individuals; those from middle-age onwards are more likely to be affected than younger cats.
Secondly, cats which are significantly overweight or live a more sedentary lifestyle (such as house cats) tend to suffer far more frequently than cats of a suitable weight or those being encouraged (or allowed) to exercise on a regular basis.
Thirdly it seems that male cats are far more likely to suffer from diabetes than females, and that neutered cats seem to be particularly at risk.
Lastly there is some evidence to suggest that certain types of cats may be more likely to suffer from diabetes. Burmese cats in particular seem especially prone to diagnoses of diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Cats suffering from diabetes may display a range of different symptoms; some are far more commonly experienced than others. Thus, while cat owners should focus their attention on the more common symptoms, less frequently-encountered signs may also give an indication of diabetes.
It is also important to mention that “sudden-onset” diabetes is quite uncommon among cats. Instead the disease tends to grow in severity over time, meaning that many cats go some months between contraction and diagnosis. For this reason owners should be on the lookout for even subtle signs which could indicate a cause for concern.
Common Signs of Diabetes in Cats
One of the most common symptoms of diabetes in cats is an increase in the volume or frequency of urination. In extreme cases this can result in cats failing to get to the litter tray in time. Thus if a house-trained cat is found to be visiting the litter tray more often, or urinating around the home, this may suggest a diagnosis of diabetes.
The increase in urination has another impact; your cat is likely to start consuming far more water than is usual. Some cats develop a near-obsession with fluids, and may be found hanging around in the bathroom or suchlike, looking for an opportunity to drink.
This is arguably one of the most obvious ways to spot signs of diabetes in cats; if you find yourself refilling the water bowl far more frequently than usual then this may suggest a case of diabetes.
Weight Loss or Gain
Diabetic cats struggle to suitably utilize the glucose consumed in their food. As a result affected individuals may lose weight even if their appetite remains normal. Weight gain is occasionally observed, but is far less common. All the same, if you notice that you cat is gaining or losing significant weight over a short period of time this may be cause for concern.
Lastly diabetic cats often need to eat far more than usual if they are to maintain their former energy levels. If you cat wolfs down its food, or always seems to be on the prowl for extra meals then this too could signify a worry.
Other Signs of Diabetes in Cats
Poor Coat Condition
A cat that is suffering from diabetes often fails to get the necessary nutrition from the food it consumes. This can have all manner of impacts, such as general weakness and lethargy, but possibly the most visible of these is a worsening coat condition. If you cat’s formerly glossy and luxurious coat becomes dry and lacklustre then take note!
Weakness in Back Legs
An unusual symptom of diabetes in cats can be weakening of the back legs. This can result in cats walking with a “hunch”, or with the rear end held low. In extreme cases diabetic cats may change how they walk. If you’ve been watching your cat and noticing that their back legs aren’t being used like normal then this may suggest diabetes is on the cards.
Lastly the volume of water being processed by diabetic cats can lead to uncomfortable bladder infections. Thus if your cat appears to be in discomfort when using its litter tray this too should be of concern.
As stated earlier, not all cats with diabetes will display all of the above symptoms. However the more of these signs you observe in your pet, the more probable a diagnosis of diabetes is likely to be.
Note that the above points are really only “hints”; a definite diagnosis of diabetes can only be made by your vet. This may involve drawing blood and/or urine samples to check for excessive levels of glucose, or scans to look for an enlarged liver; another common sign of diabetes in cats.