Unfortunately, the answer is "Yes", cats can suffer from high blood sugar. Diabetes mellitus has become an increasingly common condition in cats and often occurs in overweight or senior cats.
1. What is diabetes mellitus?
Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in which the body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to respond normally to insulin, causing blood sugar (glucose) levels to be abnormally high. There are two types of diabetes mellitus – Type 1 and Type 2.
In Type 1 diabetes, blood glucose levels are high because of a decrease in insulin production. There’s not enough insulin to transport blood sugar (glucose) into the cat’s body cells for fuel. The cat’s body cells need glucose from the blood to be burnt off as fuel for energy.
In Type 2 diabetes, glucose levels are high because the body cells do not respond appropriately to insulin. The cat’s body cells are unable to accept the insulin and the glucose that they are transporting. As such, the cells will not have enough glucose for fuel and energy production. Cats most commonly suffer from Type 2 diabetes.
2. Risk factors
Being overweight, increasing age and physical inactivity increase the risk of diabetes development in cats. Obese cats are four times more likely to develop diabetes than normal, ideal-weight cats. Active play, forcing them to climb stairs, cat trees, or shelves will help burn off those excess body fats. Toss their favourite toy down the hall or use a laser pointer to get them chasing and moving. At times when you are busy, the Cheerble WickedBall For Cats, an interactive cat toy that moves by itself, is an excellent way to stimulate your cats hunting instinct and have them chasing after a “prey”.
In general, cats enter their senior years around the age of 12. Most senior cats face a higher risk of obesity due to a slowing metabolism, and inactivity caused by arthritis and osteoarthritis. Obesity can increase the risk of diabetes. To help with weight management, portion-controlled your senior cat’s meal or feed with senior cat food. Senior cat food like Stella & Chewy's Carnivore Cravings in Broth are higher in protein to prevent muscle loss, but lower in carbohydrate content and calories for better weight management in senior cats.
3. Early signs of diabetes
Increased thirst and urination are early signs of diabetes in cats. This is true for both types of diabetes – Types 1 and 2. The increased urination is due to the kidney’s attempt to remove excessive glucose (sugar) from the body through urine. Increased urination leads to water losses, dehydration, and increased thirst. Diabetic cats are prone to urinating outside the litter box too. Due to their excessive thirst and water consumption, they are unable to make it to the litter box always. Use the Simple Solution Stain & Odor Remover to quickly remove stains and odour from carpets, upholstery, bedding, fabric toys, clothing, and other water-safe surfaces. It is made to be safe for use around children and pets when applied as directed.
You may notice an increase in appetite coupled with gradual weight loss. This is also an early sign of diabetes. This happens because the diabetic cat’s body is unable to obtain enough fuel and energy from glucose. As such, the body will start burning off stored body fats and muscles for fuel, leading to weight loss even though the cat may be eating more.
If left untreated, symptoms of late stages of cat diabetes may include muscle weakness, inability to jump, change in gait, and lethargy.
4. Diagnosis and treatment
Excessive urination, thirst, heightened appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and inactivity are symptoms of diabetes mellitus. Should you notice such symptoms, arrange a visit to your vet soonest possible for a proper diagnosis.
The veterinarian will run a blood test and urinalysis, to accurately diagnose diabetes mellitus. Depending on the cat’s signs and symptoms, the vet may suggest an X-ray or ultrasound to look for associated damage or swelling in the pancreas and kidneys. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian may suggest a dietary change, insulin therapy, and other diabetes treatment plan. Insulin therapy may be administered by injection daily.
5. Diet for diabetic cats
Cats are obligate carnivores. Their bodies are designed to digest animal protein and fat. Though they can digest little carbohydrates, excess carbohydrates in some commercial cat food become a problem and can contribute to health issues like obesity and diabetes.
As such, for diabetic cats, it is highly recommended to go on a low carbohydrate diet. Proudi Raw Cat Food is a good choice for diabetic cats. Proudi’s raw cat food contains a minimum of 95% muscle meat, raw edible bone powder, and organs. It’s a high protein, low carbohydrate diet, which is what a diabetic cat would need. Use the feeding guide as a reference range and adjust the amount of food according to your cat’s weight.
Be careful with cat treats. Do not overtreat. Limit treats to not more than 10 percent of a diabetic cat's diet. Choose high protein, low carbohydrate treats. Good options like freeze-dried or air-dried meat, fish, seafood, or organs. Here’s an excellent freeze-dried, high protein treat diabetic cat treats, the Feline Natural Healthy Bites Treats.
6. Monitoring your cat at home
At the beginning of insulin therapy, regular monitoring will help determine the ideal insulin dose for the cat as well as help avoid complications, such as hypoglycaemia. Monitoring is best coordinated in close collaboration with your veterinarian. Discuss with your vet how best to monitor your cat’s condition at home, and what are signs of hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis to look out for.
As a rule, owners of diabetic cats may want to monitor their daily water intake, urine production, appetite, body weight, amount of insulin administered, and possibly blood or urine glucose levels.
As with any chronic disease, prevention is always the preferred route. To lower the risk of diabetes, keep your cat's weight in check and feed a diet that is appropriately portioned for your cat’s age, size, and physical activities. Fortunately, feline diabetes can be managed with proper medication, diet, and exercise. Cats with feline diabetes can go on to live a relatively normal life if their blood sugar level is properly managed.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.