Here's What You Need To Know About Cat Diabetes

Signs, causes and treatment of diabetes in cats.

cat diabetes

Did you know that cats can suffer from diabetes?

It’s estimated that between 0.2 percent and 1 percent of cats will be diagnosed with diabetes during their lifetime, according to Cornell Feline Health Center.

We spoke with Dr. Sara Ochoa, a small-animal veterinarian in Texas and consultant for DogLab, Dr. Abigail Hooker, a veterinarian for The Cat Doctor, a cats-only veterinary practice in Philadelphia, and Dr. Megan Conrad, a veterinarian for Hello Ralphie, to find out more about cat diabetes: how the disease develops, warning signs of diabetes in cats, and how to best treat the condition if your cat is given this diagnosis.

Here’s what you need to know about diabetes in cats.

What causes diabetes in cats?

Formally known as diabetes mellitus, diabetes in cats develops because of an imbalance of insulin, which is the hormone that helps control the body’s blood sugar level and metabolism. When your cat’s body doesn’t make enough insulin, stops making it or has an abnormal response to insulin, diabetes can occur.

Type 1 diabetes in cats occurs when there is too much glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream, and the body is unable to make insulin. Cats primarily suffer from Type II diabetes, which occurs when there are high levels of glucose, but the body isn’t responding to insulin. Unfortunately, this is primarily because obesity in cats is actually super common.

In a recent survey of veterinarians by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 73 percent said that obesity was "one of the most prevalent conditions" they see, with as many as 44 percent of cats carrying excess body weight.

Dr. Hooker told The Dodo, “In addition to obesity, other causes of Type II diabetes in cats include advanced age (diabetes is more common in cats over the age of 7) and [neutering] males, though we also commonly see diabetes in both male and female cats.”

What are the signs of diabetes in cats?

Many cats who have diabetes will simply not feel well. Here are some of the most common signs that you may notice in a cat who has diabetes, according to Dr. Ochoa:

  • Your cat may be drinking a lot of water
  • Frequent or inappropriate urination (outside of litter box)
  • You may be cleaning their litter box more frequently due to the increase in urination
  • Increased appetite with unexpected weight loss
  • Your cat may be very lethargic
  • Vomiting or diarrhea

“Some owners first notice a change when they find their cat drinking from the toilet bowl, or walking with their heels down in a plantigrade stance,” Dr. Hooker said.

Plantigrade stance, or rear-leg weakness, occurs when the rear paws contact the ground from the toes to the hock (aka the extra joint that cats have at the back of their hind legs), or where the hocks are noticeably lower.

How do you treat diabetes in cats?

If your cat has diabetes, your vet will most likely prescribe them insulin injections. “Insulin injections will decrease the blood sugar levels in your cat, and will need to be given every 12 hours,” Dr. Ochoa told The Dodo.

Diabetes can sometimes be managed with oral medication, but it has proven less effective, per Cornell Feline Health Center.

Dr. Conrad told The Dodo, “Insulin injections should be given after or at the time your cat eats, and are generally done about every 12 hours. Blood sugar levels should be monitored, ideally at home, but can be done periodically at your veterinarian's office.”

Diet requirements for cat diabetes

Changing your cat’s diet is also an important part of his treatment for diabetes.

“Your cat will need a diet that is low in carbohydrates, which is easier to achieve by feeding only wet cat food. Your veterinarian can recommend the best diabetic cat food as well as a good feeding schedule,” Dr. Conrad said.

“There are also diets that your vet may recommend to help lower their blood sugar level,” Dr. Ochoa added. If your cat’s overweight, starting an exercise program will help him lose weight and help manage this diabetes.

The good news about cat diabetes

Though there’s no cure for feline diabetes, if your cat maintains regular insulin injections, is regularly monitored by your veterinarian and sticks to a regulated diet, there can be good news where cat diabetes is concerned.

Dr. Hooker said, “Some cats can actually go into diabetic remission, but your cat has the best chance of going into remission if their diabetes gets under control quickly. Prescription diets for diabetes may facilitate more efficient blood glucose regulation, but it is important to discuss your cat's diet with a veterinarian before making a change.”

Fortunately, many cats can live a long and happy life if their diabetes is monitored and treated correctly. And if discovered quickly, some cats will even be able to return to normal blood sugar levels and may not need insulin injections their whole lives.