Diabetes is the second most common endocrine disease seen in cats, developing in 1 out of about every 400 cats (hyperthyroidism is the most common endocrine disorder). Diabetes centers on the ability of the pancreas to properly produce and excrete the hormone insulin, and the ability of the cells to respond to the insulin in order to regulate blood sugar levels.
Under normal circumstances, cells in the pancreas secrete insulin directly into the bloodstream where it acts upon cell membranes, allowing glucose to enter the cells, which use the glucose for energy. If the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin or the body cannot properly utilize this insulin, the body can’t utilize glucose so the blood sugar levels rise. The excess glucose is eliminated by the kidneys, resulting in frequent urination. The frequent urination results in a need to replace the fluids lost by drinking unusually large quantities of water.
In an attempt to compensate for the body’s inability to utilize blood sugar, the cat will try eating more food. When this fails, the cat will suffer from malnourishment and the appetite will decrease. If left untreated, diabetes can eventually lead to life-threatening complications.
The signs of early diabetes, therefore, are frequent urination, frequently drinking large amounts of water, a large appetite, and unexplained weight loss. Diabetic cats may also develop a type of neuropathy which causes the back legs to become weakened. These cats will display a flat-footed posture, with the cat walking on her hocks rather than on her toes. Diabetic cats do not normally develop cataracts, although more advanced stages of the disease may bring about a loss of appetite, vomiting, increasing weakness, dehydration, acetone (‘nail polish’) odor to the breath, rapid, labored breathing, lethargy and then coma and death.
There are three types of diabetes seen in cats. Cats with Type I diabetes are insulin dependent and must have daily insulin injections because the pancreas is not making enough insulin.
Cats with type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes might have a pancreas that makes enough insulin but the cat’s body is unable to properly utilize it (this is the most common type of feline diabetes). Some of these cats will require a little insulin, while others might manage on oral medication and dietary control to regulate their blood sugar.
The third type is known as transient diabetes. These are type II cats who require insulin initially, but with time, treatment and dietary changes, their system may re-regulate so they can go off insulin. Some of these cats may have diabetes which was brought on by certain diseases and/or drugs. Left untreated, feline diabetes will likely become the insulin-dependent type due to the stress placed on the pancreas as it tries to produce more insulin in response to the chronically high blood sugar levels. Eventually the pancreatic cells that produce the insulin will suffer permanent damage.
Feline diabetes may be brought on by a variety of factors. It may be triggered by diseases such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), amyloidosis (certain proteins – amyloids – are abnormally deposited into the pancereas and other organs), or hyperthyroidism. Certain medications such as corticosteroids and megestrol can precipitate the illness, and genetics can also play a role: Burmese cats are genetically predisposed to diabetes. Obesity is a risk factor, as obesity makes the body less sensitive to the effects of insulin; overweight cats should be put on a diet until they reach their ideal body weight.
To diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will wish to perform a blood test and urine test. If glucose (sugar) is present in the urine, diabetes is suggested. As some cats can have high blood- and urine sugar levels due to stress, the veterinarian may wish to repeat the tests to verify the diagnosis. A diagnosis of diabetes is not a death sentence - with sound veterinary management and some dietary adjustments, your cat can live a happy and healthy life.
The cats in the slideshow do not have diabetes, and they are adoptable from the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
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