Diabetes & Cushings Disease

Cats who drink & urinate a lot may have diabetes. Some cases are complicated by an additional hormone disorder called Cushings. Both are treatable.



My 9-year-old cat was diagnosed with diabetes in May. Now, additionally, she has Cushings Disease. What is it and what is the prognosis? I understand it is rare in cats.


Dr. Nichol:

You’re smart to ask questions. These two diseases are separate problems for your kitty but they are related. It’s complicated but if treated properly she has a strong chance of doing OK. Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is common in cats and dogs. Her pancreas, located near the stomach and small intestine, does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is essential because it carries sugars from the food we’ve eaten into the cells of our bodies. Not enough insulin means way too much sugar in the blood. No bueno.


There are many reasons why someone can become a diabetic but for your cat it probably started with overactive adrenal glands (Cushings disease). The adrenals’ job is to make cortisol (like cortisone). Adrenals that make too much cortisol will give continual big orders to a pancreas. That poor little pancreas then gets overworked and burned out. Thus it fails to produce enough insulin. Your kitty’s trouble began with Cushings disease which damaged her pancreas. Now she has diabetes too.


Your cat needs more than just insulin. To control her overactive adrenals she can get either Mitotane or a new treatment called metyrapone. Her diseases, drugs, and her hormone and sugar levels must be balanced. It will be a delicate and crucially important endeavor. For adequate control she will need frequent blood tests and daily medications all of her life. But I’ve seen many pets with these diseases do well and live full lives. I say go for it.