Feline Diabetes

Potentially devastating, it’s nearly always treatable.



I have a male cat about 7 years old who was just diagnosed as diabetic. He has been slowly losing weight and has great thirst. Are you aware of any medications for cats to control the diabetes as with humans?


Dr. Nichol:

While some diabetic cats can be challenging the majority do well with treatment. But if you plan to move ahead with management of his disease you need to proceed with your eyes open. Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is caused by an inability to get the essential sugars in our food into the cells of the body. Since well-nourished cells tell the brain that they’re not hungry, starving cells say, “hey, where’s the chow?”-all the time. In addition, all that sugar that belongs in the cells just builds up in the blood stream. High levels of blood sugar cause the kidneys to let go of lots of water which can lead to dehydration. So an uncontrolled diabetic is hungry, thirsty, and urinates like a racehorse.


What could be worse than that? Complications like infections, adrenal disease, seizures, and coma; that’s what. Remarkably many cats do great long term with careful treatment. But that takes an investment in lab work and a willingness to give insulin injections and enforce strict dietary management. Are you on board with all this? If you are, you may be in luck because a few diabetic cats are manageable with tablets and/or weight loss alone. But I’m not worried about you or your cat. I can tell from the tone of your letter that you love this kitty and that you’ll do what it takes. You have courage. I say go for it.





How does a cat get diabetes? And could diet help like in adults with type 2? Also, what are medication side effects and how do they differ from neuropathy? Every tried alternative treatments for neuropathy! Or for the bladder problem(s)? Any interesting results?


Dr. Nichol:

So many questions, so little time. Here is the latest and greatest for the diabetic cat; it’s different than in humans and dogs.


Sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) in any species, is the failure of the pancreas to secrete adequate amounts of useable insulin. Some cases in humans and dogs are hereditary and it’s more prevalent in females. But in cats, it’s overweight males who win the prize.


Symptoms can be a bit different in cats too. Signs include excessive drinking or urine output, but often a poor appetite plus lethargy. Many cats will also vomit, lose weight, or have an oily, flaky haircoat. Some get jaundice.


Early diagnosis and treatment are important. Complications like diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage, which causes staggering and weakness) can be permanent. You’re right about bladder problems; uncontrolled diabetics have sugar in their urine making infections a common problem.


Type II diabetes is common. The pancreas in these cats either makes too little insulin or releases it too late. These kitties are usually easier to manage because they can use glipizide-a safe oral tablet, instead of insulin injections. That’s good news-but it’ll only work if that chunky monkey slims down. Fortunately there’s a diet called w/d that makes weight loss easier and helps keep blood sugar levels more stable.


It’s important to treat diabetes early but it can be hard to know when a cat is ill. Their basic nature is solitary. Instead of crying out for help they sneak off and try to get well on their own. Many folks believe that cats need less care than dogs. The truth is they just don’t talk about it much. Be the voice of your cat. It’s his best chance.