Diabetes in Cats: Causes, Signs & Treatments

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that develops when your cat cannot use sugar (glucose) effectively and control the sugar levels in the blood. Insulin, which is made in the pancreas, is essential for regulating the use and storage of blood glucose. Insufficient insulin production is potentially life threatening.

There are two types of diabetes, and although there is no cure, cats with either type can be successfully managed through nutrition, exercise, and if necessary, regular insulin medication. With the right cat food and advice from your veterinarian, your diabetic cat can enjoy a happy, active life.

What causes diabetes?

A reduction in insulin production is usually caused by damage to the pancreas. The pancreas is responsible for producing the proper amount of insulin to control sugar levels. If your cat's pancreas is damaged, long-term and potentially life-threatening symptoms could occur and must be managed. In some cats hormonal changes or medications can reduce the effect of insulin. Other factors that increase the chance of your cat developing diabetes include:

Body condition: Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes. Severely obese cats are most at risk.

Age: Cats can develop diabetes at any age, but peak onset is around 8 years.

Gender: Diabetes in cats is more prevalent in males

Breed: Burmese are more at risk than other breeds.

Other Factors: Poor nutrition, hormonal abnormalities, stress

Does my cat have diabetes?

The signs of diabetes are difficult to recognise because they are similar to those of other disorders like chronic kidney disease and hyperthyroidism. If you notice any of the following, it could mean your cat has diabetes.

Signs and symptoms of diabetes:

  • Increased thirst
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Not eating
  • Tired, lack of energy
  • Vomiting
  • Increased urination

Diabetes common signs

* Noted in cats by “clumping” in the litter box and the need to change the litter more often

If your cat appears weak or thirsty, frequently urinates, has rapid weight loss, is depressed, or has abdominal pain, they could be diabetic.

IMPORTANT: Once diabetes is diagnosed, it is important that your cat is regularly monitored. Your veterinarian will check your cat’s glucose levels and will adjust medication to keep your cat stable.

Establish a routine: The key to keeping a diabetic cat healthy is routine. Feeding, exercise, and if necessary, giving medication. Medication should be given at the same time each day. This helps maintain stable blood glucose levels. Your veterinarian will give you advice.

While there is no cure for diabetes mellitus, veterinarians recognise it can be controlled with insulin, exercise and proper nutrition. Fibre is key in managing the disease because moderate to high-levels of fibre lower insulin requirements and blood glucose levels. Fibre also makes the body more responsive to insulin.

Diabetes Treatment: The importance of nutrition

It’s also very important to be consistent in the food you give your cat. The food your cat eats plays an important role in overall health and well-being. Balanced nutrition is an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. When your cat has diabetes, it’s even more important to feed the right cat food.

Feeding a veterinarian recommended cat food with a consistent nutrient profile, one that doesn’t vary from batch to batch, will help keep your cat's metabolism stable.

For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your cat’s diabetes.

Questions to Ask Your Veterinarian about Diabetes


1.   What are the treatment options for my cat’s diabetes?

  • Ask how nutrition works with other available options

2.   Should nutrition be a part of my cat’s treatment regimen? Would you recommend a Hill’s Prescription Diet cat food for my cat’s health and management of diabetes?

  • What if I have multiple cats? Can I feed them all the same cat food?
  • How can nutrition help? What is the benefit of feeding therapeutic nutrition as part of treatment which may include administering pills or shots?
  • What are the pros and cons of using nutrition to help manage my cat’s diabetes?

3.   How long will I need to feed the recommended cat food to my cat?

4.   What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have questions?

  • Ask if you need a follow-up appointment.
  • Ask if a reminder email or notice will be sent.

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