Treating Feline Diabetes

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015


Diabetes in cats is not technically “curable,” but usually it can be controlled through dietary management and medication. Regular blood and urine tests are important to monitor the progression and control of the disease. Most cats with compensated diabetes can be managed on an outpatient basis; they tend to be alert, well hydrated and eat and drink without vomiting or other adverse signs. Once a veterinarian confirms that your cat has diabetes mellitus, he or she will establish a treatment plan. The primary goal of treatment is to reduce or eliminate the clinical signs of the disease. In most cases, the course of treatment will involve drug therapy and dietary changes.

Treating Diabetes in Cats

The therapeutic goals for feline diabetes mellitus are to eliminate the clinical signs (including obesity) and achieve a healthy, happy and active life for the cat. Many affected cats need in-hospital fluid therapy before treatment of their diabetes begins. Thereafter, diabetes treatment in cats depends upon determining the right type of insulin, and the correct insulin amounts, that are needed to control the particular cat’s blood glucose levels to ensure proper dietary metabolism. There are a number of different types of insulin that can be administered to cats with diabetes. Your veterinarian is in the best position to determine which of these is best for your particular cat in it’s particular clinical state. Most cats with diabetes respond quite well to insulin therapy; however, some cats do not.

Finding the right type of insulin, and insulin amounts, can take several days or even a few weeks before a diabetic cat is effectively controlled. Cats normally are hospitalized during this time so that their condition and blood glucose levels can be monitored regularly. When the blood glucose levels have stabilized, the cat typically will be released from the hospital, with detailed instructions to the cat’s owner about how to manage the insulin treatments at home on an outpatient basis. Many diabetic cats will need daily insulin injections for the rest of their lives. The cat’s owner must learn how to give the injections, how to measure the right amounts of insulin and how to administer these injections at the right time of day. This requires quite some effort on the cat owner’s part, but many owners find that after the first few weeks they are able to adjust to this new routine without any serious difficulty. Insulin therapy is a mainstay of treating diabetes mellitus. It is easy to do, and your veterinary health care team will show you how to give insulin injections to your cat at home. The very fine, small insulin needles are well tolerated by most cats. Improper storage, improper mixing and dosage errors can each have significant adverse effects on the efficacy of insulin treatment.

It is also critical to adjust dietary caloric intake to correct or prevent obesity in affected cats. Affected cats should normally not be fed exclusively soft, semi-moist food diets, because they contain ingredients that can contribute to hyperglycemia, which exacerbates the effects of diabetes. Diets must be customized to each patient, but in general diabetic cats should be fed a high protein, low carbohydrate and highly digestible diet to help reduce the rate of glucose absorption into the blood. A diet high in soluble and insoluble fiber, including complex carbohydrates, slows down food absorption and facilitates management of blood sugar peaks and troughs. Cats with diabetes can also benefit from multiple small meals rather than one large meal daily, with one of these small meals being given at the time of each insulin injection. Again, the goal of dietary modification is to correct or prevent the obesity that often accompanies diabetes in cats and to help manage insulin therapy in the affected animal. Affected cats should have a restricted carbohydrate diet, with increased fiber. Specific prescription diets have been created for cats with diabetes, and these diets are designed to help control the fluctuating blood glucose levels that accompany feline diabetic disease. Overweight cats should be put on a weight loss program. In most cases, a combination of dietary changes and insulin therapies are necessary to control diabetes in cats. In very rare cases, the disease can be treated using diet and weight loss management alone. In these rare cases, insulin therapy still may be necessary to normalize the cat’s blood glucose levels until the dietary changes and subsequent weight loss have a positive effect.

Many diabetic cats have concurrent urinary tract infections due to the abnormally high amount of glucose/sugar in their urine. Bacteria tend to thrive in a high-glucose environment. Antibiotic therapies are available to treat these urinary tract infections, and controlling blood glucose levels may help to prevent future urinary tract infections. These will not “cure” the underlying diabetic cause.