4 Early Signs of Diabetes in Cats

Sign "diabetes in cats" surrounded by sugar cubicles
Diabetes Mellitus is very common in household cats.

Like we humans,recent history has revealed that there has been an increase in diabetes diagnoses in cats. It is most commonly suggested that this increase is due to a sedentary lifestyle and the carbohydrate-rich commercial food that cats (and us)eat these days. In our clinic, we commonly see that the cats that are most often diagnosed with diabetes mellitus are eight years old or older. Surprisingly, feline diabetes mellitus diagnoses are also seen in kittens as young as one year of age. The bottom line is that any cat can be affected.

Table of Contents

Diabetes Mellitus

So what is it that makes for a diabetic cat? Diabetes mellitus is a disease of your cat’s pancreas. That means your cat is unable to control their blood glucose level as their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin. A higher than normal blood glucose level are one of the clinical signs of cat diabetes. Your cat’s pancreas is no longer able to manage the blood glucose level and worse, your cat’s body’s ability to use glucose for energy.

Insulin treatment

The good news: With early diagnosis and immediate treatment, feline diabetes can be easily managed with insulin therapy. Your vet will weigh your cat and test their blood sugar level. This will determine the amount of insulin that is injected using an insulin syringe.

Getting into a routine is key to successfully managing your diabetic cat’s blood glucose level. For example, feeding your cat a high protein diet with less carbohydrates at the same time every day is key. Consistency in when, what, and when you feed your cat will help your efforts to regulate their blood sugar.

We actually trained our cat to let us draw a small amount of blood to test his blood sugar levels twice a day before we gave him his insulin dose. Doing this took quite a bit of training and unlimited patience on everyone’s part. I think he eventually realized we were doing this for his benefit and not ours. We lived with his diabetes mellitus for over 8 years and he lived to a reasonable age of 15. That’s almost 6,000 blood glucose test followed by an insulin injection. We were diligent at keeping his diet exactly the same, monitoring his exercise levels, and were able to manage his blood sugar levels.

I share this as an example of what is possible. Is it a rare instance, yes. We see too many diabetic pets that succumb to complications with their diabetes. This is because it is a lot of responsibility and hard work. Please work with your vet to make a plan to care for your beloved pet.

Feline Diabetes Symptoms

Cat’s Urination Frequency

  • Frequent litter box visits and elimination out of the box are two things to watch for. We have already talked about how important it is to take note of your cat’s urine elimination behavior changes. It’s important to know that cats don’t show their weaknesses. That’s an instinctive behavior because in the wild, predators look for weakness. This makes it all the more important to watch carefully for early signs of most diseases. These can be seen as small changes in your cat’s behavior. With feline diabetes, the most common first sign is frequent urination. Your cat is trying to decrease their blood glucose levels through their urine. Increased urination can be seen as frequent litter box visits. Another very common symptom is urination out of the litter box. The latter is not only an early sign of cat diabetes but a sign of other feline diseases as well. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to start with a visit to your veterinarian when your cat exhibits excessive urination and/or suddenly develops litter box avoidance.

Increased Thirst

  • Increased water consumption is another indicator of feline diabetes. Since your cat produces so much urine, he or she is also losing a lot of water by peeing it out. We often talk about the necessity of pouring fresh water in your cat’s bowl daily. This is because your cat wants fresh water and also because doing this lets you monitor how much your cat drinks. In general, one should be concerned if an average 10 pound cat on a dry diet drinks more than 8 fl.oz of water per day. Numbers will be less for cats on a wet or mixed wet and dry diet. If you suddenly see an increase in your cat’s water consumption, or if you notice that one of your cats starts to visit the water bowl more frequently, it’s a good idea to visit your veterinarian.

Skinny cat

  • Increased appetite, followed by anorexia. Feline diabetes is generally characterized as high blood glucose that does not reach the cells because of inadequate insulin secretion by the pancreas. If your cat’s cells receive too little glucose, their body signals that there is a deficiency. As a result your cat eats more. However, this will soon develop into anorexia because your cats body isn’t able to use the food that they are consuming. If you notice a sudden increase in your cat’s appetite, medically known as polyphagia, please visit your veterinarian immediately.

Obese cat

  • Decreased weight, followed by obesity is another early signs of diabetes in cats. Despite eating more, your cats will start to decrease in body weight. This is because their cells are not receiving glucose and the body begins to burn fat for energy. The weight loss pattern will soon be replaced by weight gain as the diabetes progresses. Note: Many cats that we see that are diagnosed with diabetes are usually overweight in the first place. Even then, a sudden weight drop is noticed. However, rapid weight loss may also point to other medical disorders .

If you notice any of the early signs of diabetes in cats, please visit your veterinarian as soon as you possibly can.

Later symptoms of diabetes in Elderly cats

Since it’s easy to miss early signs, we’ll also list the most common later signs of diabetes in cats.

We already mentioned anorexia (loss of body weight) which comes after an increase in appetite, but there is also:

  • Lethargy or low energy.
  • Vomiting, which is always a concerning behavior.
  • Obesity (with a recent weight loss).
  • An oily coat with dandruff.

Of course, any of these signs can be caused by numerous other conditions, but if you see any of these symptoms, it is always a good reason to visit your vet. This is especially true if you’ve seen any of the early signs of diabetes in cats in your pets.

The purpose of this article is not to get you worried out of your mind. You don’t have to follow your cat around and spy on them for signs of developing diabetes. What you do need to do is learn to recognize that litter box habits, changes in appetite/water consumption, and other changes should not be taken lightly. A vet visit is always recommended if you notice these signs. Your vet visit and the tests we run won’t hurt your cat. In fact they could save their life. Keeping your pet healthy means they will be happy. And a happy pet is what we all want to see.

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