Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Owners Must Be Vigilant in Managing Cat's Diabetes


Pet Column for the week of September 19, 2011

Related information:

Related site - Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Andrea Lin
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Thomas Graves
Diabetes, a metabolic disorder in which the body is not able to regulate levels of glucose (a sugar) in the blood, afflicts dogs and cats as well as people. Dr. Thomas Graves, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, is one of the leading researchers in diabetes and other endocrine diseases of dogs and cats. He also sees patients at the college's Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, where he is the director.

He says there is good news for pet owners because research is continually expanding the understanding of diabetes in pets. However, diabetes is a more complex disorder in cats than in dogs, and cat owners often find it confusing to manage well in their pets.

Diabetes in dogs resembles Type I, or juvenile onset, diabetes in people, and it must be managed with insulin. Feline diabetes, like Type II diabetes in humans, occurs more frequently among obese individuals, and it can be improved through dietary changes. With weight loss and proper management of blood sugar levels, some cats on insulin therapy experience remission of diabetes so that insulin is no longer needed.

However, even if the cat no longer needs insulin injections, the diabetes will never go away.

"It is important to remember that while a cat with diabetes may seem clinically healthy, diabetes cannot be cured," says Dr. Graves.

Signs of diabetes to watch for include increased drinking and urination, a change in appetite, and weight loss. These signs are important to watch for in a diabetic cat that is clinically healthy as well. The cat should be checked by a veterinarian and may need to start insulin shots again.

The confusing part of feline diabetes is knowing whether the disease is adequately under control when the cat doesn't seem visibly sick. The cat may not need insulin shots, but its exact blood sugar and pancreas function are unknown.

One solution is to use a blood glucose meter, just as people with diabetes do, to test blood sugar levels daily. Blood glucose meters are available for use in cats and dogs. At-home monitoring can help owners know if the management is working or if they should see their veterinarian about restarting insulin treatment.

While not all animals are at risk for diabetes, there is no way to tell which are and which are not. Diet is very important to cats, and no cat should eat a high-carbohydrate diet.

"The key to maintaining healthy weight and avoiding diabetes in cats is high protein," says Dr. Graves.

At a minimum, Dr. Graves urges yearly blood tests and twice-yearly physicals for all cats or dogs above age 7 years to monitor pancreatic function. It is preferable to catch the problem before clinical signs appear, especially in cats. By the time a cat shows signs of diabetes, the animal may be severely ill.

For more information about diabetes in pets, see your local veterinarian.