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Feline Diabetes     

Dr. Al Townshend

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. The pancreas is a vital organ that has two primary functions. Some of the cells of the pancreas produce the enzymes essential for the digestion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The other cells of the pancreas, beta cells, are responsible for making insulin that controls blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the glucose level in the bloodstream and is responsible for the delivery of glucose to the cells of the body. Glucose (sugar) is the primary energy source for all of the body’s cells. Without insulin, the cells cannot function properly.


Causes of Feline Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar and its flow into the cells of the body. There are three technical types of diabetes mellitus; Type 2 is the most common in cats, which is caused by an inability of the cells of the body to respond to the insulin in the blood.

  • It has been estimated that a significant portion of cats diagnosed with diabetes are caused by some other primary disease or conditions, such as pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, or any disease that causes significant stress.
  • Certain drugs such as steroids can encourage diabetes.
  • Obesity is a common finding in diabetic cats and thought to play a role in causing the condition.
  • If the primary problem can be resolved or controlled, it is not unusual for diabetes to resolve as well.


Signs of Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is the second most common endocrine (Hormonal) disease in cats. It is seen more frequently in middle-aged to senior cats and is more common in males than females. The rate of diabetes in cats is on the increase in North America due to the tremendous increase in the number of overweight and obese cats. The Russian Blue and Norwegian Forest Cat are pure breeds with a higher incidence of diabetes.

Early signs of feline diabetes are similar to those in the canine, increased urination, increased water consumption, increased appetite and decreased weight. Some of the signs may be harder to see in cats that go outdoors and those whose primary foods are wet and naturally contain more of the cat’s daily intake of moisture.


Diagnosis and Treatment

A veterinarian must diagnose diabetes. Blood tests reveal an increase in blood sugar, and urine tests expose high sugar levels in the urine.

The treatment of feline diabetes requires insulin injections at home and regular monitoring to assure the correct insulin levels are given. A close working relationship with a trusted veterinarian is essential for the safe and long-term care of a diabetic pet. Proper instruction on giving the injection and determining the level provided is critical.

Determining any stress-related preexisting conditions that may be encouraging diabetes is essential in whole-body health and offers the best chance of stopping diabetes.


Support for the Diabetic Feline

Diet is a critical part of the control of diabetes. Food must be broken down through digestion and it must enter the bloodstream at the same time the insulin injection reaches the bloodstream. Insulin allows the glucose to enter the cells and maintains a safe level in the blood.

Diet must be consistent; the same food, in the same amount, at the same time every day, in relation to the type of insulin and when the insulin is given.


High Protein Low Carbohydrate Recipes

  • Carbohydrates that are more easily digested and converted to glucose cause large spikes in blood sugar levels, making it challenging to regulate throughout the day consistently.
  • Low Glycemic Index carbohydrates like oats, barley, and rye, are best because they do not cause large spikes in blood sugar levels.
  • Cats have evolved as true carnivores; their natural diet must be primarily animal protein and fat. The domestic cat has no requirement for carbohydrates in their diet. They can convert protein and fat to glucose which is a slower and more consistent process, helping to maintain a steadier blood sugar level.
  • Here’s more information on the high protein low carbohydrate diet.



Probiotics are the good bacteria essential for optimum digestion and immune support. Altered gut bacteria levels are common in diabetic cats. Human studies have shown probiotics can lower fasting glucose and insulin levels in a diabetic. Their ability to support the immune system can reduce the risk of reoccurring infections in the diabetic.


Preventing Diabetes

Prevention is always the best medicine. Diabetes can lower the quality of life and life expectancy for the pet. It can be costly in both time and expense for the Guardian family. 

There is an epidemic of pet obesity in both dogs and cats. Maintaining a slightly lean body condition is a major step in not only preventing diabetes, but it can also have a significant impact on whole body health and preventing other major medical conditions.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the other half of the pancreas involved in digestive enzymes’ production. Cats that have had pancreatitis have an increased risk of diabetes. Digestive enzyme supplements can improve digestion and reduce stress on the pancreas.

Antioxidant and balanced vitamin and mineral supplements reduce inflammation and fight tissue damage.


Diabetes Requires a Commitment

Feline diabetes is a disease that can be controlled and even cured. A pet can live a long and happy life with diabetes. The care of a diabetic feline requires a commitment from the pet Guardian family. The older pets that more commonly develop diabetes have an established bond with the family. They have shown their commitment to the family and warrant the same devotion from there Guardians.

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