Living with a diabetic cat
Each diabetic cat responds differently to different therapies. Some cats are easier to regulate; others require more complex types of treatment. Some cats can be treated successfully through changes in diet and with oral medications. In cats with more severe diabetes, insulin injections may be required for the remainder of their lives.
In general, treatment for diabetes falls into three categories:
- Insulin injections
- Oral hypoglycemic medications
Home monitoring & testing
Ongoing and frequent home monitoring of your cat's glucose level is important both for ensuring that diabetes is under control and the long-term health maintenance of your pet. Home monitoring usually results in less stress on the cat and allows for closer, more precise control of blood glucose levels on a regular basis, which helps avoid the risk of hypoglycemic episodes.
Home testing of glucose levels can be done with a similar type of blood glucose monitor used by humans. This method requires a small sample of blood that is taken from the cat for testing and generally provides an immediate reading of your cat's blood glucose level.
In addition to monitoring glucose levels through the blood, caretakers can use urine glucose monitoring. However, urine glucose monitoring is generally not as accurate due to the lag time for glucose to go from the blood to the urine in the cat's body.
It is recommended to consult with your veterinarian on the best way to monitor your cat's glucose. They can also provide valuable advice on which type(s) of monitors work best in cats, as well as train you on how to use and interpret the test results.
When at home, you also should continually be aware of your cat's appetite, water consumption and urine output to determine what is normal behavior. Changes in your cat's eating and drinking habits, weight and urine output can be a sign that there is a problem and veterinary attention is needed.
Along with insulin and oral medications, maintaining a proper diet for your cat is important in a successful treatment program. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and insulin sensitivity in most cats. If your cat is overweight, you and your veterinarian can tailor a safe weight loss regimen. Some cats respond better to carbohydrate-restricted diets and some respond well to high-fiber, complex carbohydrate rations.
In addition to the type of diet fed, the feeding routine also is important, especially for cats receiving insulin injections. Ideally, a cat should be fed half its daily food requirement at the time of each injection, with the rest available throughout the day. When and how much to feed your cat should be discussed with your veterinarian as other factors may impact this process, (e.g., number of insulin injections/day or living in a multi-cat household).
Most diabetic cats require insulin injections under the skin once or twice a day, depending on the diabetic severity, type of insulin used, dose, diet and other factors. Because each cat reacts differently to insulin, your veterinarian will most likely perform a blood glucose profile at various time points during the day to determine the proper insulin dosage and treatment program. Insulin dosage may change over time as the cat ages, and you may need to adjust the dosage based on new blood glucose profiles, test results and how the cat responds to therapy. It is very important to consult with a veterinarian before making any changes to your cat's insulin dose. Many factors are involved with a decision to increase or decrease dose and you want to avoid causing hypoglycemia in your cat.
There are several different types of insulin available for use in managing your cat's diabetes. Some of the most common include protamine zinc (PZI) insulins, lente insulins, Humulin® and other human-type products.
Oral hypoglycemic medications
Some healthy diabetic cats can be successfully treated with orally administered hypoglycemic medications that lower blood glucose levels. Often, the use of these medications requires frequent glucose monitoring to ensure the best results, and many cats still require insulin injections to achieve the highest level of control.
Ketones are waste products of fatty acids that may build up in the bloodstream and urine of cats with diabetes. Ketones develop when the cat's body burns fat, instead of glucose, to fuel its body.
If your cat accumulates too many ketones in the body, diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) may occur. This is a serious condition altering the pH and blood chemistry of your pet, and should be treated immediately.
Signs your cat may have diabetic ketoacidosis:
- Drinking excessive water or no water
- Excessive urination
- Diminished activity
- Not eating for 12 hours or more
- Lethargy or depression
- Ketone odor on the breath (may smell like nail-polish remover or fruit)
Simple urine tests will alert you to the presence of ketones. If you discover ketones in your cat's urine sample, check to see if your cat is exhibiting any of the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis listed above. If the cat is generally alert and well-hydrated, simply treat the cat with your normal insulin regimen, provide the cat with continual access to food and water, and monitor the cat for signs of diabetic ketoacidosis. If the cat develops signs of DKA, contact your veterinarian immediately.