Diseases and Conditions: Demystifying Diabetes Mellitus in Cats

Imagine your pet's body as a complex machine, constantly needing fuel to keep it running smoothly. Just like a car needs gasoline to move, the cells in your pet's body require fuel in the form of either fat or sugar to perform their daily tasks. Some tissues can switch between using sugar or fat, depending on the circumstances. However, certain vital parts, such as the brain and nervous system, rely almost exclusively on sugar, or more specifically, a sugar called glucose.

The Role of Glucose and Insulin

To delve into diabetes mellitus, it's crucial to understand the relationship between glucose and insulin. Glucose, the primary source of sugar in the body, is derived from the starches and sugars found in your pet's diet. This glucose is essential for providing energy to cells throughout the body.

However, glucose can't just waltz into the cells on its own. It needs a special "key" to unlock the cell doors, and that key is insulin. Insulin, produced by the pancreas, plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels. It's like a doorman, allowing glucose from the bloodstream to enter the cells, where it can be used for energy or stored for later. Without insulin, the sugar remains trapped in the bloodstream, unable to nourish the body's cells.

The Telltale Signs of Diabetes

Now, let's explore what happens when this intricate system goes awry. In a diabetic animal, there's a shortage of insulin, and in some cases, there may be no insulin at all. Without insulin to unlock the cell doors, glucose is left stranded in the bloodstream at elevated levels. This creates a host of problems and sets off a cascade of symptoms.

  • Excessive Thirst and Urination: As glucose levels skyrocket in the bloodstream, the kidneys struggle to keep up. They attempt to filter out the excess glucose, but it becomes overwhelming. Glucose spills into the urine in high amounts, drawing water with it. This process leads to excessive urination, which, in turn, causes extreme thirst.
  • Excessive Appetite and Weight Loss: Despite the body being flooded with glucose, the cells remain starved because they can't access the sugar they need for fuel. In a desperate attempt to obtain energy, the body starts breaking down fat and muscle tissue. This leads to increased appetite, even though the pet is losing weight.
  • Urinary Tract Infections: The sugar-rich urine becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, making urinary tract infections a common complication of diabetes mellitus.

Understanding Types of Diabetes in Pets

In the world of diabetes, pets primarily experience two types: insulin-dependent diabetes and non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

Many cats initially have non-insulin-dependent diabetes, comparable to Type II diabetes in humans. However, cats can achieve remission if their pancreas can be reactivated. Some cats may initially respond to oral treatments or temporary insulin, but it's a complex landscape, and not all cats follow the same path.

The Role of Insulin Injections

Since insulin deficiency is at the core of diabetes, administering insulin becomes the solution. While injecting insulin might sound intimidating at first, most pet owners quickly become adept at it. The choice of insulin type and dosage requires some trial and error. Veterinarians often make an initial estimate based on what has worked for similar pets and what's found in the medical literature. Most pets need insulin injections twice a day, approximately 12 hours apart, ideally given with meals. Starting with once-a-day insulin can be a prudent approach. Insulin can be administered using syringes or insulin pens, with the latter being more user-friendly but requiring appropriate needle tips for pets.

Oral Agents (Cats Only)

Some diabetic cats may qualify for oral treatment options like Bexagliflozin or Glipizide. Bexagliflozin enhances kidney function to excrete excess glucose, aiding in blood sugar regulation. However, it carries potential serious side effects, requiring careful monitoring. Glipizide, a human medication, can also be used to lower glucose levels in cats with a lower risk of complications.

Diet and Feeding

Regulating diabetes involves finding the right balance of diet, exercise, and insulin. While therapeutic diets may not be the most appealing to pets, some ideal foods should be considered:

  1. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets are recommended for cats. These diets promote weight loss in obese diabetic cats and are available in both canned and dry forms.
  2. Avoid soft-moist diets, bread, and sugary treats, as they can interfere with regulation. For diabetic cats, offering multiple small meals throughout the day is advisable.

Home Glucose Testing

Monitoring your pet's glucose levels at home has many advantages. It eliminates the stress of vet visits on glucose readings, saves money, and provides quick answers to glucose-related questions. Home monitoring can be done through continuous monitoring or using a glucose meter.

Continuous Monitoring: A sensor with a tiny needle is implanted in the pet, wirelessly connected to a device that continuously reads tissue glucose levels. This data can be accessed by your veterinarian.

Glucose Meter: A glucometer is essential for daily glucose checks or whenever there are concerns about hypoglycemia. Ensure you have a veterinary-specific meter for accurate calibration.

Hypoglycemia and Other Considerations

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a severe concern, especially when there's a mismatch between food intake and insulin dose. It can cause listlessness, unconsciousness, and even seizures. If your pet shows signs of hypoglycemia, offering food or sugar (like Karo syrup or honey) can help. If there's no improvement, seek immediate veterinary attention.

  • Always keep a close eye on your pet's condition and reach out to your veterinarian if any of the following occur:
  • The pet appears ill or is losing weight.
  • There's a drastic change in appetite or excessive thirst and urination.
  • The pet seems disoriented or groggy.

Additionally, regular dental cleanings are crucial for diabetic pets, as dental tartar can lead to infections that affect vital organs.

Regulation Challenges

Not all pets are easy to regulate, and re-regulation may be necessary. Reasons for regulation difficulties can include incorrect insulin administration, rapid insulin metabolism, insulin overdose, steroid or progesterone administration, and underlying health issues.

In summary, diabetes mellitus is a complex but manageable condition in pets. Understanding the nuances of insulin therapy, monitoring, and dietary choices can help pet owners provide the best care for their diabetic companions. Regular communication with a veterinarian is essential for successful diabetes management.

Don't have a vet in your area yet? We can help you find a local veterinarian.

If you have more questions, the GeniusVets Telehealth platform will give you unlimited access to text and/or video calls with board-certified veterinarians! To learn more click here.