How to Detect Diabetes in Cats?

By  , Expert Content
May 07, 2011

Like humans, pets like cats and dogs can also develop diabetes. Cats with diabetes need proper treatment as it is a life-threatening disease. Every pet owner should be aware about the symptoms and treatment of diabetes.


Diabetes mellitus (“sugar” diabetes) is a disease caused due to deficiency of the hormone insulin in cats. Insulin is a hormone that helps in metabolism of blood glucose. The food that cats eat is broken down and one of the components that is formed while digestion of food is glucose. Glucose is the type of simple sugar that the cells use for energy.


Diabetes mellitus in cats can be classified as Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes.

  • Type 1, Insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus (IDDM): IDDM is more common in cats (50-75% of cats with diabetes have IDDM). In IDDM,  the beta cells, in the pancreas which produce insulin, are destroyed. This makes the animal dependent on supplemental insulin to control blood sugar levels.
  • Type 2, Non-insulin-dependent Diabetes Mellitus (NIDDM): NIDDM is observed in approximately 25-50% of cats with diabetes mellitus. In this type of diabetes insulin is secreted by the pancreas but the cells have become resistant to insulin. And hence response to a high blood glucose level is abnormal.


Symptoms of feline diabetes


The signs and symptoms of diabetes in cats depends on how severely insulin production is impaired. The signs and symptoms also depend on severity & length of time your cat has been a diabetic. The common signs of diabetes in cats include;

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite---increased (polyphagia) or decreased appetite (anorexia)
  • Vomiting
  • Dandruff or unhealthy skin coat
  • Weakness of hind legs
  • Changed Gait/Walking
  • Decreased activity, lethargy, weakness,
  • Changed behavior, depression
  • Bad breath

Your cat may or may not show all these symptoms. You have to be observant of your cat’s behavior, general well being, food and toileting habits. If you think there is a change in your cats activities or behavior consult a veterinary doctor.


Cats at risk of feline diabetes


All cats are at risk of developing diabetes----but if your cat is obese, and middle aged to older the risk of diabetes is higher. Diabetes is more common in male cats as compared to female cats.


Treatment of feline diabetes


After a detailed examination your veterinary doctor will prescribe treatment for your diabetic cat. Treatment depends on the severity of the disease.


For mild cases, dietary changes only may be recommended. If needed the veterinary doctor will prescribe oral hypoglycemic drugs (such as glipizide) or insulin. Insulin is given as injection once or twice a day. The vet can teach you how to administer insulin to your cat.


Complications due to insulin can occur in pets as well. If your cat is on insulin you should be vigilant, for symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Symptoms of hypoglycemia include - weakness, sweating, confusion, fainting and coma.




Diabetes can be controlled well in cats with treatment. A well-treated diabetic cat can live for many years. You have to monitor your cat & follow up regularly with your veterinarian.


Dr Poonam Sachdeva, our in-house medical expert talks about the why what and how in diabetes.


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