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Diabetes in cats – what you can do as a pet owner

Written by Last updated: Thursday, 04 May 2017

Diabetes is not that uncommon in cats © ulianna19970 –

My cat Lilly is comfortably lolling on one of her many sleeping spots. She is one of those cats you just have to like. Cuddly, attentive, uncomplicated. Lilly is now 17 years old and has been with me for almost 3 years. Before that she was in the shelter in Berlin for 15 months, although she is a very charming cat. The problem: Lilly has diabetes mellitus. Many people apparently do not trust themselves to deal with this disease or shy away from the effort involved. The bad news is that it is indeed a serious disease that must be dealt with intensively at first. The good news, however, is that feline diabetes is highly treatable and your cat can live to be ancient with the right treatment.

Prevent diabetes in cats

As with so many diseases, prevention is better than cure when it comes to diabetes. Improper diet is pretty much always a factor in the development of diabetes, often the only one. Cats would buy mice! They are pure carnivores. Sugar does not belong in cat food, nor do significant amounts of other carbohydrates, such as grains, rice, and K6 potatoes. Unfortunately, some foods are pure sugar bombs. Be suspicious and read the ingredient list of cat foods, especially wet foods with sauce or jelly.

Sugar (and grains) are often added to dry food, too, because they are cheap fillers. There is really nothing to be said for dry food unless you use it occasionally for dental care or as a reward in small amounts. Basically, dry food is unfavorable for cats, because it contains very little moisture and most cats already tend to absorb too little liquid. If you feed a healthy diet that is appropriate for your cat, you will minimize the risk of diabetes quite significantly.

Diagnosis of diabetes mellitus in cats

However, if your cat suddenly drinks and urinates a lot, has an increased appetite, and still loses weight, you should take notice. Some animals also become apathetic and withdraw, others are unusually hectic. Please take your cat to the vet! Diabetes is diagnosed by blood test. To exclude the possibility that a glucose value is only elevated for the moment, the long-term glucose is also determined, which represents the glucose value of the last weeks.

Glucose is an important energy supplier for the cat’s body, just as it is for us humans. If the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin to ensure the transport of the vital glucose into the cells, it remains in the blood and we speak of diabetes mellitus or diabetes.

The treatment of your cat

If your cat is diabetic, it must immediately receive therapy with foreign insulin. Diabetes that is not treated has serious consequences. For example, it can lead to blindness of the animal or kidney failure. Your veterinarian will recommend a suitable insulin preparation. There is insulin for dogs (which is also used for cats) and insulin for cats. Does your cat not tolerate the insulin from the veterinariant, your veterinarian can repurpose a human preparation so that you can use it to treat your cat. It is often worth going this route because certain insulins for human use are much better tolerated by cats. They work more gently and last longer, so there are not such high blood sugar fluctuations. However, please be sure to work with your veterinarian on this! Not every human preparation is suitable for cats.

The amount of insulin must be well adjusted

To adjust the diabetes, your veterinarian will probably keep the cat in the office to do a daily profile. This involves determining various blood glucose levels over a period of at least 12 hours to determine the correct amount of insulin. You will start with this dose and inject your cat with insulin, usually in the morning and evening 12 hours apart along with meals. If your cat eats poorly or vomits often after eating, wait 10 to 15 minutes before injecting until you can be really sure the food will stay in the cat. Injecting insulin is REALLY easy! All you have to do is draw up the right amount of insulin, take a small fold of skin, attach the tiny needle of the insulin syringe, and squeeze. The needle is so thin, you’ll be more likely to wonder if you even “hit” the cat. Combine the squirting with a (sugar-free) reward and make it a ritual, and your cat will look forward to it. With very resistant cats it is worthwhile to divide the spraying into several steps: Take skin fold + treat, show syringe + treat, etc. If you click with your cat, you can incorporate syringing into clicker training.

The right feeding for diabetes

It is not necessary to buy expensive special food for diabetics from the vet. Basically, any wet food that has less than 10% carbohydrates in dry matter will do – of course, it should also be grain-free and as high as possible in meat content. There are even now apps and websites that allow you to determine directly at the time of purchase whether the food is suitable for your cat. Fresh meat is also a possibility once or twice a week, chicken, turkey or lamb if possible. Please do not feed raw pork under any circumstances, and if possible, no beef. If your old cat can’t bite well anymore, run the meat through a meat grinder.

Monitoring the blood sugar level

Monitoring blood sugar levels is a little trickier than injecting. Still, it’s worth looking into. It is not uncommon for cats to go into remission, meaning that the cat no longer needs insulin and the diabetes is conquered. The better you dose the insulin and adjust it to the amount of food, the higher the chance of remission – and basically it is higher at the beginning, when diabetes has not been present for years. There are blood glucose meters that work with even a small drop of blood, and measuring by the ear is tolerated by most cats if you give them enough time and reward them with petting and treats. As a cat owner, you surely know that hectic and loud behavior do not meet with the approval of our velvet paws… Ever calm

The more you take a calm and measured approach, the more likely your cat will accept the procedure. Ideally, you should measure the blood glucose in the morning and evening and create a daily profile with several values at least once a month. Really give yourself and your cat time here, though, and remember that you want to take the measurements every day if possible. Ideally, your cat will already look forward to her food when she sees the utensils, because she knows that she will get her meal after the measurement.

Lilly, at least, has long since gotten the hang of it and willingly participates. She is not only an old cat, but also a smart


Author: Sabine Kunde – Animal Psychologist

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