Because of the increase in cases of diabetes in people, the American Diabetes Association declared November to be Diabetes Awareness Month. Sadly, veterinarians are seeing a steady increase of diabetes in pets as well. That's the bad news. The good news is that it is a condition that can be successfully treated with commitment from the veterinarian and the owner.
Diabetes Mellitus is the most common form of diabetes found in cats, and is the second most common endocrine disease in cats. It is estimated to affect one in 400 cats, is found in more males than females, and is a common ailment of middle-aged to senior cats.
Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. In cats with normal glucose metabolism, food is broken down into components that can be used by the body. Carbohydrates are converted into various sugars including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream, providing the body cells with energy. Glucose can only enter most cells if the hormone insulin in present. There are specific cells, called beta cells, located within the pancreas that manufacture insulin.
Diabetes mellitus, or "sugar diabetes" as it is sometimes called, is caused by a lack of insulin available to the cells in the body. This is due either to insufficient insulin production by the pancreas, or by the body cells failing to respond to the insulin. As a result, blood glucose levels are too high and the body cells cannot absorb enough to provide adequate energy.
The most common type of diabetes mellitus found in cats is Type II, in which some insulin producing cells remain in the pancreas. They are either not producing enough insulin for the body to adequately process glucose, the secretion of insulin is delayed, or the cells are resistant to it. Just as with humans, obesity is a predisposing factor to diabetes. The tremendous increase in overweight and obese cats means that more and more cases of diabetes are being diagnosed. It's important to remember that a cat just three pounds over ideal weight is considered obese.
There are clinical (observable) signs that may indicate your cat has, or is developing, diabetes. The most common sign is drinking a lot of water and an increase in urination. There may also be increased incidents of inappropriate urination outside the litterbox and/or on furniture. Sudden weight loss, especially with an increase in appetite, can be a warning sign. As the disease advances, the cat will become increasingly lethargic and will have a dull coat.
If you are concerned that your cat may have diabetes, you should contact your veterinarian. During the appointment, it's important that you relay accurate information about your cat's signs and symptoms and are able to list all the medications and supplements your cat is currently taking. Your veterinarian will be able to do a complete physical exam and run lab work to help properly diagnose your cat.
If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, it is very important to maintain a good relationship with your veterinarian and the entire team at your animal hospital. With a combined commitment from you and your veterinarian, your cat's diabetes can be easily treated.
Coming Next Time: Diagnosis and Treatment of Diabetes