Diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas common in cats. Like human, cats can be affected by type I or type II diabetes. Type I diabetes (also known as insulin-dependent diabetes or diabetes mellitus) occurs when the pancreas is unable to produce the insulin the body needs to efficiently process carbohydrates.
In type II diabetes, the beta cells are insulin-resistant and dysfunctional but are not permanently destroyed, as in type I diabetes, and the condition can be effectively treated using diet. Type II is the most common form of diabetes in cats and can be attributed to being overweight and inactive.
The inability of the body to metabolize carbohydrates causes a deficiency of insulin or a resistance to insulin. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the blood and spills into the urine, which causes your cat to pass large amounts of urine and to drink lots of water. When this occurs, the brain becomes sugar deprived and your cat is constantly hungry, yet may lose weight due to improper use of nutrients from the diet. Untreated diabetic pets are more likely to develop infections and often get bladder, kidney, and skin infections.
Animals that are overweight or have inflammation of the pancreas are predisposed to developing diabetes. In addition, some drugs can interfere with insulin, leading to diabetes.
Diabetes can develop gradually and the initial signs may not be noticeable at first. Common symptoms include:
- increased drinking & urination
- weight loss despite a good or increased appetite
- re-occurring infections
- enlarged liver
- poor coat condition
- back legs may become weak; gait may become stilted or wobbly
- thinning of the skin
Diet is a critical component of treatment; in fact, some insulin-dependent cats have been able to stop taking insulin after changing to a low carbohydrate diet. It is important that you never diagnose your cat yourself or stop the administration of insulin without first consulting your vet.