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Diabetes in Cats Treatment Plan: Steps and What to Expect

Cat with diabetes at vet
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Once a cat is diagnosed with diabetes, pet parents can feel overwhelmed by how to treat and manage the condition, especially since they may need to give their cat insulin at home. To help you along this journey, this article will share some treatment plan steps, as well as what you can expect when managing feline diabetes.

Diabetes in Cats Treatment Plan: What to Expect

Cat diabetes can seem overwhelming at first because there is a lot to learn, but it gets easier over time. If your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, your veterinarian will create a treatment plan that involves medication, diet, exercise, and treatment of any other conditions, such as weight reduction for obesity or antibiotics for urinary tract infections

If your cat needs insulin treatment, your veterinarian will prescribe an initial insulin dose, show you how to administer the insulin, and give you detailed instructions for home care, including food recommendations, weight loss recommendations if applicable, and exercise recommendations. 

Next, they will ask you to return for a recheck in one week. During this recheck, your cat will be weighed and the veterinarian will conduct a full physical examination. They may recheck blood and urine tests as well. Your vet may adjust the insulin or oral medication dose based on what they find, and further rechecks will depend on how well your cat’s blood sugar is controlled. 

How to Give a Cat Insulin in 10 Steps

Vet giving cat insulin

Since giving your cat insulin shots will likely be part of a veterinarian-recommended treatment plan, here are the steps you can take to ensure you do it safely:

Step 1: Take the insulin out of the fridge and roll it a couple of times to mix the contents. Do not shake the bottle.

Step 2: Use an alcohol wipe on the top of the bottle. Turn the bottle upside down, and insert the needle into the rubber top.

Step 3: Use the syringe to draw up the correct amount of insulin. Remove any air bubbles by lightly flicking the syringe. Double check the amount that you are giving is correct.

Step 4: Use an alcohol wipe to disinfect the injection are on your cat. 

Step 5: Using your non-dominant hand, gently pick up the loose skin in between your cat’s shoulder blades.

Step 6: In the area of lifted skin, insert the needle at a 45 degree angle and gently pull back on the syringe. If there is no blood, inject the insulin, and then withdraw the needle. If there is blood, withdraw the needle and try again. Enlist help if you need it. 

Step 7: Check the injection site to make sure there is no insulin on the skin (wetness).

Step 8: Each time you inject insulin, try to slightly vary the site of injection to avoid scarring.

Step 9: Place the used syringe in a Sharps container

Step 10: It can help to have the veterinary staff shave a patch of fur where you are giving the injections so you can better visualize the skin. 

Treating Diabetes in Cats Without Insulin

Cats that have uncomplicated Type II diabetes mellitus may be able to be managed without insulin on a drug called glipizide. Glipizide is a medication that works by stimulating the pancreas to release more insulin. It comes in tablets, oral flavored liquid, or a lotion that is rubbed on their skin. 

In addition to glipizide therapy, weight loss is necessary to treat overweight or obese cats with Type II diabetes mellitus. In fact, some cats may be ‘cured’ of Type II diabetes mellitus with weight loss and glipizide alone, and may not need medication for the rest of their life. 

Diabetic Cat Diet: What to Feed

Siamese cat eating

Nutrition is an important facet of cat diabetes treatment. Factors like food type and the way you feed a diabetic cat is important to success. Here are a few best practices to help:

Keep feeding times the same. The goal with feeding a diabetic cat is matching the blood sugar lowering effect of insulin or glipizide with the blood sugar raising effects of a meal. Most insulins are at their highest effect in a cat’s body 2-4 hours after injection. Most food is absorbed and blood sugar goes up about 1 hour after eating. Therefore, the best chance at controlling blood sugar is to give insulin first and feed the cat 1 hour later. Most diabetic cats do well with twice daily feedings, however, if your cat is a ‘grazer’, then you can free-feed a measured amount of kibble each day and add in a small meal of canned food morning and night in conjunction with insulin injections. If you can only inject insulin once a day, feed the day’s total calories in 2-3 meals within 6-8 hours of giving insulin. If you treat your cat with glipizide, then give glipizide at the same time you feed your cat in the morning and evening. 

Keep everything consistent. The type of food, the amount, and the time you feed your cat should be the same every day, as much as possible. Pet owners often fail to achieve control of their cat’s diabetes because they are not disciplined with timed feeding. This can be very frustrating, so set yourself up for success with a consistent routine.

Follow your vet’s recommendation for food. When it comes to the type of food to feed a diabetic cat, pet parents should follow their veterinarian’s recommendations. Diabetic cats should eat a diet that is ultra low in carbohydrates because carbs cause elevated blood sugar. In fact, low carb canned foods may reverse diabetes in some newly diagnosed diabetic cats. 

Diabetic diets for cats are low in carbohydrates and contain fiber to help cats feel full and promote intestinal health. Avoid soft-moist foods because they cause severe elevations in blood sugar. 

For cats with food allergies or if you want to make a home-cooked diet for your cat, it is recommended to consult with a board certified veterinary nutritionist so they can formulate a diet recipe for you that is complete and balanced.

Follow feeding recommendations for weight loss. Healthy weight loss is an important part of therapy in overweight diabetic cats, and will lower the amount of medication required in most cats. Therefore, your veterinarian will prescribe restricted caloric intake until your cat achieves their ideal weight. This can usually be achieved within 2-4 months using a low-carb weight loss food.

Keep treats at a minimum. Diabetic cats should not be provided snacks or treats unless the treats have very low calories and no carbs. Providing 3-5 tiny pieces of white meat chicken or turkey can make a nice daily treat. Alternatively, you can hand feed your cat’s kibble as a treat.

Have fresh water handy. Diabetic cats become dehydrated quickly if their blood sugar levels are too high. Keep fresh water available at all times, and if you notice they suddenly start drinking more, that could indicate that their blood sugar levels are too high. Call your veterinarian for followup.

Diabetic Cat Exercise Plan

Overweight cat exercising

Having a regular exercise plan for your cat is another way to help regulate blood sugar levels and keep your feline happy and healthy. As with feeding, try to keep the exercise sessions at the same time each day. High intensity exercise is not recommended, as it can cause abrupt changes in blood sugar levels. A stroll around the block on a harness or two moderate intensity 15-minute play sessions at the same time each day are recommended. 

In the event that your cat does experience low blood sugar while exercising, (which will look like weakness or collapse) you will need to raise your cat’s blood sugar quickly. The best way to do this is to rub a small amount of sugar on their gums, so always keep a small container of honey or corn syrup handy. It is also a good idea to ask your veterinarian for exercise recommendations for your cat, especially if your cat has any other health challenges. 

Cat Diabetes Cost

How often a diabetic cat needs to see a vet depends on how well the cat is responding to therapy and if there are any other health complications, such as hyperthyroidism or kidney disease. Cats with uncontrolled diabetes or other disease conditions have higher veterinary bills than cats with uncomplicated diabetes.

Cats with uncomplicated diabetes that are well controlled with therapy should see the veterinarian every 3-6 months for a check-up and a laboratory test called fructosamine, which measures how well blood sugar is controlled over time. Glucose curve tests are unreliable in cats because stress can make a cat’s blood sugar go up. 

Costs associated with cat diabetes include:

  • Physical examinations cost $45-$70, every 3-6 months
  • Fructosamine tests cost $60-$90 
  • At home urine glucose strips cost $15-$20/50 count 
  • A bottle of lente insulin costs $60-$70 and will last 2-3 months. You may be able to purchase insulin for less at big box retailer pharmacies or online 
  • Glipizidine costs $0.10/day to treat most cats 
  • A large bag of diabetic cat food costs $70-90, but should last you quite a while 
  • A case of canned diabetic cat food costs $50-$60

Diabetes in Cats Treatment: More Tips and Advice

Woman with her cat on the bed

When you are managing diabetes in cats, it is important to maintain a good relationship with your veterinarian and communicate on a regular basis. Additionally, here are some other things to consider as part of your cat’s treatment plan. 

Keep detailed notes. Keep a journal of relevant information about your cat, including how much water they drink daily, weekly body weight, current insulin or glipizide dose, and how much food is eaten each day.

Watch for early signs of blood sugar issues. The early signs that blood sugar is not regulated included increased drinking and urination. If you notice this, call your veterinarian.

Pay attention to your cat’s urinary health. If your cat shows any signs of urinary tract infections (straining to urinate, increased urge to urinate, accidents in the house, bloody urine) or skin infections (pimples, red, flaky skin), call your veterinarian. If your female cat isn’t spayed, have her spayed.

Don’t use steroids. Avoiding using steroids, including hydrocortisone, on your cat. These can make diabetes worse. If your cat has skin allergies, ask your vet about alternative treatments that are safe for cats with diabetes.

Try at-home urine testing. Check for sugar in your cat’s urine at home with over-the-counter urine glucose strips. While they can’t tell you how high the sugar is, they can let you know that there is sugar so you can inform your vet.

The good news is that a consistent routine of properly timed feeding and medication creates an excellent prognosis for cats with diabetes.

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