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5 Signs of Diabetes in Cats

Cat with increased thirst
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Diabetes in cats is a serious condition and one that may require life-long management. One of the best ways to help your diabetic cat live a full and healthy life is to recognize the signs of diabetes in cats early. This will allow you to receive a diagnosis from your veterinarian, and begin diabetes treatment quickly. 

Unfortunately, the symptoms of diabetes in cats can mimic those of many other feline diseases. If you notice these signs, it’s important to get your cat checked out by a vet. Your vet can help you determine whether your cat’s signs are caused by diabetes or some other medical condition.

Here are some signs that your cat may have diabetes. 

5 Signs of Diabetes in Cats

Thin cat lying on window sill

Frequent Urination

Cat diabetes, also known as feline diabetes, is caused by the body’s inability to move sugar (glucose), from the bloodstream into cells where it is needed for fuel. This leads to increased blood sugar, also known as hyperglycemia. 

The kidneys detect increased blood sugar levels and release excessive sugar into the urine. “Excessive sugar in the urine pulls body water with it, leading to excessive urine production and more frequent trips to the litter box,” says Dr. Sarah Wooten, a veterinarian based in Colorado. You may see that your litter box gets full faster or that the clumps of pee (if you use clumping litter) are significantly larger. Cats with diabetes may also suddenly have trouble making it to the litter box. 

Other possible reasons for changes in urinary habits include kidney problems, urinary tract infections, bladder inflammation due to stress, other hormonal conditions, or simple aging. If you notice that your cat is urinating more than usual, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

Increased Thirst

As cats produce more urine to rid their system of excess glucose, they become dehydrated and will drink more than usual. One common sign of diabetes in cats is that they are constantly thirsty and you have to refill your cat’s water bowl more often than normal. Your cat may also seek other places to get a drink, such as the toilet bowl, sink, or saucers under houseplants, when they weren’t doing this before.

“if your cat is drinking excessive amounts of water, or urinating more frequently than normal, there could be a deeper health issue to look into,” says Dr. Chris Roth, resident veterinarian at Pets Best Pet Health Insurance. 

Increased Appetite

Diabetic cats’ inability to use the glucose in their system sends signals to the brain that they need to eat more. This often looks like having to fill up the food bowl more frequently. If your cat has always been a big eater, that may just be part of their personality. However, cats who have sudden changes in appetite, on the other hand, may need to be tested for diabetes.

Unexplained Weight Loss

While carrying excess weight can be a risk factor for developing diabetes, one of the signs that your cat may be suffering from diabetes is that they lose weight despite eating more. This is due to their body being unable to use glucose from their food. Instead, their body uses up fat and muscle to provide energy. This means that they actually lose weight because their body is burning fat and muscle rather than glucose from their food.

Taking your cat to the veterinarian for periodic checkups is a great way to monitor their weight over time. If they are at higher risk for diabetes due to being overweight, your care team can help you keep your cat’s weight in check and watch out for feline diabetes symptoms. If your cat develops weight loss that cannot be explained by other changes, such as dietary changes or increased physical activity, it may be a sign of feline diabetes.

Unusual Gait

Diabetes can lead to a loss of muscle mass and decreased nerve function. Therefore, diabetic cats may have trouble getting around. Cats with advanced diabetes may have weakness in their legs and look odd as they walk. They may also miss steps and stumble. Not only can this result in an injury, it also may mean that their diabetes is causing major problems and needs to be managed.

What to Do If You Suspect Your Cat Has Diabetes

cat with veterinary technician

The first thing to do is record in detail the cat diabetes symptoms that you see. This information will help your veterinarian determine what further testing may be needed. “You know your cat best, and as soon as the pet shows signs outside of their ‘normal routine,’ it’s worth looking into it with your veterinarian,” says Dr. Roth.

If your cat shows signs of diabetes, your veterinarian will do a blood test to see how much glucose is in your cat’s blood. Because healthy cats can experienced brief periods of high blood sugar in response to stress (after car travel or during a vet visit), your veterinarian may also run a serum fructosamine blood test to provide a longer-range look at your cat’s blood sugar levels. This test can help determine whether your cat is truly diabetic or just stressed, according to Dr. Wooten. Your vet may also run routine blood work that can test for kidney problems, hyperthyroidism, and urinary tract infection, which can have signs similar to feline diabetes.

If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, your veterinarian will probably prescribe insulin injections. They will teach you how to administer injections at home as well as what dosage and insulin are right for your cat. Most pet owners find that they learn quickly, and their diabetic cat tolerates the small needle injections easily. Insulin is typically the preferred method of treatment when it comes to managing diabetes in cats. However, some cats may be eligible for injection-free treatment options.

Diabetes in cats is often categorized as Type 2 diabetes, associated with obesity. This type of diabetes can sometimes be reversed over time, with appropriate treatment and weight loss. Signs of diabetic remission in cats include the return of normal levels of thirst and urination, as well as a stable weight and appetite. Because these cats can change their response to insulin over time, it is very important to monitor their health at home and take your cat to the veterinarian for check-ups to adjust insulin dosage and response to therapy.

Cats newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes who are otherwise healthy (meaning they do not have any health complications from diabetes) and who have not previously been treated with insulin may be suitable candidates for a needle-free alternative to insulin. Bexacat (bexagliflozin) is a once-daily flavored tablet that lowers blood sugar by increasing urine excretion of glucose. This type of medication is referred to as an SGLT2 inhibitor.

Bexcat feline medication for diabetes

Along with daily medication, your veterinarian may recommend dietary changes to keep your cat’s blood sugar under control. Diabetic cats often benefit from a diet that is higher in protein and fiber and lower in carbohydrates. Veterinarians will typically prescribe a therapeutic food that is available by prescription only and is designed to keep blood sugar levels within normal limits and facilitate weight loss if needed.

Fortunately, if your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, there are good treatments available. By working with a veterinarian you trust, you can still help your cat live a long and even healthier life.