Diabetes mellitus in cats is a disease brought about by a deficiency of insulin, a hormone that promotes the absorption of blood sugar. Without insulin, sugar remains in the bloodstream and passes during urination. Because the body cannot use the sugar in the blood, hunger and thirst are increased.

A serious disease As the disease progresses, chemicals called ketones accumulate, with dehydration and vomiting the result. In untreated animals, coma and death will occur. Diabetes is not curable, but with early detection and careful attention, it is controllable.

Cats stabilized within six months of diagnosis can be expected to live normal life spans. The two basic types of diabetes affect an estimated 1 in 300 cats. With Type I (insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus or IDDM), the cat does not produce adequate amounts of insulin. Treatment therefore requires insulin injections.

Cats with noninsulin- dependent diabetes mellitus Type II (NIDDM) are insulin resistant; they produce the hormone, but don’t respond to it normally. Some cats with Type II diabetes can be successfully treated with oral medication and changes in diet. Diabetes typically occurs in cats more than seven years old, with male cats one-and-a-half times more likely to be affected. Early symptoms, in addition to those mentioned, include increased urination and weight loss.

Once the condition is confirmed, close attention must be paid to a formerly self-sufficient pet. Glucose and insulin levels need to be rigidly monitored; an insulin overdose can bring on hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which is potentially fatal. The “Cat kins Plan” Medical research concerning proper diet is ongoing. High-fiber diets have been commonly prescribed; more recently, however, diets low in carbohydrates and high in protein have been increasingly encouraged.

This so-called “Catkins Diet” (we don’t invent ’em, we just report ’em) helps reduce the amount of insulin necessary for diabetic cats. And up to one-third of the cats on insulin can actually stop taking it when switched to this diet. Frequency of meals is also critical to control blood sugar levels.

Your veterinarian can recommend specially formulated prescription cat foods and frequency adjustments. Although diabetes cannot be prevented, there are steps you can take to stay ahead of it. Control calories in cats prone to weight gain, as obesity is a major contributing factor. Monitor high-risk cats by measuring water/food intake as well as urine production. Finally, bring your cat in for regular physical exams and blood screenings, especially after she reaches the age of seven.

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