Is your cat at risk for diabetes?

It’s becoming more common, but could it happen to your cat? Here’s what you need to know to keep your kitty safe

Is your cat at risk for diabetes?

Source: Best Health magazine, November 2012; Image: ThinkStock

Feline Diabetes is on the rise, says Dr. Ian Sandler, a veterinarian at the Rosedale Animal Hospital in Toronto. According to Sandler, 80 to 95 percent of diabetic cats experience something similar to type 2 diabetes. (Type 1 diabetes is very rare in cats; it is more common in dogs.)

But don’t start counting your cat’s nine lives just yet; feline diabetes can be kept under control and perhaps even reversed with treatment and lifestyle management.

What is it?

A cat can become diabetic when its pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient amounts of the hormone insulin. After a meal, insulin aids in the digestion of the sugar content (glucose) in the food. Without insulin, the body’s cells can’t absorb the glucose and the cat ends up with high blood sugar, which can eventually cause lethargy, cataracts, urinary tract infections and even death.

Who’s at risk?

According to Sandler, overweight cats are most likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. ‘There’s a slight disposition to males,’ he says, ‘and we can see it at any age.’


Early recognition of the signs is important, Sandler says. Watch for increased thirst and urination, change in appetite, weight gain or loss, and an overall weakened condition. Your cat’s coat may appear to be oily or have increased dandruff. Your veterinarian can confirm a diabetes diagnosis with a urine or blood test.


In about 30 percent of the cases that are discovered early, feline diabetes can be treated and potentially reversed with weight loss and an oral medication such as glyburide or glipizide that lowers blood sugar levels. Feeding your cat a diet of canned food, which is slightly higher in protein and water content than dry, can help shed pounds. For more serious cases, your veterinarian may prescribe insulin therapy and teach you how to administer injections at home. Although this can get expensive, the good news is it’s very easy to give a cat an insulin injection. ‘The needles are tiny; it doesn’t hurt them. They respond well to insulin and the prognosis is very good.’ With the proper treatment, diabetic cats can have long, healthy lives.


To dodge a diagnosis of diabetes, keep your cat at a healthy weight. ‘The majority of cats who tend to be overweight are overfed,’ says Sandler. ‘Monitor calories, and make sure that your pet is getting some type of exercise: jumping off the couch, catching a toy or chasing a laser pointer.’ If you’re not sure how much to feed your cat, ask your veterinarian for guidelines on consumption of meals’and treats.

This article was originally titled "Why you shouldn’t overfeed your cat" in the November 2012 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!