Diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes” is one of the human diseases which also affects cats. While not as common in cats as in people, it is not uncommon for veterinarians to diagnose and treat diabetes in middle-aged and older cats.

Diabetes results from a failure of certain cells in the pancreas to secrete enough of the hormone insulin. Insulin allows the body to breakdown sugars into energy, so in the diabetic cat the blood sugar remains too high. Over time, uncontrolled diabetes in cats will cause adverse effects to various organs of the body. The most serious consequence is that regardless of how much these cats eat they are, in effect, starving because they can’t properly process nutrients. Owners of diabetic cats may observe that their cat will lose weight even though the appetite is good. Another symptom of diabetes, which may appear even before weight loss, is an increase in thirst and urine output.

The cause of diabetes in cats is not clearly understood. In a few cases it can be traced to the use of certain drugs, which damage the pancreas. More often we don’t know the cause. The likelihood of diabetes is higher in older cats and obese cats, but any cat experiencing weight loss, increased thirst, increased urine output or increased appetite should be checked.

Your veterinarian can quickly determine if your cat is diabetic by checking blood and urine. If diabetes in a cat is not controlled it will be fatal, but it is a treatable disorder. Many cat owners are able to control their cat’s condition for years. The treatment usually entails giving insulin injections once or twice a day. There are some diabetic cats that can be controlled through diet and medication, but more often insulin injections are needed.

People are often initially reluctant to give injections to their cats, but those who undertake this task invariably find that it is far less traumatic for both the cat and the owner than they had expected. Insulin needles are very tiny and the cats usually do not react at all to getting the shots. When one begins to treat a diabetic cat, their veterinarian will go over all the procedures, including feeding instructions and symptoms of too much or too little insulin and what to do in these cases. The veterinarian will also set up a schedule of regular recheck visits to gauge how the therapy is working and to adjust the insulin dose since the need for insulin fluctuates up and down.