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Vet Tech Rounds: How to Best Help a Diabetic Cat

Vet Talks 5 min read
Vet Tech Rounds: How to Best Help a Diabetic Cat

A diagnosis of diabetes mellitus in your cat can be overwhelming. Diabetes changes your day-to-day life with your cat dramatically. New routines can be stressful to both humans and pets. In developing these new routines it’s helpful to understand exactly what is going on in your cat’s body when they have diabetes, so you can help them as best you can. NHV is here to help you and your diabetic cat adjust to your new normal, the best you can.

What is feline diabetes exactly?

Glucose, or sugar, is the main energy source for all cells in the body.

Glucose, also known as sugar, is the main energy source for all cells in the body. Glucose is what is known as simple sugar. Carbohydrates are broken down by the body to produce glucose to give energy to all of the cells in the body. Glucose is present in the blood until it is needed by cells for energy. Cells cannot take up glucose from the blood on their own, for this they require insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Insulin helps the cells to take in glucose from the blood to provide energy. Insulin is like the key to the door of the cell which allows glucose to enter.

There are two types of diabetes. In type I diabetes, the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to adequately control blood glucose levels. In type II diabetes, the cells do not respond properly to the insulin to allow the glucose into the cells, so “the key does not fit”. Most diabetic cats have what is considered type II diabetes.

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How is a diabetic cat diagnosed?

Diabetes in cats can be diagnosed with simple lab tests. A blood panel is run which includes measuring blood sugar levels. A urinalysis is also an important part of lab testing. When pets are stressed, their blood glucose is often elevated. Because of this, single elevated blood glucose is not usually enough to definitively diagnose diabetes. In a healthy animal, the urine should not contain any glucose. In a diabetic animal, the blood glucose is so high that the kidneys start to filter out the glucose. This is something that they normally do not do. Because of this, glucose will be detectable in the urine sample.

Female assistant watching a veterinarian draw blood

What is day-to-day life like for a diabetic cat?

A diabetic cat can lead a healthy life with insulin, a prescription, or a vet-customized diet and suitable supplements. Changes in weight and appetite, coat condition, frequent vet trips, and change in energy are some things you might see in any middle-aged or senior cat as well. So don’t worry, a well-cared diabetic cat isn’t very different from a healthy senior cat. The only two activities that will be unique to your diabetic cat are administering insulin and monitoring blood sugar levels. Continue reading to learn more about these two steps.

cat tail diabetes
Bobby the cat lived a happy healthy life as a senior diabetic cat

What symptoms in a diabetic cat should you be prepared for?

An excess of glucose in the blood can cause a number of problems such as increased thirst and urination, weight loss, vomiting, frequent urinary tract infections, and can have a negative effect on nerve function.

“I found Mellit which help him greatly to get the diabetes under control in six months of taking it”

When glucose is unable to reach the cells, the body does not receive enough energy to maintain its regular function. The body is then signaled that it needs energy, and other substances in the body begin to break down to provide that much-needed energy.  The body will begin to break down fat to use as an energy source. To do this, the liver produces “ketone bodies”, the presence of this substance increases the acidity of the blood and can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis. Because the body works very hard at maintaining a steady pH level, any change in this can have drastic effects. This can lead to a condition called “diabetic ketoacidosis” or DKA which is a dire emergency and needs to be treated immediately.

How difficult is it to administer insulin to a diabetic cat at home?

Treating diabetes involves replacing insulin in the body so that sugars can be used by the cells. The treatment for type I and type II diabetes in cats is generally the same. Replacing the insulin requires injecting a natural or synthetic insulin replacement just under the skin. This is usually done twice daily. The prospect of giving your cat an injection can be a bit daunting. Rest assured, the needle used is very, very tiny and most cats adjust very well.

The timing of the injections is important, they should be given just after your cat eats a meal. For this reason, it is important to try to transition to meal feeding for your cat, rather than free feeding throughout the day. NHV Mellit can help the body to regulate glucose levels and help ease symptoms of diabetes. It is also important to adjust your kitty’s diet to be higher in proteins and lower in carbohydrates. Dr. Amanda can formulate a custom diet plan for your diabetic pet.

Can you monitor your diabetic cat’s glucose levels at home?

It is important to regularly monitor your kitty’s blood glucose levels. This is especially important in the early stages after diagnosis. Many newly diagnosed cats will require adjustments to their insulin to find a dose that works best for them. Your vet will likely recommend regular monitoring of blood glucose and a value called fructosamine, which gives them a picture of your cat’s regulation over time.

Monitoring glucose levels can be done at home with a very simple test using a glucometer. This device requires one tiny drop of blood for testing. A simple ear prick can obtain this sample, and most cats tolerate the procedure very well.

cat blood glucose test

Just remember that even though it may seem like a daunting prospect, you and your diabetic cat will eventually adjust. You will both eventually get used to your new routine and you’ll have a happy kitty to show for it. With the help of your veterinarian and NHV’s natural support, cats can live long happy lives with diabetes.

Johanna RVT

Johanna RVT

Johanna is NHV’s in house Registered Veterinary Technician. Technicians are the veterinary equivalent of a human nurse. Johanna has over 10 years of experience in different types of veterinary clinics and hospitals. She has seen and assisted in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions and injuries. She will share her experiences in her monthly blog series “Vet Tech Rounds” to help our extended NHV family learn about common preventable medical cases and other interesting stories of vet clinic life.

Published: November 8, 2019

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