What is Diabetes?
Glucose (‘blood sugar’) provides the cells in the body with the energy they need to live and function.
Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in an organ called the pancreas.
Sometimes the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body fail to respond to insulin properly, meaning that:
i) The cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and
ii) Too much glucose remains in the blood.
This condition is called ‘diabetes mellitus’ (this is often shortened to just ‘diabetes’). Diabetes is therefore basically caused by a lack of available insulin.
Diabetes mellitus is seen in cats of all ages, sexes and breeds. However, it most typically occurs in older cats, with neutered tom cats more commonly affected.
Can diabetes in cats be cured?
Usually the underlying cause of the diabetes cannot be ‘cured’, but with the establishment of a regular routine and the use of an insulin preparation such as Caninsulin, your cat can lead a normal, happy life.
What are the signs of diabetes in cats?
When the blood contains a high level of glucose, some of it is able to ‘leak’ through the kidneys and it begins to appear in the urine (in healthy cats there should be no sugar in the urine). This then causes increased urine production. To replace this fluid loss, the affected cat must then drink extra water. Also, because an important energy source is being lost from the body, affected cats tend to lose weight, even though they often eat more than usual. Finally, there may be more general signs such as lethargy and poor coat condition.
The signs listed above suggest that diabetes could be present, but they can also be caused by a number of other diseases. Therefore, your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis. A persistently high level of glucose in the blood is the most reliable indicator that a pet is diabetic.
The main aim of treatment is to restore a good quality of life, not just for your cat but for you as well. We can do this by stopping the signs of diabetes described earlier. An additional benefit of treatment is that it helps to reduce diabetic complications. Although cats tend to escape some of the more serious complications that we see in human diabetics, they will have a higher incidence of problems such as hind leg weakness.
Just as in people, diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin (such as Caninsulin from Intervet). In cats, insulin is generally given at a fixed time once or twice a day. A regular routine, including not only the insulin injections but also feeding and weight control is vital to the successful treatment of diabetic cats. The veterinary nurses at our practice are often a great source of advice on these matters.
Each cat’s requirement for insulin is different and your vet will need to tailor the dosage of insulin to your cat’s needs. It can take several months to achieve full stabilisation, although improvements in your cat should be seen within a few weeks of starting treatment. The starting dose of insulin may be worked out according to your cat’s weight and its blood sugar concentration. Your vet may take further blood samples after the first injection to check that the dose is right for your animal. You will also be shown how to draw up the correct dose of
Caninsulin using special syringes, and how to give the injection just under the skin (see illustration on page 8). Always use 40lU syringes designed for use with Caninsulin.
Once insulin therapy has been adjusted to your cat’s needs, he or she should improve rapidly. You will need to keep in close contact with your vet but the frequency of visits should reduce once the optimum routine is found. You should never change the dose of insulin you give to your pet without first consulting your vet. You may be asked to test urine samples on a regular basis to check for glucose and ketones, using special test sticks supplied by your vet. These give an extra indication of how your pet is getting on. Small amounts of glucose in the urine may be acceptable, but the presence of ketones is usually an indicator of a problem.
Always Call us for advice if you are unsure what to do.
Low blood glucose (Hypoglycaemia)
One potentially dangerous complication that you should be prepared for is hypoglycaemia: this is when the blood sugar level falls too low. This may happen if too much insulin is given or if your cat refuses to eat. In this situation the brain, which is very dependent on a supply of glucose, cannot get enough energy.
The early signs include unrest or lethargy, weakness and shivering / muscle twitching , progressing to fits and unconsciousness. The condition is potentially life threatening if not treated properly.
What to do if you see the signs of hypoglycaemia:
1) Give food immediately
2) If your cat doesn’t eat straight away syringe a glucose solution into the mouth and/or rub glucose powder on the gums and under the tongue (see below). Take care to not get bitten.
3) Call Us for advice – 0151 632 5676
Glucose powder and solution are available from your local pharmacist. Make sure you have some available at all times in case of emergency. When treating hypoglycaemia aim to give one gram of glucose per kilogram of body weight. For example a 4 kg cat would require approximately 1 level teaspoon of glucose / sugar.
Tips on looking after your insulin
Insulin is a very fragile substance. Incorrect storage and handling of insulin may mean that it doesn’t have the proper effect when you give it to your cat.
Follow these rules with Caninsulin:
- Do not use a vial of Caninsulin for longer than 28 days – Caninsulin comes in small 2.5ml vials ideal for most cats.
- Intervet/Schering-Plough produces a variety of pet-owner support materials, available from your veterinary practice on request.
- Always keep Caninsulin in the fridge – remove it only when you are drawing up an injection.
- Do not allow Caninsulin to freeze – freezing destroys the insulin. Remember that items kept at the back of the fridge may freeze if they come into contact with the cooling plate.
- Always store Caninsulin in an upright position – insulin can be affected by substances in the rubber cap on the top of the vial.
- If stored on its side the activity of your insulin may be decreased.
- Swirl, don’t shake – shaking the bottle can break up the insulin molecules. However, it is important to mix your insulin before drawing up an injection, so swirl or gently rock the bottle to re-suspend any material that has settled in the bottom sinceyou last used it.
Visit the website www.diabeticpets.co.uk for more detailed information on managing your diabetic pet.
When you find out that your cat is a diabetic it can be a daunting experience – there is a lot to learn in the first few weeks. However, in time, many owners establish a routine that becomes second nature to both them and their cats. Looking after a diabetic cat is a challenging, yet rewarding undertaking. It must be accepted that regular injections, a fixed routine and frequent visits to the vet will become a way of life.
However, with the right care, cats can enjoy a full and happy life after the diagnosis of diabetes.
We hope you ‘ve found this article useful. If you would like to download a pdf version please click on the link below:
Diabetes in Cats
If your cat has been diagnosed with diabetes, please do talk to us here at Hoylake about any concerns or queries you have – we’re here to help you and your cat. Please just Contact Us.
Hoylake Vets – Advice for Cats