Feline Diabetes - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Health, last updated 12th, Aug 2015, Neha Manchanda




Veterinarians across the world list feline diabetes as one of the most common diseases in cats. Studies have shown that cats that are at most risk of developing diabetes are male house cats with little or lack of physical activities and are obese. It can take weeks, even months for the symptoms to develop and maybe longer for pet parents to realize and seek medical care for their cats.

In this article, we will elaborate on feline diabetes and aid in understanding causes, symptoms and management of the syndrome.

What is feline diabetes?

Feline diabetes, also known as Diabetes Mellitus, is one of the most common diseases that inflict cats. Diabetes Mellitus is the inability of the body to produce insulin to balance the blood sugar or the glucose levels in the body. According to a global study, between 0.5% - 2% cats in the world have diabetes.

Types of diabetes mellitus

There are three types of diabetes mellitus found in cats – Insulin dependent, Non – insulin dependent and secondary.

Comparison of diabetes mellitus

Features     Insulin Dependent  Non – Insulin Dependent
Percentage of cases     50 – 75%     25 – 50%
Age of onset   Middle age or older     Middle age or older
Type of onset   Usually rapid  Gradual
Weight  Usually lean, may be overweight  Usually obese, sometimes lean
Signs  Moderate to severe, increased thirst, increased urination, loss or gain of appetite, weight loss    Variable but usually mild; Increased thirst, increased urination, increase or decrease in appetite, weight loss
Ketosis     Common rare
Health risks Obesity, prone to infections and diseases Obesity, prone to infections and diseases
Insulin therapy Required Not necesary
Oral medications Ineffective Often effective

Secondary diabetes – Secondary diabetes mellitus causes disturbances in the cells as a result they make insulin therapy ineffective. Hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis and Cushing’s disease can cause secondary diabetes in cats. Many a times if not addressed in time, secondary diabetes mellitus may not be reversible.

Symptoms of diabetes mellitus

Some of the common symptoms of diabetes mellitus are:

  • Obesity / excessive weight gain
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increase in the frequency and amount of urine
  • Loss of appetite of drastic increase in appetite
  • Unexpected loss of weight
  • Wasting of muscles especially in the hind legs
  • Matted coat
  • Enlarged liver
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting for no reason
  • Loss in motor function
  • Metabolic acidosis or ketaoacidosis where the fat and proteins in the liver breakdown to respond to insulin deficiency

Causes of diabetes mellitus

Though it is difficult to pin point a particular reason for the onset of diabetes mellitus in cats, there are a few which may be considered as the contributing factors:

  • Genetic susceptibility – either of the parents were diabetic
  • Pancreatitis
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Cushing’s disease


If you notice any of the symptoms, connect with a veterinarian immediately. He / she would take a complete medical history of your cat to understand the exact symptoms.

A complete blood count + chemical profile + urinalysis will be advised to rule out any other problems. If any of the following levels are high, then your cat is diabetic;

  • High glucose levels in blood and urine
  • High levels of liver enzymes and electrolyte imbalances
  • High levels of ketone bodies in urine
  • Enlarged liver (ultrasound tests)

Management and care

Post the tests and diagnosis, the veterinarian will prescribe treatment of diabetes.

  • Insulin therapy – based on whether your cat has insulin dependent or non – insulin dependent diabetes.
  • Diet – The veterinarian will prescribe low carbohydrate based diet for your cat which will provide the necessary energy and be easy on the liver
  • Regular monitoring of glucose levels will be imperative
  • Oral medication will be administered and prescribed based on the type and level of diabetes mellitus

As a pet parent to a diabetic cat you will also have to take care about their physical activities and keep them safe from Knicks and bruises as they take time to heal and can develop infections.  Since the physical activities reduce, diabetic cats should be kept off high perches and kept on soft ground that does not harm or hurt their legs and joints.

Source: PetMd

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