Your Senior Cat and Diabetes

Pet owners are often surprised to hear that their pets can get many of the same diseases they can develop themselves.  One of those is diabetes.  Keep in mind that diabetes is not a disease associated only with old age.  If your younger cat is obese, this is a significant risk factor for diabetes.  Sound familiar?  You can prevent a potentially life threatening illness in your beloved cat (dog, spouse…) by keeping his or her weight in check.


With senior cats, diabetes can present in a number of ways.  Older cats don’t have to be obese to develop diabetes and, in fact, are often taken to the veterinarian because of weight loss, decreased appetite and, like with kidney disease, more frequent drinking and urination.  Other risks associated with diabetes include the development of cataracts and urinary infections because bacteria love sugar.

Diabetes is one of the ‘Big 3’ diseases which are most common in senior cats so blood work is essential to determine the cause of the clinical symptoms.  A urinalysis is also necessary.  When the body does not have sufficient insulin to get sugar into the cells where it’s needed, the sugar stays outside of the cells in the blood.  When it reaches a certain level, that sugar also ‘spills’ into the urine and is one of the levels reviewed by your veterinarian.  Pet owners should monitor sugar levels in the urine at home to determine when the blood sugar is too high.

Initially, your vet will most likely recommend a Blood Glucose Curve treatment.  There are several different kinds of insulin and your vet will chose the proper one for your cat.  The Blood Glucose Curve will require that your cat stay in the hospital for 12-24 hours so the glucose can be checked every 2 hours.  Then your veterinarian can figure out the proper amount of insulin and how your cat reacts to it.  If too much insulin is given, the blood sugar will drop dangerously low (called ‘hypoglycemia’) and can cause seizures so it is imperative that the right dose is given.

Once you take your cat home, you will need to manage the disease, including giving your cat an injection of insulin with a tiny needle once or twice a day. Ideally, cats should eat twice daily so the reaction of the blood sugar is predictable but many owners find that challenging for cats who are life-long grazers.

If left untreated, diabetes can be fatal but with ‘tight control’, meaning consistently keeping the blood sugar at the proper level, diabetic cats can be managed for years with a good quality of life.  With some basic knowledge about this disease, consistent care and a cat willing to accept treatment, your diabetic cat can still have a good quality of life for years to come.


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