November is National Pet Diabetes Month. While not as much fun as National Hug Your Cat Day (June 4th), this is a great time for pet parents to brush up on the causes and symptoms of this disease. Type II diabetes is the second most common endocrine disease we see in cats and is being diagnosed more than ever before.
So, what is diabetes anyway? It all starts with a sugar that comes from digested food called glucose. Glucose is the main source of energy that fuels all the functions of the body. For the body to be able to use glucose, the hormone insulin is needed to move the glucose from the blood stream into its cells. Type II diabetes is a disease that happens when the body is able to make insulin but doesn’t make enough or can’t use the insulin that it makes. Without enough insulin, too little fuel is available to the body’s cells and they begin to starve. The body’s reaction to this problem is to create more glucose to feed its cells, but that glucose just builds up in the blood stream because it can’t make it into the cells.
Two of the most obvious symptoms of a diabetic cat are a dramatic increase in water consumption and urination, because all the excess sugar in their blood causes them to be dehydrated. Diabetic cats will sometimes begin urinating outside their litterbox. Other symptoms include increased hunger and weight loss due to the body trying to feed its starving cells. If you notice your cat is showing these symptoms, make an appointment to have them seen by their vet for evaluation.
Regular preventive care exams and lab work help veterinarians determine if a patient is at risk of becoming diabetic. The labs we run to diagnose diabetes are a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemistry profile, and a urinalysis to determine if there is glucose present. Treatment for cats diagnosed with diabetes often includes twice daily insulin injections and regular blood glucose testing. There are also prescription diets specifically designed for diabetic pets that can help manage their glucose levels. Luckily, Type II diabetes patients can potentially go into remission so these treatments may not have to last a lifetime.
The best way to prevent your cat from developing diabetes is making sure they maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obese cats are at a much higher risk of developing diabetes. Cats are considered obese if they are three or more pounds above their ideal weight. Feeding wet food instead of dry can help keep your feline friend feeling full while cutting excess calories out of their diets. And finally, something fun! Playing regularly with your cat will give them the exercise they need to stay a physically fit all-star athlete.