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Diabetes Mellitus in the Cat

Causes and Symptoms of Feline Diabetes Mellitus

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Feline Diabetes Mellitus

Feline diabetes mellitus results in an abnormally high blood glucose (or blood sugar) level because of damage to the pancreatic cells.
Photo Courtesy of Tomi Tapio/Flickr.com

Related: Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

Diabetes in cats is a common disease that involves the feline endocrine system. In fact, it is the second most common endocrine disease seen in cats.

What Exactly Is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that revolves around the excretion of insulin by the pancreas and the ability of that insulin to properly regulate the blood glucose (blood sugar) levels.

Insulin is necessary in all animals (and people) to regulate the level of glucose, or sugar, in the blood. When the pancreas is unable to produce insulin in adequate amounts or the body is unable to properly use that insulin, the blood glucose level increases above normal levels and diabetes mellitus results.

Classification of Diabetes Mellitus in the Cat

Essentially, there are three different classifications of diabetes mellitus.

  • Type I diabetes mellitus is insulin-dependent, meaning that the pancreas of the diseased animal (or person) can no longer produce adequate amounts of insulin.
  • Type II diabetes mellitus is non-insulin-dependent and occurs when the body is not able to utilize the insulin that is produced in an efficient fashion. In these cases, the pancreas is still able to produce insulin, at least to some degree.
  • Type III diabetes involves insulin interference by certain diseases, conditions and/or drugs. Examples include hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing's disease), acromegaly, gestational diabetes and diestrus (part of the reproductive or heat cycle.)

Feline diabetes mellitus differs drastically from diabetes mellitus in dogs. Dogs with diabetes almost always suffer Type I diabetes. However, cats more often are diagnosed with Type II diabetes, at least in the early stages of disease.

In the early stages of feline diabetes, it is possible for a cat to go into "remission" and become able to regulate his blood glucose again if treatment is instituted before severe damage to the pancreas occurs.

If diabetes is left untreated for the cat, eventually the stress on the pancreas as it tries to produce more insulin in response to continually elevated blood glucose levels will lead to destruction of the pancreatic cells. When this happens, the disease will revert to Type I diabetes and the cat may become dependent on insulin injections.

Causes of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats

Feline diabetes mellitus may be caused by amyloidosis (a disease in which amyloid, a starch-like protein, is deposited into the pancreas and sometimes other body tissues), pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or by certain drugs (corticosteroids, megestrol acetate, etc.) Obesity is also a significant factor in the development of diabetes mellitus in cats.

Symptoms of Feline Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus tends to occur most often in middle-aged cats though it is possible to see the disease in younger cats as well.

The symptoms most commonly seen in cats with diabetes mellitus include:

  • increased urination
  • increased thirst
  • increased hunger
  • weight loss
  • muscle weakness

Diabetic cats may also develop a neuropathy in which the hind legs become weakened and the cat takes on an abnormally flat-footed stance and gait on the hind legs.

Cataracts, though relatively common in dogs with diabetes, do not often occur in diabetic cats.

Diabetes mellitus in cats may start off being Type II (or non-insulin-dependent) and some cats may be able to attain a state of remission if treated properly early in the disease. Left untreated, feline diabetes will likely become insulin-dependent.

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