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Caring for cats with diabetes


Diabetes in cats can seem very daunting at first, especially if you have never looked after a cat with this disease before, but it is absolutely nothing to be afraid of and you can quite easily learn to properly care for diabetic cats and their extra needs with time, practice and patience.


Unfortunately we see owners looking to give up their cats due to a diabetes diagnosis, and our adoptable kitties with diabetes have a much harder time finding the loving forever homes that they truly deserve. We believe that this may be due to lack of knowledge or understanding of this disease, and we want to help clear things up!


Many cats that are diagnosed with diabetes can continue to live a happy and healthy life, as long as the diabetes is correctly monitored and treated, with the help of your vets.


Cats can develop diabetes at any stage in their lives, so whether you already have a diabetic cat, or you’re thinking of adopting one or you just want to be aware of the signs, this blog will give you all the information that you need to feel comfortable and confident in providing the essential care to keep them healthy.


There are also support groups that you can join, to chat amongst others that own diabetic kitties. These can be a great way to get support and understanding from people facing similar situations.


A great example of this is the Feline Diabetes Support Facebook Group.



What is diabetes in cats?


When a cat develops diabetes, it means that their pancreas isn't producing enough insulin or their body isn't responding properly to insulin. Insulin is necessary for absorbing glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream after eating, and transporting it to cells throughout the cat's body. This process helps cats grow and provides them with energy.


A cat with diabetes is unable to control the level of glucose in its blood. Once the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, it can't reach the cells, which results in imbalanced blood sugar levels. High blood sugar levels are called Hyperglycemia, while low levels are known as Hypoglycemia.


Among cats, the most common form of diabetes is Type II. It is estimated that between 0.2 % and 1% of cats will be diagnosed with diabetes during their lifetime.




What are the symptoms of diabetes in cats?


There are various signs that you can look out for which are an indication that your cat may have diabetes. The main symptoms are:


Increased frequency of urination

This is one of the most common symptoms of cat diabetes. High blood glucose levels overwhelm the cat's kidneys, making it difficult for them to filter glucose effectively. As a result, glucose pulls water into the urine, leading to increased urination.


If you suspect diabetes, observe the litter box for more pee clumps or larger clumps than usual. Using clumping litter can help with monitoring.

Excessive thirst

Dehydration occurs when the body tries to compensate for the increased urine volume caused by diabetes. Cats with diabetes may show signs of excessive thirst as a result.

Weight loss

In diabetes, the cat's body lacks insulin which is needed to utilise dietary sugars. This means that these sugars are lost in the urine instead of being used for energy, resulting in a calorie deficit. The calorie deficit causes the body to break down fat reserves, resulting in weight loss.

Increased hunger

Diabetic cats often exhibit an increased sense of hunger and appetite as their body will begin to think that it is starving.








Other symptoms include:

*Note: The following symptoms are not unique to diabetes, and could be signs of another condition.


Lethargy/Weakness

Cats with diabetes often exhibit lethargy, weakness, or a lack of energy due to an energy deficit. They may show disinterest or unwillingness to engage in play.

Poor coat

An unkempt or poorly groomed coat can be a significant indicator of feline diabetes. Cats in an energy deficit and feeling lethargic are less likely to want to spend time grooming, resulting in an untidy appearance. They may also develop flaky skin and dandruff, particularly along their back.

Plantigrade stance

Plantigrade Stance is when a cat stands with its weight on its heels or ankles, instead of its paws. Cats with diabetes can develop diabetic neuropathy, which is a condition that affects a cat's nerves, and can result in the inability to extend the ankle joint.

Bladder infections

The presence of sugar in the urine of diabetic cats can serve as a food source for bacteria. Over time, bacteria can multiply in the bladder, leading to the development of urinary tract infections (UTIs).


** If you notice any of these signs in your cat, we strongly recommend seeking veterinary care promptly. **




Diagnosing diabetes in cats



If your cat is displaying symptoms that suggest diabetes, it is crucial to have them tested to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other diseases with similar symptoms. This testing process typically involves:


Urine samples

To determine the presence of glucose, urine samples will be collected and analysed. The presence of glucose in your cat's urine strongly indicates diabetes since the body is unable to absorb the glucose properly.

Blood tests

Your cat will undergo blood tests to check for elevated glucose levels in their bloodstream. This helps further assess the likelihood of diabetes.


Sometimes, traces of glucose in the urine can be a result of stress in cats. In this case, your veterinarian may need to conduct further testing to ensure an accurate diagnosis.


Undergoing these tests is a vital step in understanding your cat's health condition and providing appropriate care.


How is diabetes treated?


If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, the treatment involves daily insulin injections, typically given twice a day after meals, with a 12-hour interval between doses. To administer the injections, you will need the following items:

Insulin

Insulin will need to be kept in a fridge, and kept upright.

Syringes

New syringes are individually packaged and stored in a cardboard box.

Sharps disposal container

Once each syringe has been used, you will need to properly dispose of them, in a sharps disposal container. Once this container is three quarters full, you can take it to your vets and they will dispose of the syringes safely and provide you with a new one. There may be a small fee for this.


Do not wait for the container to be full to the top, before taking it for safe disposal. A completely full or overflowing sharps container can result in unnecessary risk to anyone handling its disposal, if there are syringes sticking out of the top of the container.



Administering the injections should be painless for your cat if done correctly. Your vet will demonstrate the process, guide you in monitoring your cat's condition, and provide resources.


You can also find a step by step guide, with images here, and a video here.


Occasionally, you may need to test your cat's glucose levels using a sterile lancet to puncture the skin, usually on a hairless part of the ear. Collect a small drop of blood onto a glucose test strip, then insert the sample into a Glucometer to obtain a reading. You can take physical notes of the reading, or you can even use apps such as the Pet Diabetes Tracker.


These readings will need to be shared with your vet during check-ups to monitor glucose levels and make necessary adjustments to the insulin dosage if needed.


Your vet will discuss with you in depth, and show you all required treatment for your cat’s diabetes will need to be carried out. Many cat owners that are new to monitoring and treating diabetes are understandably anxious about giving injections in the beginning, but quickly get the hang of it and build confidence with practice. In the early days of owning a cat that has diabetes, you may find that an extra pair of hands, to help hold your cat still will be incredibly helpful, however, with time this becomes second nature and is just an extra step in your daily routine.


To successfully monitor your cat’s condition, it is absolutely vital that you are following your vet’s instructions, and sticking to a consistent and well structured daily routine to ensure that your cat’s insulin levels are kept at safe levels. If you are unsure of anything or need some reassurance, be sure to always double check with your vet. They will have your cat’s best interest at heart and be happy to help.



What does looking after a cat with diabetes involve?


Life with a diabetic cat is nothing to be afraid of. Having a diabetic cat simply requires a more structured routine and some additional daily care.


As mentioned earlier, one of the primary responsibilities of caring for a diabetic cat is administering injections twice a day. However, there are a few extra tasks involved in taking care of your feline companion. These include:


Regular vets trips

Your cat will need regular visits to the vet, especially in the early stages of diagnosis. These check-ups allow the vet to monitor your cat's response to insulin injections and make any necessary dosage adjustments. Once your cat is stable and responds well to the injections, you can start monitoring their condition at home.


While less frequent vet visits will be required, regular check-ups remain important to ensure your cat's overall health, monitor progress, and ensure you and your cat are adapting well to the new routine.

Establishing and maintaining a routine

Establishing and maintaining a routine is crucial when caring for a diabetic cat. You'll need to commit to regularly monitoring your cat and following consistent feeding and injection schedules, ideally at the same times each day.


By sticking to a routine, you can better manage the condition and quickly identify anything that may be out of the ordinary.

Keeping a diabetes diary

As successful treatment for feline diabetes is much about consistency, it is recommended by vets that owners of diabetic cats keep a diabetes diary, to help you track how the condition is being managed.


You should record your cat's food type, quantities, insulin dosage, and the time of administration. Additionally, note any changes in weight, water intake, behaviour, and document any blood or urine samples taken.


Sharing these diary entries with your vet during visits allows them to assess the effectiveness of the diabetes management plan and address any concerns promptly.

Weight management

Since obesity contributes to feline diabetes, monitoring your cat's weight is crucial. If your cat was overweight when diagnosed, it's important to assist in safe weight loss and maintain a healthy weight moving forward.


Your vet will help you with this. You can also read up on how to help your cat maintain a healthy weight here.




Prognosis and remission for diabetic cats


While there is no known cure for feline diabetes, the good news is that cats diagnosed with this condition can still enjoy long and fulfilling lives. By following your veterinarian's instructions, providing proper insulin injections, maintaining a healthy diet, and ensuring regular exercise, diabetic cats can thrive.


When diagnosed early, many cats have the potential to enter a state of diabetic remission. This means they can maintain normal blood sugar levels without requiring insulin injections. However, if a diabetic cat does not achieve remission within the first six months of diagnosis, lifelong insulin injections will likely be necessary.


It's important to closely monitor cats that enter diabetic remission, as some may eventually require insulin injections again later on.


With attentive care, many cats with diabetes can experience an excellent quality of life and live happily alongside their condition. Diabetic cats actually have a life expectancy that is similar to that of non-diabetic cats.


Regular communication with your vet will help ensure your cat's well-being and health. Managing a diabetic cat can be a rewarding experience, although it's important to acknowledge that not all cats respond equally well to treatment. By staying informed, committed, and proactive, you can provide your feline companion with the best possible care and increase their chances of a happy and healthy life.



What if I go on holiday?


Owning a cat with diabetes does not mean that you can no longer continue with your life, or go on holidays. Many catteries and pet sitters are happy to look after diabetic cats while you are away.


To find one in your area, you can ask your vet if they can recommend one.



Adopting a cat with diabetes


Owning a cat with diabetes may seem intimidating to many people, which often leads to longer waiting times for these special feline friends to find their forever homes. Diabetic cats often spend time on waiting lists or in temporary foster care, patiently waiting for someone who is willing to provide them with a loving forever home.


Diabetic cats have just as much love to give as any other, and with the right owner and veterinary guidance can go on to live long and happy lives. However, caring for a cat with feline diabetes requires time, financial commitment, and dedication. It's essential to be absolutely certain that you are ready and willing to make this commitment.


If you have the capability and willingness to meet the needs of a diabetic cat, we strongly encourage you to consider adopting one!


We have successfully rehomed cats with diabetes, like Sootie (pictured below). Sootie is a 13-year-old sweetheart with a calm demeanour that found a loving home.


If you believe you can provide care for a diabetic kitty, we invite you to reach out and help save a life. Diabetic cats are available as a Foster to Adopt to provide support while deciding if it is the right match for your home.



If you have any further questions about diabetes in cats, or are interested in fostering or adopting a diabetic kitty, please don’t hesitate to reach out! Members of our team will be more than happy to assist you in any way that we can.


Apply to foster here

Apply to adopt here




How Can You Help Us?


L.I.C.K is a volunteer run charity, no one gets paid!

Every donation big or small allow us to do our work and care for all our cats and kittens.

All donations go towards medical costs.





Written by Sofi N



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