Symptoms and Treatment of Diabetes in Cats

The hungry gray big long-haired British cat sits on the scales and licking.
credit: SValeriia/iStock/GettyImages

When Max, our thirteen-year-old big, black cat, began draining his water bowl and filling up his litter box, we knew something was wrong. A visit to our vet confirmed our concerns. Max was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, which is pretty common in overweight and obese cats.

Ginger cat sipping running water from a tap
credit: mheim3011/iStock/GettyImages

What symptoms should I look for?

According to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), the four main symptoms of diabetes include: increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and increased appetite. Max had all four symptoms.

Veterinarian inspects teeth cat breed Scottish Straight
credit: Sonsedska/iStock/GettyImages

When should I visit the vet?

Make a vet appointment as soon as your cat is showing the above symptoms.

What tests will the vet run?

Dr. Neville, our favorite VCA vet, ran an extensive blood test for Max. His glucose came back at 664 mg. The test said the average glucose range was 64 - 170 mg. We felt lucky with his diabetes diagnosis since there could have been worse things wrong, and according to Dr. Neville, diabetes could be managed.

Pet insulin injection syringes U-40
credit: GemaIbarra/iStock/GettyImages

How do I give my cat insulin?

I visited Dr. Neville to learn more about diabetes mellitus and how to give Max his insulin shots. The first step is feeding the cat. Next, the insulin needs to be warmed up by taking it out of the fridge, and rolling it between your hands. Prepare the cat's insulin by turning the bottle upside down, and directly inserting the syringe needle, drawing out the prescribed amount of insulin. Next is the tricky part - pinch the back of the cats neck, insert the needle and push the plunger all the way down. Take the needle out quickly, cap it and dispose into a bio-hazard container. (The syringes I use come with their own handy bio-hazard container. ) Finally, give your good cat a reward for being so brave. I give Max some scritches and tell him he's a good boy. The American Animal Hospital Association has a handy guide on How To Administer Insulin To Your Cat.

Max needs insulin every 12 hours. Arranging my schedule so that I'm home (or awake) at 5:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m. 7 days a week to give him a shot has been challenging, but I love him and will do whatever I can to keep him healthy. Learning how to work with syringes and insulin has been pretty simple. Max doesn't seem to mind getting shots too much. He squabbles a bit, but ultimately, he's a good, brave boy.

Cats face eating food
credit: NorthStar203/iStock/GettyImages

What food should I feed my diabetic cat?

According to VCA, all cats with diabetes mellitus benefit from being fed a well-balanced diet. Dr. Neville was satisfied with our choice of low carb cat food, so he didn't recommend changing Max's food. After he was diagnosed, I read a lot about the best food for cats with diabetes. I discovered that low carb, high protein wet food is the best option. A relatively low carb diet decreases the amount of glucose absorbed from the intestinal tract according to VCA.

What are the goals of treating diabetes in cats?

The goals of treating a cats with diabetes are to normalize the blood glucose, stop weight loss, minimize or eliminate increased thirst and urination, and normalize the appetite. The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine also tells us that there is no cure for feline diabetes, but this disease can usually be managed by the cats' owner. Some cats with well-controlled diabetes can live many years of a good life.