Feline diabetes affects an estimated one in four cats. Obese cats and neutered males are most at risk of developing it, usually later in life. While the diagnosis is overwhelming for the owner, many cats can live normal lives with this treatable condition.
When the body produces too much insulin, low blood sugar results, and a diabetic cat can suffer from seizures. Most are caused by epilepsy, a condition rarely seen in cats. While hypoglycemia, or a drop in blood sugar, is different from an epileptic seizure or fit, diabetic cats are subject to both, and the first response is the same. Tests for epilepsy include blood and urine bile acid tests. Phenobarbital, Keppra, and occasionally Valium are drugs commonly used in treatment.
During seizures a cat can lose consciousness, experience involuntary muscle tension, and become unaware and unfocused. There can be uncontrolled urinating, defecating, or salivating. He might run in circles or fail to recognize his owner. The first phase, or aura, can last from a few seconds to a few hours. In this period the cat might act nervous, shake, pace, or hide. The seizure itself, or ictal phase, can last from a few seconds to five minutes. As his muscles contract severely he might shake, fall on his side, and appear paralyzed. He could throw his head back while urinating or salivating. In the third stage the cat might return to pacing restlessly and be disoriented.
The first thing an owner must do is raise the cat’s glucose to a safe level. Stay calm. Dip a cotton ball in Karo syrup, or substitute maple syrup or honey, and rub it on his gums. As the gums absorb some of the sugar it should bring the cat out of shock. Since the effects of raising glucose levels are temporary, get him to eat if possible. Once he is responsive, take the cat to your vet.
To ease your mind, keep emergency telephone numbers posted where they are instantly available. During the seizure the cat is confused but feels no pain. Putting your fingers in his mouth won’t help but only increases the chances of being bitten. Cats do not swallow their tongues. The biggest danger during seizures is that a cat will injure himself by falling. Have him on the floor or ground if possible.
After a seizure the vet might put the cat on anticonvulsant therapy for a week or two or on medication permanently. To prevent an insulin overdose, cats need a regular feeding schedule. So no imbalance results in glucose levels, your vet might put your cat on a high-fiber diet. Fiber slows digestion and prevents an abrupt rise in glucose. Often having two to three meals a day will keep him regulated.