Diabetes mellitus in cats is a common disease in which the body does not produce enough insulin or does not properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose, a form of sugar and a critical fuel for the body. Without insulin, the cat’s body breaks down fat and protein stores for energy. This causes wasting of the tissues and excessive sugar in the bloodstream, leading to increased urination and thirst. If left untreated, diabetes will shorten a cat’s lifespan and can result in a host of strange behaviors as the cat’s health declines.
According to veterinarians at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, diabetes mellitus in cats falls into two categories. Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) requires daily insulin supplementation, in the form of injections or pills, and daily blood glucose monitoring. Non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) does not require careful monitoring and can resolve on its own, though most cases of NIDDM eventually progress to IDMM. Both types of diabetes can result in strange behaviors in cats, as can a variety of related conditions.
Symptoms of diabetes mellitus in cats include increased food intake, weight loss, increased water intake, increased urination, breathing abnormalities, weakness, poor skin and coat condition, and vomiting. Strange behaviors can result from related disorders, including diabetic neuropathy, according to the website Feline Diabetes. Cats with this condition have weakened hind legs and often walk with their hocks touching the ground.
Feline hypoglycemia is another related condition that can result in strange behaviors. Hypoglycemia results from low blood sugar, the effect of too much insulin. This can happen when an owner administers too much insulin, when the cat experiences spontaneous remission or when the cat has abnormally high activity levels. According to the website Pain Relief for Cats, strange symptoms of hypoglycemia can include shaking or shivering; uncoordinated behavior such as staggering; weakness; blindness; head tilting; glassy eyes; drooling; seizures and coma.
Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed through blood tests, urinalysis and a physical examination.
In addition to the strange behaviors previously mentioned, lethargy and depression also can be signs of feline diabetes, according to PetEducation.com. These symptoms may be obvious only to owners who are familiar with the normal behavior of the animal. Owners should share their observations of any abnormal pet behavior to help veterinarians make a diagnosis.
Treatment of feline diabetes mellitus depends on the severity of the cat’s condition. Daily insulin shots or insulin pills may be required. Owners should exercise extreme caution in administering medication to avoid hypoglycemia. Some diabetic cats respond well to treatment while others do not, according to Cornell veterinarians. A healthy diet high in fiber is helpful in regulating blood sugar and maintaining an optimal weight. Familiarizing themselves with the strange behaviors can help cat owners identify warning signs of potential complications from treatment.
Risk factors such as obesity and a sedentary lifestyle can be addressed to improve a cat’s chances of living diabetes-free. Some cases of feline diabetes can be completely reversed by improving the overall physical condition of the cat. For some cats, diabetes is a genetic condition and cannot be prevented or reversed. For cats experiencing diabetic neuropathy, leg strength often can be restored with exercise, according to Feline Diabetes.