Humans get diabetes, can cats?
The exact cause of feline diabetes isn’t known, but when it comes to diabetes, cats aren’t that different from people. So, can cats get diabetes?
The disease affects insulin — a hormone that helps the body move sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into the cells. Feline diabetes tends to closely resemble type 2 diabetes that humans get: the body makes insulin but becomes less sensitive to the hormone. Sugar builds up in the bloodstream, leading to symptoms like increased urination and thirst. According to Richard W. Nelson, DVM, DACVIM, professor of internal medicine at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, cats aren’t designed to break down carbohydrates, like people are. That’s significant because cats in the wild are designed to hunt and eat meat, not carbs. However, domestic cats are fed less protein and more carbohydrates.
Three Major Causes of Diabetes in Cats
- usually affects overweight cats, because obesity makes the cat’s body less sensitive to the effects of insulin.
- Diabetes is also more common in older cats.
- Diseases like chronic pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism may make cats prone to developing diabetes
- medications like corticosteroids may also make cats prone to develop diabetes.
The majority of cats in the U.S. are fed a caloric, high carbohydrate diet. Dry food is especially inappropriate nutrition for cats because it’s so high in carbs and deficient in high-quality protein. Cats don’t need grains like corn, wheat, rice, soy, millet or quinoa, (although there is dispute about the health benefits of grains). Meanwhile, turns out that grain-free dry foods also contribute to the obesity and diabetes epidemics in cats. Grain-free diets are not only high in calories but also contain high glycemic foods like potatoes, chickpeas, peas, or tapioca, which require a substantial insulin release from the body.
- Instead, try giving your cat portion controlled, moisture-rich, balanced, and species-appropriate diet consisting of high quality protein sources and healthy fats, and specific nutritional supplements as necessary: taurine, for example.
Cats, especially those who have an indoor lifestyle, often lead sedentary lives. If your cat lies around the house all day, his heart rate isn’t being elevated for the 20 minutes per day he needs to achieve good cardiovascular conditioning. Often cats exert anaerobic — short bursts of energy followed by long periods of rest. Anaerobic exercise won’t condition your cat’s heart or muscles, and doesn’t burn the calories he consumes.
A minimum of 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise for your cat is highly recommended. Be creative with your cats: play with pingpong balls, feather wands or my guys love it when I hide little toy mice in our shoes or toss them. Play with your cats and you both can have fun.
Research connects autoimmune disorders to Type II diabetes in dogs, although currently there are few if any similar studies in cats, It’s reasonable to assume the same is true for cats. If your Cat has had any vaccines in the past, it’s very likely her immunity to those diseases will last a lifetime. Each time a fully immunized pet receives repetitive vaccines, it increases the risk of overstimulating the immune system. To find out If your cat has antibodies, find a veterinarian who does titer tests to measure antibody response from previous vaccinations. Titer results will tell you whether vaccination is necessary, and for which specific diseases.
Early diagnosis is always best, but often difficult with cats. If it’s diagnosed early and everyone in the cat’s life is committed to bringing the disease under control, it’s possible to normalize blood glucose levels and put the diabetes into remission — which means your kitty will no longer need to be on insulin or other medications. However, if your cat as been diabetic for a while, they may require insulin in addition to diet and lifestyle adjustments. What can happened to cats who have been diabetic for a long time is that the cells in the pancreas may be worn out and become unable to secrete insulin. In this case, your cat may require lifelong insulin therapy. If it’s left untreated, eventually diabetes can lead to life-threatening complications.
Frequent vet visits, and the cost of checkups, tests, medical procedures and insulin therapy add up fast. Pet insurance provider Trupanion reports that treatment for diabetes, including regular blood work and long-term medication, can cost in excess of $10,000 over the life of the cat.
- Dr. Tara Koble veterinary at The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital, in Boise, Idaho, says “The two best things any cat parent can help do to protect their cat from diabetes, would be to feed the highest quality canned, low-carb or raw diet that is possible. The second critical thing is to get your cat moving.”
With exercise, good nutrition, a healthy weight, and periodic visits to your vet, most cats, and people, can avoid diabetes. Oh, except the cat goes to the vet and the cat parent should go to a doctor. Meow.