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Cat Diabetes: Diabetic Cat Symptoms and Treatment Options

Posted in: Cat Health - Last Updated: February 27, 2024 - Author: Rebekah Carter
Veterinary Insight and Advice by: Megan Conrad, BVMS
Posted in Cat Health 
Last Updated: February 27, 2024  
Author:  Rebekah Carter
Veterinary Isight and Advice by: Megan Conrad, BVMS

What are the symptoms of diabetes in cats, how do you know which red flags to watch for, and what can you do to care for your cat if they suffer from feline diabetes?

Diabetes is a well-known hormonal condition that affects people all over the world. In fact, according to WHO, 422 million people are living with diabetes.

cat diabetes

What you may not realize is that diabetes can affect your feline companion too. According to the Cornell University, up to 1% of all cats will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime.

The good news is that feline diabetes symptoms can be managed with the right treatment, and diet. The bad news is that a lot of pet owners struggle to spot cat diabetes symptoms until the problem becomes more difficult to manage.

This article covers everything you need to know about diabetic cat symptoms, treatment options, and how you can care for your furry friend.

The Diabetic Cat Fact Sheet: Key Takeaways

Name: Diabetes, feline diabetes, or Diabetes Mellitus.

Common symptoms: Excessive urination and thirst, diminishing appetite, foul breath, lethargy, vomiting, and weight loss.

Diagnosis method: Urinalysis or bloodwork.

Treatment: Ongoing medication and lifestyle changes.

Vaccination: Unavailable

Treatment options: Insulin injections every 12 hours, with a dosage based on the blood sugar recordings of the “patient”. Prescription diets are also given, which are high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, to improve regulation. 

Home remedies: Certain factors, such as obesity, can increase your cat’s risk of developing diabetes. A weight loss plan and a special diet of the best cat food for diabetes may be recommended

What is Feline Diabetes? The Basics

Similar to human beings, the cells in your cat’s body rely on sugar (glucose) for energy. However, to regulate the glucose in the blood, your feline friend also needs insulin. This is a hormone produced in the pancreas that “unlocks” the door to cells, and allows glucose to be absorbed.

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a condition which prevents the body from properly producing or responding to the hormone “insulin”. Cats with diabetes can have an “absolute deficiency” (an inability to create insulin in the pancreas), which usually leads to “Type I” diabetes.

Alternatively, your furry friend might have “Type II” diabetes, which is what happens when their body is unable to respond effectively to glucose (a relative deficiency). According to one study, cats with diabetes are most likely to suffer from Type II diabetes.

What Types of Cats Get Feline Diabetes?

Ultimately, any type of cat can suffer from feline diabetes, regardless of their age or breed. However, the condition is more common among middle-aged and older cats, as well as overactive and inactive kitties.

In fact, obese cats are over 4 times more likely to develop diabetes, which is one of the main reasons it’s so important to keep an eye on your furry friend’s weight.

There’s also some evidence that diabetes may be more common among male cats, and certain breeds  (like Burmese cats) with a genetic predisposition to the condition.

Additionally, it’s possible that long-term exposure to certain medications, such as glucocorticoids (used to treat feline asthma) could increase a cat’s risk of diabetes.

signs of diabetes in cats

What Causes Diabetes in Cats?

As mentioned above, virtually any kind of cat can suffer from feline diabetes symptoms. The causes behind the condition aren’t fully understood. However, since cats are most likely to have type 2 diabetes, experts believe the problem stems from an abnormality in the pancreas.

Affected cats respond negatively to insulin, and tend to produce lower levels of insulin over time. Prolonged resistance to insulin, combined with high levels of glucose in the blood, can cause further damage to the pancreas over time, causing diabetes to develop.

While it’s difficult to predict for certain whether a cat will develop diabetes, there are some risk factors worth looking out for. Like human diabetes, the condition can be affected by dietary and lifestyle factors, and other pre-existing conditions.

Risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Over-exposure to certain medications
  • Illnesses like pancreatitis
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Age (older cats are more prone to diabetes)

The Symptoms of Diabetes in Cats: Clinical Signs

Often, the two most common symptoms of cat diabetes recognized by owners are weight loss, and increased thirst or urination. These are the signs of diabetes in cats that you need to be vigilant about, especially any increase in thirst. If your cat suddenly starts losing weight (despite still eating the same amount of food), or needs to regularly go to the bathroom, it’s worth seeing a vet.

Weight loss happens in diabetes because the cells of the body aren’t able to absorb glucose from the blood, leaving them starved of energy. To access extra energy, the body starts breaking down other sources, like fats and proteins, which results in weight loss.

Excessive third and urination happens because high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood can harm the kidney’s ability to “filter” glucose. The sugar spills out of the blood into the urine, and starts pulling excessive amounts of water from the body.

Other Common Diabetic Cat Symptoms

Alongside increased thirst and urination, and weight loss, there are a few other signs that you should watch for if you’re worried about feline diabetes. Sometimes, these symptoms can emerge rapidly, or they could appear and worsen over time.

Symptoms of feline diabetes include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Weakness or fainting
  • Increasing number of urinary tract infections
symptoms of diabetes in cats

Signs of Cat Diabetes: Complications

The key to overcoming cat diabetes is fast recognition of the symptoms, and appropriate treatment. Insulin is a vital hormone, and changes to the levels of insulin in a cat’s body, or their ability to respond to it can cause serious problems.

Just like humans, cats need insulin to maintain good blood sugar levels, and transfer energy into the cells. If the body starts breaking down fats and proteins for energy (because cells are starved of glucose), this can result in the creation of by-products called ketones.

A built-up of ketones can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This condition presents its own range of feline diabetes symptoms, such as vomiting, collapse, and acetone-scented breath. Another complication that can emerge if the signs of cat diabetes aren’t spotted quickly enough, is known as diabetic neuropathy.

This is one of the most common chronic complications of diabetes in cats, appearing in around 10% of cases. The condition occurs when diabetes goes untreated for a few months, leading to nerve damage, typically in the “femoral nerve”.

This causes weaknesses, and the plantigrade gait (mentioned above), which causes cats to walk on their hind heels. While this symptom can seem scary, it’s not actually painful, and can be resolved with treatment.

How are Cat Diabetes Symptoms Diagnosed?

Cat diabetes is a serious condition, so if you notice any changes to your cat’s appearance, or witness diabetic cat behavior (like fainting), it’s important to seek a vet straight away. If your cat appears to be showing symptoms, most vets will conduct an examination, starting with blood work.

A blood glucose reading can sometimes be enough to diagnose diabetes, however there are cases when the test won’t show enough information. Cats can develop short-term increases in blood glucose as a response to stress. In these cases, lab tests known as fructosamine concentration are used to give vets a rough insight into the “average” glucose concentration in the blood over a period of 2 weeks.

Your vet may also use urine testing to search for evidence of glucose in your cat’s urine, and they may conduct other tests to rule out other conditions that can cause diabetic cat symptoms. For instance, they might look for evidence of pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, chronic kidney disease, or a urinary tract infection before assigning treatment.

diabetes in cats symptoms

Cat Diabetes Treatment Options: Insulin Shots

After examining the feline diabetes symptoms in your cat, your vet will work with you on the development of a treatment plan. The aim of this plan will be to restore normal blood glucose concentrations, avoid low blood sugar, and reduce other issues, like weight loss and thirst.

The most common diabetes treatment for cats is insulin shots or injections. There are various types of insulin preparations that can be used for cats when treating diabetes, such as “ProZinc”, or “Lente insulin”. Each type varies in cost, concentration, and duration of action, so your vet will need to discuss a personalized treatment plan for you and your cat.

Typically, injections will be given just after a meal, to simulate the natural insulin release that usually occurs after a cat eats. Most vets will start your furry friend on a low dose of insulin, calculated according to their weight. The dose might need to be adjusted over the first few weeks of treatment, and regularly assessed over time.

You’ll give your cat these injections under the skin every 12 hours or so. Although this might seem like a daunting concept, your vet will teach you how to administer the shots correctly. Keep in mind, injections are still the most effective treatment for diabetes.

Although oral medications for diabetes have proven to be effective in treating some human cases of type II diabetes, they don’t appear to drive the same consistent results in cats. Success rates for oral medicines range from around 5-30%, which isn’t very reassuring.

Other Types of Treatment for Diabetic Cats

Alongside insulin injections, your vet might recommend various complementary treatments to help reduce the risk of side effects and worsening symptoms.

A diet low in carbohydrates has been proven to improve blood sugar regulation in diabetic felines, and there are various prescription options available. Since obesity can worsen the symptoms of diabetes in cats, your vet may also recommend placing your cat on a diet, under close monitoring, to ensure they can get back to a healthy weight. There are both prescription and non-prescription options for diabetic cat food and your vet can suggest what is best for your cat.

Regardless of which dietary strategy your vet recommends, close monitoring from both you and your vet will be important throughout treatment. Regular monitoring will help you to determine the right insulin dose for each cat, and avoid complications, like hypoglycemia (dangerously low blood sugar levels). Hypoglycemia can be fatal if left untreated, so it’s important to ensure your cat is getting plenty of energy from their food.

You and your vet will need to regularly assess your cat’s weight, water intake, appetite, and blood sugar curves throughout the remainder of their lives. Again, this can be a daunting concept for cat owners, but managing diabetes is something you can easily fit into your routine.

cat diabetes treatment

Tips for Caring for your Diabetic Cat

It’s easy to panic if your cat is diagnosed with diabetes. However, it’s worth remembering that although the condition can’t be cured, it can be managed. Some cats can even enter a state of “diabetic remission”, which means they can maintain their blood sugar levels without injections.

Typically, however, if your cat hasn’t entered a “remission” stage within 6 months of treatment, this is usually a sign that they’ll have the condition for life. If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, here are some tips for supporting your furry patient:

  • Commit to a routine: Diabetic cats will have a better quality of life if they’re subject to a consistent routine. Give your cat their injections and meals at set times of day to help keep their blood glucose levels balanced, and reduce stress.
  • Remember weight management: A big part of addressing the symptoms of diabetes in cats is managing their weight. Obesity can cause additional damage to your cat’s pancreas, and reduce the chances of remission.
  • Monitor carefully: The symptoms your cat shows when dealing with diabetes can change or worsen over times. You’ll need to ensure you’re carefully monitoring your feline friend for new signs, such as increased thirst, or reduced weight.
  • Watch for hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemic episodes can be extremely dangerous to a cat undergoing diabetes treatment. Watch out for signs that your cat has poor balance, or appears lethargic and wobbly.
  • Keep records: It can be useful to keep a diary if you have a diabetic cat, where you can record their insulin dose, blood glucose curve, and feeding schedules. You’ll also need to monitor changes to your cat’s weight, thirst, and appetite.


How can you tell if your cat has diabetes?

The symptoms of diabetes in cats can be difficult to spot at first. Usually, the first symptoms you’ll notice is an increase in urination, and thirst, as well as a reduction in weight. You might also notice your cat is prone to more infections, or more lethargic than usual.

How long can a cat live with feline diabetes?

Although a feline diabetes diagnosis can be worrying, it’s important to remember that diabetic cats can still live long and healthy lives. With the right treatment, your cat can live just as long as a kitty without diabetes, so it’s important to jump into treatment fast.

Do diabetic cats need a special diet?

A special diet is often recommended for a cat with diabetes. Vets typically advise adopting a diet that’s high in fiber and protein, but low in carbohydrates. There are specialist prescription diets available, but some commercial foods are also suitable for diabetic cats.

What can you do for a cat with diabetes?

The best thing you can do if your cat has diabetes is start giving them their treatment as soon as possible. Home glucose monitoring can also be extremely helpful, as well as the careful monitoring of your cat’s water intake, appetite, weight, and activity levels.

Is caring for a diabetic cat difficult?

Caring for a cat with diabetes can seem like a daunting concept, but it’s not as complex as it seems. Some people even find giving injections easier than giving a cat a pill. Your vet will give you plenty of guidance for administering treatment, and it will quickly become a normal part of your routine.

About the author

Rebekah Carter is a dedicated animal lover. Her Savannah cat, Roscoe, has a lot of attitude, while her Maine Coon, Dukino, is full of love. When not writing, she’s looking after her cats and researching ways to help them live their best possible life. Her passion for animals and natural skill for writing led her to pursue pet blogging.