Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
What could be wrong with my cat if she drinks a lot of water, walks on her haunches, and has sores around her head and anus?
Siouxsie: The excessive drinking and walking on the haunches are common signs of diabetes. We’re not sure if the sores around her head and anus are related to this condition or not.
Thomas: You need to take your cat to the vet as soon as possible and have some diagnostic tests done.
Dahlia: Diabetes can be fatal in cats, as it can in humans.
Siouxsie: Other conditions such as hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, and taking certain medications including cortecosteriods can cause or mimic diabetes in cats. Obesity is another factor for increased risk of diabetes.
Thomas: The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that secretes insulin, which allows the body to metabolize glucose, a type of sugar used to create energy and cell metabolism. In diabetes, either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the organs of the body become resistant to insulin.
Dahlia: When the glucose in the blood doesn’t get utilized by the body’s tissues, it is eliminated through the kidneys. This results in excessive urination. And because the body has to compensate for the excess urination, the cat will drink more water than usual. Hence, the first signs of diabetes are excessive thirst and excessive urination.
Siouxsie: Cats will also eat more food than usual to try and compensate for the lack of glucose in their blood. Often, cats will lose weight rapidly as diabetes progresses.
Thomas: Because of the body’s inability to metabolize glucose, excess ketones (by-products of rapid or excessive fatty-acid breakdown) are produced. The cat can then develop a condition called ketoacidosis. If your cat has ketoacidosis, you might notice a smell like nail polish remover on her breath.
Dahlia: In more advanced cases of diabetes, muscle weakness may cause the cat to walk on her haunches rather than on her toes. Other symptoms can include lethargy, dehydration, vomiting, and finally, coma.
Siouxsie: Three types of diabetes are seen in cats. In Type I diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, and therefore injections of insulin will be required to keep the cat’s metabolism stable. In Type II diabetes, the most commonly seen in cats, the pancreas may make enough insulin but the body can’t use it properly. The third type is transient diabetes, in which the cat will manifest symptoms of diabetes and then go into periods of remission where she doesn’t require insulin injections or other medical intervention.
Thomas: In order to diagnose your cat’s condition, your vet will draw blood to check the condition of your cat’s liver, thyroid, pancreas and kidneys. A urine test will also be done to check the level of sugar in your cat’s urine.
Dahlia: From these tests, your vet will be able to tell whether your cat’s symptoms are being caused by thyroid problems or other conditions.
Siouxsie: Your vet may also order an ultrasound in order to see if your cat is suffering from pancreatitis (a swelling of the pancreas often caused by trauma, infection, parasites or drug reactions).
Thomas: Depending on the results of these tests, your vet will give you a treatment protocol. If it turns out that your cat has diabetes, your cat will be prescribed a special diet that is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, which will help her metabolize energy more consistently throughout the day. You may also need to give your cat injections of insulin and/or oral medications so that her sugar metabolism will work correctly.
Dahlia: If your cat is overweight, your vet may put her on a diet. In some cases, when a cat loses excess weight, the diabetes either goes into remission or becomes much more manageable.
Siouxsie: If it turns out that your cat is diabetic, she’s going to have to stay in the vet hospital for a few days as they figure out how much insulin she needs to keep her blood sugar regulated. After the vet has got this figured out, he or she will show you how to give your cat her insulin injections.
Thomas: Your vet will also figure out how many calories your cat needs to ingest every day in order to maintain her weight or lose weight if necessary.
Dahlia: You’ll need to feed your cat several small meals a day in order to keep her sugars regulated. If she gets all her food at once, her sugars will be really high at first and then plummet as the day goes on, leading to hypoglycemia (blood sugar levels that are too low).
Siouxsie: There are some great resources on the internet for people with diabetic cats. FelineDiabetes.com has lots of information about symptoms, treatment and management of diabetes in cats. There are also support forums, message boards and resources for financial aid to help you pay for your cat’s treatment.
Thomas: The Cornell Feline Health Center has an online brochure about feline diabetes and its treatment. It basically says the same things we’ve said here, but you might feel better hearing it from a real vet school.
Dahlia: If you’re on LiveJournal, there’s a Feline Diabetes community where you can contact other caretakers of diabetic cats. It can be a great resource for support and information.
Siouxsie: The most important thing to take from this column, Caren, is that you need to get your cat to the vet as soon as you can. And then, if your cat is diabetic, realize that diabetes is very treatable and you can still enjoy many more happy years with your kitty.
Thomas: Good luck, Caren, and please let us know how things turn out. We’d like to know what treatments worked for your cat so we can share that information with our other readers.