Feline Diabetes Overview
Read More About Feline Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus is an absolute or relative deficiency of the hormone insulin. Insulin is synthesized and released from beta cells in the pancreatic islets. Insulin assists with cellular uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body for energy. This causes a hypoglycemic effect. Within cells, insulin promotes anabolism, such as the production of glycogen, fatty acids, and proteins, and counters catabolic events to reduce gluconeogenesis and inhibit fat and glycogen breakdown.
Insulin lowers blood glucose, whereas opposing hormones including glucagon, cortisol, progesterone, adrenaline, thyroid hormone, and growth hormone increase blood glucose. It’s important to consider these counterregulatory hormones, because changes in their blood concentrations interfere with insulin actions. Changes in these hormones result from natural physiological conditions, disease states, or drug administration.
As the blood glucose concentration increases due to insufficient insulin, the kidneys become overwhelmed by the blood glucose concentration and glucose spills into the urine. The osmotic action of glucose leads to polyuria and, through loss of fluid, to polydipsia.
In the absence of sufficient insulin, cats with diabetes will switch from glucose to fat metabolism for cellular energy. While this is initially beneficial, fat metabolism in unrecognized or untreated cats typically causes a deteriorated general condition and progresses to ketoacidosis and ultimately to death.
Diabetes mellitus is not related to diabetes insipidus, an extremely rare condition in cats that occurs when the kidneys are unable to regulate fluids in the body. Diabetes insipidus is characterized by a deficiency or inadequate response to a hormone called vasopressin.
Disease Prevalence and Risk Factors
Estimates of the prevalence of diabetes mellitus in cats is estimated at 68 cats per 10,000 cases.15 Diabetes occurs more commonly in cats that are considered obese. Diabetes is also more common in middle- to older-aged cats. Neutered male cats are at greater risk than female cats.
Determining an effective treatment regimen for cats with diabetes can be challenging. Factors that affect the type and success of treatment include:
- The severity of pancreatic beta cell loss
- The responsiveness of tissues to insulin
- The presence or absence of glucose toxicity
- Problems with absorption and duration of effect of exogenously administered insulin
- Presence of concurrent disease
Most forms of diabetes can be successfully treated with insulin—the cornerstone of successful management—but dietary adjustments and a regular lifestyle are also important.
In general, the prognosis for cats with diabetes is very good, especially with early diagnosis and proper therapy. Additional factors that affect the prognosis for cats include:
- Owner commitment to disease management
- Presence and nature of concurrent disorders (eg, pancreatitis, acromegaly)
- Avoidance of chronic complications
The most common chronic complication of diabetes in cats is the development of peripheral neuropathy, which is exhibited by weakness in the hind legs. Diligent control of hyperglycemia can potentially reverse the clinical signs of neuropathy, but it can take several months. Also, recurrent infections commonly affect both dogs and cats with diabetes.
Open communication between you and your client is an extremely important factor. Encouraging your clients helps ensure their motivation and compliance with management. Clients need to fully understand the disease to help achieve and maintain good diabetic stability and be highly motivated and committed to the management of their cats. Your clinical staff also has an important role in providing detailed client education, instruction, and encouragement.
Help Your Practice Manage Diabetes Mellitus
Check out these tools and resources to help manage feline diabetes.
Create a blood glucose curve to monitor and evaluate diabetes treatments.
Create a customized, printable form for clients about their new diagnosis.
Access online tools and more to support staff and pet parents.
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Read More About Feline Diabetes
Important Safety Information:
Vetsulin® should not be used in dogs known to have a systemic allergy to pork or pork products. Vetsulin is contraindicated during periods of hypoglycemia. Keep out of reach of children. As with all insulin products, careful patient monitoring for hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia is essential to attain and maintain adequate glycemic control and prevent associated complications. Overdosage can result in profound hypoglycemia and death. The safety and effectiveness of Vetsulin in puppies, breeding, pregnant, and lactating dogs has not been evaluated. See package insert for full information regarding contraindications, warnings, and precautions.
1. Martin GJ, Rand JS. Pharmacology of a 40 IU/ml porcine lente insulin preparation in diabetic cats: findings during the first week and after 5 or 9 weeks of therapy. J Feline Med Surg. 2001;3(1):23–30. 2. Vetsulin® (porcine insulin zinc suspension) [Freedom of Information Summary]. Millsboro, DE: Intervet Inc.; 2008. 3. Data on file, Merck Animal Health. 4. Graham PA, Nash AS, McKellar QA. Pharmacokinetics of porcine insulin zinc suspension in diabetic dogs. J Small Anim Pract. 1997;38(10):434–438. 5. Martin GJ, Rand JS. Pharmacokinetic and Pharmacodynamic Study of Caninsulin in Cats with Diabetes Mellitus. 2000: Internal Study Report. 6. Feldman EC, Nelson RW. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2004:539–579. 7. Tennant B, ed. BSAVA Small Animal Formulary. 4th ed. Gloucestershire, UK: British Small Animal Veterinary Association; 2002. 8. Feldman EC, Nelson RW. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2004:486–538. 9. Reusch C. Feline diabetes mellitus. In: Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, eds. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2010:1796–1816. 10. Nelson RW. Canine diabetes mellitus. In: Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, eds. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2010:1782–1796. 11. Burgaud S, Riant S, Piau N. Comparative laboratory evaluation of dose delivery using a veterinary insulin pen. In: Proceedings of the WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA congress; 12–15 April 2012; Birmingham, UK. Abstract 121. 12. Burgaud S, Guillot R, Harnois-Milon G. Clinical evaluation of a veterinary insulin pen in diabetic dogs. In: Proceedings of the WSAVA/ FECAVA/BSAVA congress; 12–15 April 2012; Birmingham, UK. Abstract 122. 13. Burgaud S, Guillot R, Harnois-Milon G. Clinical evaluation of a veterinary insulin pen in diabetic cats. In: Proceedings of the WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA congress; 12–15 April 2012; Birmingham, UK. Abstract 45. 14. Davison, et al. J Vet Intern Med 2008; 22:1317-1325. 15. Banfield State of Pet Health 2016 Report. p 12-13