Is your cat in a diabetic coma?

posted: 05/15/12
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Could your feline friend be at risk of diabetes?
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Cats with diabetes need continuous care. Unlike diabetic humans who can check their own blood sugar levels, cats rely on their owners to properly monitor what's happening in their pancreas. That twice-daily dosage of insulin given under his skin may require adjustment, depending on a variety of factors. You can keep your diabetic cat on track by knowing what's going on, and what to expect, particularly in the case of a diabetic coma.

How common is feline diabetes?

Some estimates suggest that one out of 1,200 cats will develop diabetes in their lifetimes, although this disease most often afflicts older or overweight cats. A diabetic cat suffers a deficiency of insulin, the pancreatic hormone that converts glucose, the fuel we get from food, into energy. A diabetic cat's body either cannot produce enough insulin, or cannot process it correctly. Without insulin controlling the flow of glucose from the cat's bloodstream into its body cells, the cat's body uses its own fat and protein to survive. High blood glucose levels force glucose to be processed into the urine, leading to excessive urination. Most cats contract an insulin-dependent type of diabetes, requiring insulin injections to control their illness. Felines suffering non-insulin-dependent diabetes will eventually need insulin injections as the disease progresses.

Signs of diabetes

An early warning of feline diabetes is frequent urination. A diabetic cat may also urinate, or attempt to do so, outside of his litter box. You may see him straining to urinate, a symptom of a urinary tract infection common to diabetic felines. He'll consume larger amounts of water, and return to his water bowl more often, because his glucose-heavy urine passes more water from his system. His appetite may change, too, as he either loses interest in food or becomes a ravenous eater. Either way, a diabetic cat will lose weight as his metabolism cannot convert food into energy, so his fat and protein stores are broken down for fuel.

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If a diabetic cat is being treated with insulin injections, he faces complications from a possible insulin overdose. This creates hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, also called insulin shock. Hypoglycemia can result in weakness, seizures and eventually coma or death if not treated. If the cat is about to go into a coma, he may drool, shiver, or appear disoriented, glassy-eyed and sleepy. These are signs that he's losing consciousness. If your cat has diabetes, your vet should acquaint you with the signs of hypoglycemia and the potential for a diabetic coma.

What you can do for the cat

If your cat shows signs of a diabetic coma, contact your vet at once. To quickly and temporarily raise his glucose levels, rub corn syrup or honey on the cat's gums or under his tongue. You'll need about one tablespoonful to get results. He will absorb the syrup's sugar through his mouth membranes, and the glucose levels will rise.

Never force food upon a convulsing or comatose cat, but when he's conscious, offer some of his regular food. This will bring and keep his levels up for a longer period. You can also drizzle some syrup on his food. Observe the cat for several hours, ready to repeat the emergency measures of syrup and food if necessary; it is possible his glucose levels have been severely depleted, requiring more than one emergency application Once the cat has stabilized, have the vet examine him.

Can the cat be saved?

Your vet may need to adjust the cat's insulin dosage, which is based on blood glucose profiling, blood tests and measuring the sugar in the cat's urine, to prevent further hypoglycemic episodes. She may also recommend home testing of the cat's blood glucose levels.

A cat with diabetes requires constant monitoring, from food and water intake to urine output and weight. If the cat is overweight, the right nutritional program will help him shed pounds, which can greatly improve his diabetes outlook. With diligent care, a diabetic cat can remain healthy and live for years after his diagnosis.

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