You might want to be a fat cat, but you sure don't want your feline to become one. There are a many reasons to keep your cat at a healthy weight, but avoiding feline diabetes may be the biggest.
Feline diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a common disease often found in older and overweight cats. Similar to diabetes in humans, feline diabetes occurs when there is not enough insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas) in the cat's body to balance out the glucose (sugar) in the cat's diet. In normal cats, food is broken down during digestion and the resulting glucose enters the bloodstream. Insulin is then released to regulate the blood's glucose levels. If your cat isn't producing enough -- or any -- insulin, he will become diabetic. And if too much glucose builds up in his body due to the lack of insulin, the disease can become dangerous and even life threatening.
So what symptoms should you look for? Begin by monitoring your cat more closely, especially if he's older or is overweight. Have you observed him drinking or eating a lot more than usual? Take note if his water bowl goes dry or his food dish empties faster than it used to -- especially if he's eating more and still losing weight. Another symptom to watch for is unusually frequent urination. All of these are key signs that his glucose levels are going unregulated -- the lack of insulin is preventing his cells from absorbing and getting energy from glucose, and the resulting excess glucose in his blood is making him thirsty. If you observe these symptoms, make an appointment to see your vet. She can run a laboratory test to check how much sugar is in his blood or urine and make a diagnosis.
According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, about 50 to75 percent of cats with diabetes need to receive insulin injections, and some may also be prescribed pills to help regulate their glucose levels. Crucial to the treatment of diabetes is revisiting your cat's diet. You'll need to work with your vet to change and watch his diet, feeding him smaller portions of foods specially designed to help his body handle sugar. Monitoring his food and water intake, waste output and weight will be important in making sure his diabetes is properly treated. Some trial and error might be necessary in finding the best treatment for him, so call your vet right away if your cat's symptoms return.
Although there isn't a cure for diabetes, some cats -- even after just a few months -- will stop needing insulin. This is most common in overweight cats that lose their extra weight -- the cat's pancreas can once again supply the amount of insulin his body needs.
Diabetes is a challenging disease to deal with, and it's best prevented by keeping your cat at a healthy weight. However, with good monitoring and care a cat with diabetes can live a long, happy life.