What is Feline Diabetes Mellitus?

Virtually everyone has heard of diabetes mellitus (DM), but not everyone may know what it’s all about, technically.

The Canadian Diabetes Association website offers the following definition:

“Diabetes is a chronic, often debilitating and sometimes fatal disease, in which the body either cannot produce insulin or cannot properly use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the blood. Diabetes leads to high levels of glucose in the blood, which can damage organs, blood vessels and nerves. The body needs insulin to use glucose as an energy source.”

This definition is in reference to humans, but is also true for cats.

Feline DM is becoming more common, affecting roughly 1 in 200 cats.     As it is for humans, there are 2 main types of feline diabetes:

Insulin-dependent DM:  Most common form, accounting for 50-75% of diagnosed cats.  They require regular insulin injections to stabilize their condition upon diagnosis and continue to require injections to keep it that way.

Non-insulin dependent DM:  Not as common, cats with this form can get their diabetes under control with oral medications and even a veterinarian-directed change in diet.  However, at some point, they will require some kind of insulin injection to address various issues that can arise.

A better understanding of how feline diabetes mellitus works:

After a meal, glucose is released into a cat’s bloodstream. When this occurs, the pancreas secretes insulin, which allows glucose to enter cells where it can be used for energy. But when a cat has feline diabetes:

  1. The pancreas is impaired and the cat can experience an insulin deficiency.
  2. As a result, glucose continues to be produced, but it can’t enter cells to produce energy, and glucose builds up in the blood.
  3. The glucose levels rise in the blood and eventually in the urine, drawing water out of a cat’s body. This results in increased urination and thirst.
  4. As the cells of the body are deprived of glucose, the cat must find another energy source and starts breaking down its own fat and muscle for energy. That’s why your cat may lose weight, despite an increase in appetite.
  5. When a cat’s body breaks down fat for fuel—instead of glucose—the liver converts some of that fat into “ketones.” Excess ketones in the blood and urine can lead to additional complications, including acidosis, an accumulation of acid in the blood. Other potential problems of diabetes include hepatic lipidosis (excess fat in the liver) or urinary tract infections.

(Source:  Purina)

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