Canine and Feline Diabetes

Cat Diabetes

What is Feline Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, the clinical name for "sugar diabetes," is a condition that affects the concentration of glucose, a type of sugar, in a cat's blood. Diabetes in cats is rarely the result of a shortage of insulin (Type I Diabetes). More commonly, diabetes results when a cat's body has trouble using the insulin it has made properly (Type II Diabetes).

Insulin affects how your cat's body uses food to provide energy to cells within the body’s tissues. When your cat eats, food is broken down into very small components. One such component, carbohydrate, is converted into several types of simple sugars, including glucose, that provide energy to the body. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood where it travels to cells throughout the body. Inside cells, insulin helps turn glucose into energy. If there's too little insulin available, glucose can't enter cells and instead will build up to a high concentration in the bloodstream. As a result of the body’s cells and tissues being starved from this energy source, a diabetic cat will lose weight and seem perpetually hungry.

Most cats develop Type II Diabetes, in which their cells no longer respond normally to the amounts of insulin produced by the pancreas. While cats initially require daily or twice daily insulin injections, the treatment goal is to correct the factors or conditions contributing to insulin resistance. If these factors, primarily obesity, can be adequately controlled, a percentage of cats will experience temporary remission or permanent resolution of their diabetes. Many cats with Type II Diabetes will experience marked improvement in their insulin sensitivity when changed to a species-appropriate high protein, low carbohydrate diet. However, not all cats with diabetes are suited to this type of diet. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough evaluation and recommend the most appropriate diet and treatment for your cat's diabetes.

Diabetes Risk Factors for Cats

  • Older Cats
  • Neutered Male Cats
  • Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Medications (Steroids and Progestins)

If you think your cat may be at risk, please call our hospital to make an appointment for your cat to be examined and evaluated for diabetes mellitus.

Signs of Feline Diabetes

Knowing the signs of diabetes is the first step in protecting your cat's health. If any of these statements describes your pet, speak with your veterinarian about the possibility of diabetes:

  • Drinks more water than usual (polydipsia)
  • Urinates more frequently (pollakiuria), produces more urine per day (polyuria), or has "accidents" outside the litterbox
  • Weight loss despite excessive hunger and desire to eat more (polyphagia)
  • Is less active or sleeps more (lethargic)
  • Has thinning, dry, or dull hair coat
  • Is weak in the hind end or walking with a flat-footed hindlimb gait

Diagnosis and Detection

When evaluating your cat for diabetes, your veterinarian may ask about these signs and will check your cat's general health to rule out the possibility of other conditions or infections. Diabetes mellitus is only one of many conditions that can cause changes in behavior as well as the above signs. Examination by a veterinarian at least once or twice a year will aid in the early detection and diagnosis of health conditions like diabetes mellitus. At minimum, your veterinarian will test your cat's urine for the presence of glucose, ketones, and/or bacterial infection, as well as measure your cat's blood glucose concentration. A diagnosis of diabetes only becomes definite when glucose is inappropriately found in the urine and at a persistently high concentration in the blood.

After the Diagnosis

It can initially be overwhelming when your cat is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus. Diabetes is a condition that you can manage successfully and your VCA veterinarian is here to guide you. Once the diagnosis has been made, ask your veterinarian to schedule a consultation during which you can discuss your questions or concerns. During this appointment, you may want to address the following topics:

  • Diet – determining the best type of food for your cat. This is also the perfect time to address weight loss if your cat is overweight or obese
  • Insulin – how to store and administer it properly
  • Hypoglycemia – how to identify and treat potentially life-threatening low blood sugar
  • At-home monitoring you should perform and when you should alert your veterinarian
  • Recommended veterinary rechecks

We’re here to help! Visit to watch a video on how to give an insulin injection, monitor blood glucose with our eDiary, find expert advice and get support from our interactive community to help manage your cat’s diabetes.

For more information on the types of feline diabetes, please read:

  • Diabetes Mellitus in Cats
    Diabetes Mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. In simple terms, it is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Click on the link to learn more.

For additional information on testing, monitoring and administering insulin shots, please read:

  • Diabetes in Cats – Testing and Monitoring
    There are several recommended tests to have done on your cat when Diabetes Mellitus is suspected. Cats can live happily and healthfully with diabetes if proper monitoring is performed by you at home and your cat has regularly scheduled visits with your veterinarian. For the best monitoring of a diabetic cat and the highest chance of diabetic remission, blood glucose can be checked by you at home. Ask your veterinarian if this monitoring approach might be right for you and your cat. Click on the link to learn more.
  • Giving Injections to Cats
    Diabetes Mellitus can be controlled in cats by administering daily insulin injections. Click on the link to learn more.

To learn more about diabetes in dogs and cats, check our Pet Health Library