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Diabetes is seen in cats of all ages, sexes and breeds; however, it most typically occurs in older cats and cats that have been very overweight.

Glucose (‘blood sugar’) provides the cells in the body with the energy they need to live and function. Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in an organ call the pancreas. In the cat the cells in the body fail to respond to insulin properly, ie become resistant to it, despite producing sufficient quantities. (Type 2 Diabetes) Although sometimes the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin.

Meaning that:

  • The cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and
  • Too much glucose remains in the blood
  • This condition is called ‘diabetes mellitus’ (this is often shortened to just diabetes). Diabetes is therefore basically caused by a lack of insulin activity.

What are the signs of diabetes?

  • Passing more urine
  • Drinking more, possibly from unusual areas such as toilets and sinks
  • Weight loss, despite eating more
  • Lethargy
  • Poor coat condition
  • Can diabetes be cured?
  • Some cats can enter ‘remission’ through care with their diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Others need and continue to need insulin therapy.


The signs listed above suggest that diabetes could be present, but they can also be caused by a number of other diseases too. Therefore your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis. A persistently high level of glucose in the blood is the most reliable indicator that a pet is diabetic.


The main aim of treatment is to restore a good quality of life, not just for your cat but for you as well. We can do this by stopping the signs of diabetes described earlier.

An additional benefit of treatment is that it helps to reduce diabetic complications. Although cats tend to escape some of the more serious complications that we see in human diabetics, they will have a higher incidence of problems such as being prone to cystitis or cataract formation.

Weight control and diet are important factors, and can potentially put some cats into remission or reduce their need for insulin. But just as in people, diabetes may need to be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin.

Once treatment is started, it can take several months to achieve full stabilisation, although improvements in your cat should be seen within a week or so of starting the treatment. Insulin therapy will need to be adjusted to your cat’s needs, and he or she should improve rapidly. The type of diet, their weight and addressing any other health problems are equally as important factors in dealing with diabetes.

You will need to keep in close contact with your treating veterinary surgeon but the frequency of visits to our practice should reduce once the optimum routine is found. You should never change the dose of insulin you give to your pet without first consulting your vet.

You may be asked to test urine samples on a regular basis to check for glucose and ketones using special tests sticks supplied by us. These give an extra indication of how your pet is getting on. Small amount of glucose in the urine may be acceptable, but the presence of ketones is usually an indicator of a serious problem. Weight, food intake and thirst are also important pointers to their progress. Always consult your vet at your nearest branch if you unsure what to do.

Emergency situation: Hypoglycaemia

One potentially dangerous complication that you should be prepared for is ‘hypoglycaemia’; this is when the blood sugar level falls too low. This may happen if too much insulin is given or if your cat refuses to eat. In this situation the brain, which is very dependent on a supply of glucose, cannot get enough energy.

The signs of hypoglycaemia include:

  • Lethargy, unsteady on legs, weakness
  • Unresponsive, distant or spaced-out
  • Twitching of the face or fits
  • Unconsciousness
  • The condition is potentially life-threatening if not treated properly

What to do if you see signs of hypoglycaemia:

  • Give food immediately
  • If your cat can’t eat- smear honey, jam or glucose gel on the tongue. Take care not to get bitten. Keep an emergency jar in the fridge.
  • Call the surgery immediately on 0121 705 3044

This information is courtesy of MERCK Animal Health. For more information go to