If you’ve ever wondered whether pets can get diabetes, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, it is one of the most common hormonal conditions in cats.

We’re going to take a look at some of the most common causes of feline diabetes, as well as how it can be avoided. So, let’s start off with some background information.

Glucose, insulin and the balance the between the two:

Glucose (or blood sugar) is the body’s preferred source of energy. It is ingested with food, absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream and then transported into each body cell to be consumed. However, to enter the cells, glucose needs insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. 

Diabetes mellitus is a condition where there is either an absolute insulin deficiency, secondary to destruction of pancreatic cells (type 1) or there is still some insulin left, but it is not enough to reduce blood glucose, because the body has become resistant to it (type 2). 

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80-90% of the cases of feline diabetes seen in Western countries resembles human type-2 diabetes. It not only has the same mechanism of action but also, interestingly, similar risk factors.

What causes diabetes?

Well, there are a number of factors involved.

Let’s start with the causes we cannot control – the genetic factors:

  • Age: most cats are over 8 years of age with a peak incidence between 10 and 13 years of age.
  • Sex: Male cats are 1.5 times more predisposed to diabetes than female cats.
  • Breed: Burmese cats appear to be four times more affected by diabetes mellitus than other breeds, and about 10% of Burmese cats over the age of eight are diagnosed with this disease.
  • Other diseases: acromegaly, pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer and hyperadrenocorticism are all hormonal disturbances that affect the body’s response to insulin.

Environmental risk factors of feline diabetes: what can I do to prevent diabetes in my cat?

In humans, genetic factors account for less than 10% of the overall risk of developing diabetes. This highlights the importance of environmental factors. 

Due to the similarities of feline and human type-2 diabetes, there is a reason to believe environmental factors play an important role in the development of diabetes in cats. This is good news, because it means you can act to significantly reduce the chances of your cat acquiring this condition.

Obesity

Each kilogram increase in body weight above ideal in cats causes about a 30% decrease in insulin sensitivity. 

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The most effective way of assuring your cat has an adequate body condition is by performing a body condition score (BCS). BCS is a system created to score pets’ body condition from 1 to 9, with 4 and 5 being considered ideal. You can check your cat’s body condition score with a free online chart available here Royal Canin or here Body Condition Scoring (BCS) Systems

If your cat has a BCS of 6 or over, you can check the recommended daily amount of food in grams on the bag of most commercial diets. If this is not enough, most veterinary practices offer weight-loss clinics to help you to create a personalised weight-loss programme for your cat.

Physical inactivity

Physical inactivity and obesity are, naturally, associated, and indoor confinement is another risk factor of diabetes in cats. 

While exposure to the outdoors may not be a viable option for some cats, increasing physical activity by 10 minutes of daily play has been shown to produce as much weight loss as calorie restriction. Now that is something you can do to not only help keep your cat fit, but also improve their mental wellbeing and relationship with you.

Certain drugs

Steroids and progestins are prescription medications known to contribute to insulin resistance. If your cat is on either of these drugs, ask your vet if there are any other options or if you can regularly check for the presence of glucose in your cat’s urine as a screen for diabetes.

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Do high carbohydrate diets cause diabetes?

Unlike dogs and humans, cats are obligate carnivores. This means their natural diet consists mainly of protein-rich animal prey. 

It has been hypothesised that a high-carbohydrate diet might predispose the development of diabetes in cats. Several studies have investigated this to try and understand whether this is more than just a theory. However, although the benefits of low-carbohydrate diets in the management of diabetic cats have been established, the potential role of high carbohydrate diets in disease development has not been shown.

Can diabetes be cured?

To end this article with some good news, feline diabetes can indeed be reversed. Up to 40% of cats can enter remission if treated appropriately! So it’s not all doom and gloom. But it is important to recognise the factors and look out for the signs. As always, if you’re concerned,

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