Recently, my mother found out that her cat has diabetes. Zeus, the large orange tabby has always been what one could politely call an "enthusiastic" eater. As a result, he’s one hefty feline. Diabetes is most likely to strike older, obese male cats, so Zeus is not unusual.
There are two varieties of diabetes. Type 1 is caused when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin. In humans, this type is often referred to as "juvenile diabetes." Type 2 diabetes is caused by an inadequate response of the body’s cells to insulin. This type is the one that often occurs later in life and can be related to being overweight.
The good news for my Mom is that with some extra care, diabetic cats can generally live out their normal lifespan and remain happy and healthy. Unlike humans, cats don’t suffer from diabetic complications, such as vision or circulatory problems.
The signs of diabetes are similar to some other much worse feline diseases, so for some cat owners, a diagnosis of diabetes may come as a relief. Diabetic cats often will drink a lot of water and urinate more. Sometimes they also lose weight.
Although there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed with medication and diet. In many cases, the veterinarian will recommend insulin shots to manage the disease. As I told my mother, giving a cat a shot is really not such a bad thing. (In fact, if you ask me, it’s a lot easier than giving a cat a pill!) The needles are very small. If the cat is relaxed and so are you, the process can be quick and virtually painless. I read about one owner of a diabetic cat who gives the cat a treat after every shot. As soon as the cat hears her take out the needles, he comes running over.
Most cats require shots one or two times per day. Every cat responds differently to insulin, so it takes some time working with your vet to get the dosage right. If the cat is obese, the vet will also put him on a gradual weight loss program. Because managing diabetes requires such close communication with your veterinarian, be sure you have a vet that you feel comfortable talking to and working with.
Although the diagnosis may be upsetting and you may be afraid of needles, your cat can live for many years with diabetes if you make the commitment to care for her. Even with diabetes, your cat can give you love and companionship for years to come.