Cats are more resistant to diabetes than dogs and humans, but can still fall victim to this dangerous disease. If you don't want to have to play nurse maid to a diabetic cat, make sure her blood sugar levels are within a healthy range. All it takes is a little understanding.
Within Normal Limits
The normal, healthy range for the blood sugar of a non-diabetic, fasting cat is between 75 and 120, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. If the glucose level falls somewhere between these two numbers, it is said to be "within normal limits," written in the cat's chart as "WNL." If the number is closer to the higher end, it is time to take a look at the kitty's diet so that the glucose level doesn't rise and go over the limit. Cats will sometimes go as high as 200 and not need to be put on insulin as glucose levels do spike for a variety of reasons. So multiple blood and urine tests should be done to confirm results. Once the level has reached 240, however, medical intervention is required.
Insulin-The Vehicle for Glucose
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Diabetes affects approximately one in 400 cats. The simplest way to explain it is to look at it from the point of view of the body's needs. Everyone needs energy in order to carry out the activities of daily living. This energy is supplied by sugars, or carbohydrates, which is present in the body by way of the things the cat eats. The foods the cat consumes is converted into energy. The pancreas has special cells, called "beta" cells, that produces the hormone insulin. Insulin is necessary to carry the glucose, or sugar, to the cells. Think of the insulin as a car, transporting the glucose to the cells to be used for energy.
What Goes Wrong
Diabetes occurs when the cat's body cannot produce enough insulin to keep up with the amount of glucose, or sugar, present in the bloodstream. This causes the glucose levels to rise in the bloodstream. The kidneys, upon noting the elevated glucose levels, attempt to correct the imbalance by forcing the glucose out of the body through the urine. This is why excessive thirst, drinking and peeing is a major symptom of diabetes. Other symptoms of diabetes include weight loss -- due to the body's attempt to get energy from stored fat and muscle -- vomiting, anorexia, weakness and lethargy. There may be alopecia or kitty's coat and skin may become dull and lose its elasticity. Difficulty breathing and dehydration are also symptoms of diabetes.
Diabetes is a serious illness that can bring on an early death. Cats diagnosed with diabetes have a shortened life span. You can help your cat avoid diabetes by ensuring she has a well-balanced diet through the use of a good quality cat food; and by encouraging her to get exercise through playing games of chase-the-ball or catch-the-mouse. High fiber diets and diets rich in complex carbohydrates will help your cat maintain her svelte figure and keep diabetes at bay. The best protection against diabetes is to make sure your cat does not become overweight.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.