Everything seems fine; Ms. Kitty is a little overweight but she appears happy and healthy. Then your veterinarian calls to discuss elevated glucose levels in her annual blood work. Suddenly she’s borderline diabetic. Kitty probably doesn’t need insulin just yet, but it’s time to get her body regulated.
Understanding Feline Diabetes
Your cat uses glucose, which is essentially sugar, for energy. Insulin is the chemical circulating in her body that allows her cells to absorb and metabolize glucose into energy. Glucose creates the need for insulin; the more glucose or sugar in your cat’s blood, the more insulin her pancreas will produce to properly metabolize it. Diabetes Mellitus occurs when a cat’s pancreas isn’t able to produce or properly use insulin, resulting in an inability to regulate glucose levels; her blood sugar skyrockets. Because her body can’t use glucose for energy, it starts using the next best source, her fat cells. This leads to a build up of fat by-products in her organs that can interfere with liver function, blood pH and metabolic function. On top of that, her cells can’t absorb glucose because the insulin isn’t there to facilitate. Her overwhelmed kidneys, which filter toxin out of the blood and nutrients back in, can’t filter the mass amounts of glucose back into the bloodstream; it spills into her urinary tract and bladder causing excessive urination and thirst and even secondary urinary infections.
Borderline Diabetes Diagnosis
Normal blood glucose levels in a cat range from 80-150 but can temporarily read much higher, 300-400, during times of stress. When your veterinarian diagnoses Kitty as prediabetic, that means her glucose levels were elevated beyond the normal range but probably not high enough to cause panic. If Kitty is overweight or obese, has had a case of pancreatitis in the past, suffers from a hormonal disease like Cushing’s or hyperthyroidism or is on corticosteroids, all of which are risk factors for developing diabetes, this may sway the diagnosis towards prediabetes. Young, healthy or very shy cats with an isolated instance of elevated glucose levels may just be stressed with all the handling that comes along with a trip to the vet’s office. Your veterinarian will want a urinalysis to test for glucose levels in the urine and blood work to measure kidney and liver function.
Prediabetes isn’t a death sentence. With some dietary and lifestyle management, many cats reverse or even resolve prediabetes without medication. A safe, veterinarian-recommended weight-loss diet can help her lose weight gradually and correct insulin sensitivity. There are two common dietary options for prediabetic cats: high-fiber, high complex-carbohydrate diets and high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Both work to regulate blood glucose levels. Canned food can also provide Kitty with more water in her diet and hydrate her body as well as get her on a feeding schedule instead of grazing all day long which can lead to, ahem, excess pudge.
In addition to dietary changes, your veterinarian will also want to closely monitor her blood and urine glucose levels. You may have to bring Kitty to the vet once every month or so for testing. Of course, bring her to the vet’s office right away if she begins to show any signs of full-blown diabetes such as increased thirst and urination, ravenous appetite accompanied by weight loss, lethargy or jaundice -- yellowing of the skin and gums.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Christina Stephens is a writer from Portland, Ore. whose main areas of focus are pets and animals, travel and literature. A veterinary assistant, she taught English in South Korea and holds a BA in English with cum laude honors from Portland State University.