If you're worried that Patches is more likely to get diabetes because she's a calico kitty, relax -- her pretty spots don't mean she's more at risk for this disease. By being proactive with her good health and nutrition, you can help minimize the chance she develops diabetes.
When Patches eats, her food is broken down into small components her body can use. Carbohydrates are converted to sugars, including glucose, which is absorbed from the intestines into her bloodstream. Eventually it's absorbed by cells to be used for her energy needs. If Patches doesn't have enough insulin, her cells can't absorb glucose and it builds up in her bloodstream. Cats are vulnerable to two types of diabetes, Type I, where there isn't enough insulin, and Type II, when the body doesn't use the insulin it has properly. Type II is the most common form of diabetes in cats. If Patches has been diagnosed with Type II diabetes, her pancreas is producing sufficient insulin, but her cells aren't responding to it.
At Risk Cats
It's not all that uncommon for a cat to be diagnosed with diabetes; it's estimated that one in 300 cats is affected by diabetes. All cats are at risk for diabetes, but a few cats are more at risk for the disease. Typically cats are at least 8 years old when they develop diabetes. It's most common among domestic long- and short-hair cats, and purebred breeds tend to experience a lower incidence to developing the disease. There is an exception to this, however: Burmese cats have a higher incidence of developing diabetes. The greatest risk factor seems to be obesity: increased weight makes it more difficult to absorb insulin. Cats diagnosed with diabetes are often clinically overweight or obese.
Symptoms and Treatment
Perhaps Patches has been drinking and urinating a lot, or maybe she's been eating ravenously yet still losing weight. If so, she's showing the classic symptoms of diabetes. She may also seem lethargic and have a dull, thinning coat. A simple blood test and urinalysis will confirm the presence of diabetes. If Patches has diabetes, you can successfully manage the condition through diet and insulin. Feeding her a high protein, low carbohydrate food will help manage her blood sugar levels, and some cats can manage diabetes through a change in diet alone. If she requires insulin, your vet can show you how to easily administer insulin at home, as well as how to watch Patches for signs of hypoglycemia -- low blood sugar -- which can be life threatening.
If you think Patches is at risk for developing diabetes, the best thing to do is be proactive. That means having her checked by her vet annually so her blood sugar can be monitored. Nutritional management is important too. Feeding her a high protein diet that's lower in carbohydrates will help. If she particularly enjoys canned cat food, it's a healthy choice that she'll enjoy. If Patches is overweight, work to gradually, safely shed the extra ounces -- or pounds -- she's carrying around. Part of that may include some good play time so she can get some exercise. Ten minutes once or twice a day will be very helpful to her waistline.