Diabetes in Cats


Expert panelists Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM, and Ruth MacPete, DVM, highlight the importance of diabetes screening tests in cats, who more frequently get type 2 diabetes, and diet and exercise as part of their treatment regimen.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Excuse me Spider, just for a minute, but let’s talk about cats. Relating to the human types of diabetes, cats are different.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes. Typically, with cats, like humans, we see more type 2 diabetes, so non—insulin-dependent diabetes. That’s something that more people can relate to because they’re aware of it, because type 2 diabetes is more prevalent in humans.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Typically, they tend to be obese cats, older cats, or cats that are not exercising very much, just like people.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes, yes, yes. As you know, diabetes is a multifactorial disease, so there are a number of different things that obviously influence whether a pet gets diabetes, obesity being one of the risk factors. But I do always caution my clients not to think that it’s just a disease for overweight animals. Sometimes we do see cats that are thin and have diabetes. Some of the time, that’s because it’s chronic and people haven’t picked it up until the pet starts losing weight. It is definitely more common in neutered male cats that are obese.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Regarding the signs, do you feel in your practice that they’re different than the signs in dogs?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: No. Again, the most common early signs of diabetes are going to be increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite despite the fact that they’re not gaining weight and may in fact be losing weight, and lethargy.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Even with a lot of cats, you never see them drink.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: So, if you see a cat drinking, if it’s at the bowl drinking, something might be wrong. It’s either its kidneys or diabetes or hyperthyroidism.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: It’s one of those things. Again, we were talking about screening tests; cats are masters at hiding illness.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Yes.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: It’s really important that people do those screening tests because dogs and cats can’t speak. They can’t tell us when they’re hungry or when they’re not feeling well, and that’s one of the things that a lot of my clients really relate to as I explain the fact that your pet can’t tell you when they’re not feeling well. These screening tests are very important to an animal.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: That’s a whole other topic, how we get cats to go to the vet. But it’s an important topic because people will take their dog to preventative care but they’ll only take their cat when the cat’s really sick. Cats are really good at hiding illness. So, that’s a really important point, to bring them in early and often and do those tests.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes. Like you mentioned earlier, diabetes, like other diseases, is much easier to manage when it’s caught early. That’s really the key message, just getting the screening tests and the exams or going to see your vet regularly. The earlier we catch it, the better the prognosis is. I know you’re going to ask me about this, but cats can go into remission as well.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: They can.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: That is another reason to really be picking up on diabetes early.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: How did you know I was going to ask about that?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Because it’s a great useful fact, right?

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: I know. Actually, there are some major developments in cats, with good monitoring and exercise. I know it’s hard to do, but diet has really become an important thing in cats. So, we can do a lot with cats.

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