Mittens’ Guide to Diabetes in Cats

With Lyn Gardner Swansea Cats Protection

This month we’d like to look at caring for a diabetic cat as it is an increasingly familiar experience for many cat owners. A recent UK survey suggested that 1 in 200 cats is diabetic. So, who better to guide you through learning about diabetes than a cat who is living with the disorder? So, let us introduce you to lovely rescue cat Mittens who has come into our care following the sad loss of her much-loved owner. Mittens was diagnosed as diabetic some time ago and her elderly owner was able to learn how to care for her. Now Mittens is in our care and waiting patiently for a new home, we have taken over the responsibility of ensuring her treatment regime is continued…Mittens is making it very easy for us. She is such a calm, loving and good-natured puss that having her daily injection is very simple, she doesn’t even notice it! So, let Mittens help give you an overview of the disorder in cats.

What does it mean if my cat has diabetes?

Diabetes affects the control of blood sugar levels and usually occurs in middle-aged and older cats, particularly those who are overweight. Mittens has to admit that her weight did play a contributing factor and she wishes sometimes that her beloved owner wasn’t so generous with the treats and that she’d had a few more strolls around the garden to keep herself fit. As obesity is on the increase in people, unfortunately it is also a problem in the pet cat population. The PDSA have recently suggested that up to a third of all pet cats are overweight which in turn risks your cat developing diabetes, among other health problems. In a healthy cat, food is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose, a form of sugar, is the result from this digestion and provides the body with energy. As the glucose level begins to rise after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin and allows glucose to enter the body cells where it is needed as a source of energy.

In a diabetic cat like sweetheart Mittens, the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body doesn’t respond to it properly. Once the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream, it is unable to reach the body cells – this results in high levels of glucose circulating around the body. As the glucose can’t be used, other substances such as fat or muscle protein are used to provide energy. If diabetes isn’t treated, the process will create by-products and will make the cat extremely ill.

Therefore, it’s vital for cat owners to be aware of the risk factors associated with the development of the disorder in order to prevent it and being able to spot the signs that vet treatment is needed.

Is my cat at risk of developing diabetes?

Some cats are more at risk than others of developing this health problem. Obese cats are four times as likely to develop diabetes, while middle-aged and male cats are at higher risk.

What are the signs of diabetes in my cat?

The signs of diabetes can be similar to a number of other disorders and include:

  • increased thirst and or appetite
  • passing more urine
  • weight loss
  • lethargy and weakness
  • vomiting
  • being more prone to infections
  • some affected cats if left untreated may have sunken back legs due to nerve damage

How is diabetes diagnosed in cats?

To diagnose diabetes, your vet will want to take blood and urine samples from your cat to assess glucose levels. They will not be allowed any food for several hours before the blood test is taken. Mittens remembers this as being no problem at all, as long as she could ride in in the cat carrier on the front seat and look out along the journey, with a seatbelt on of course!  Your vet may also want to monitor your cat’s body weight. Mittens admits she doesn’t enjoy going on the scales…who does?

How is diabetes treated?

Diabetes is often treated more successfully if detected and treated in the early stages. Treatment may include:

insulin injections – insulin must be given by injection, with most diabetic cats requiring one or two injections a day. While some cats will require insulin for the rest of their lives, some cats if treated early enough, can become non-diabetic again. Mittens says she hopes this might happen to her as she’s heard that another rescue cat just down from her in the cattery pens is now no longer diabetic which is wonderful news!

Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict which cats will recover from diabetes

diet – take your vet’s advice on diet, as these recommendations may change as your cat’s diabetes becomes stabilised. If your cat is overweight, your vet will aim to help your cat slowly lose weight

medication – while in many cases insulin treatment is necessary, some cats respond to a combination of glucose-lowering drugs and a weight-reducing diet. Our volunteers often say they’d much rather give a cat a simple insulin injection each day than give eye drops or tablets which all cat owners know is not that simple

routine – routine is important for cats with diabetes and daily injections and feeding regimes should be carried out at the same time each day

What will happen to my diabetic cat?

Providing that treatment is received and your cat responds well, there is no reason why diabetic cats should not live a relatively normal life for years. Many other diabetic cats we’ve had in our care at Swansea Cats Protection have been successfully rehomed and lived happy lives. Adopters are given support, guidance and lots of opportunity to learn about managing diabetes in their new cat and to practice giving insulin. It usually isn’t very long before cat and new owner are happily waving cheerio to us and starting their new lives together, confident in their ability to manage treatment. Mittens is hoping someone will give her a chance of a new life very soon. She says she’ll try really hard to stick to her weight loss diet and join you in a daily walk around the garden…if the weather is nice of course!

If you are interested in adopting one our cats or kittens please get in touch. IMPORTANT: We are keen to match the right cat to the right home, based on our knowledge of the cat and the information you provide. However, due to the high number of applications we receive we are sorry but are unable to respond to unsuccessful applications.

We can be contacted via our Helpline 0345 2602 101 or email us at Please note our helpline is answered by a messaging service and we will respond as soon as we can.

Please remember that we are all UNPAID VOLUNTEERS trying to do our best for the rescue cats and kittens of Swansea.


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