What Is Feline Diabetes, and What Do Cat Parents Need to Know?

cat being examined by a veterinarian

Feline diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is becoming one of the most common conditions among cats, so it’s well worth learning about if you have feline friends at home!

The condition is very similar to human diabetes in a few ways:

  • It is characterized by an underproduction of insulin, the hormone responsible for blood sugar regulation in the body. If left untreated, cats can develop nerve damage, muscle weakness, other diseases, or even death.
  • Cats who are older and overweight are at higher risk for developing it, because those factors impact hormone production, including insulin.
  • It is treatable! Management can require some adjustments, but cats with well-controlled diabetes can live happy, full lives.


Cats with diabetes have a few common symptoms:

  • Excessive thirst leading to excessive urination, possibly including accidents outside the litter box
  • Increased appetite, going after scraps, or begging for food
  • Weight loss despite the increased appetite
  • Decreased ability to jump
  • Lethargy or sluggishness
  • Walking with their weight back on their heels, instead of their toes

But not all of these are present all the time, and many other conditions have similar symptoms, including urinary tract infections or blockages, and hyperthyroidism. Your cat may just be “off,” especially in the early stages of disease, and you’re not exactly sure why. But if your cat is suddenly having accidents or losing weight despite cleaning his food dish every day, diabetes could be the culprit.

To diagnose diabetes mellitus, your veterinarian will test your cat’s blood and urine. In the case of suspected diabetes, they will look for consistently high levels of blood glucose, referred to as hyperglycemia, and the presence of glucose in the urine, or glucosuria. Your cat may need to be tested several times to see if the levels remain high. Additional tests may be needed to rule out other conditions, like thyroid disease.

Guardian Internists Can Help

Once a cat is diagnosed with diabetes, your veterinarian will put together a treatment plan to manage the condition and keep your cat healthy. Sometimes, though, managing diabetes – especially in cats with other medical conditions – can be complicated, so your veterinarian may refer you to a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist—an internist— to help tailor a plan for your pet’s individual situation. Board-certified internists, like those on our team, complete additional training in how your pet’s internal body systems work, and have advanced knowledge and experience diagnosing and treating the most serious conditions affecting these systems.

If your cat has an unstable or complicated case of diabetes, or you have questions about our Internal Medicine department, please give us a call at 914-704-3400.

Filed Under: Blog, Pet Health

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