The Feline Diabetes Epidemic


Diabetes in humans has reached epidemic proportions, and sadly, this trend also affects our cats. Diabetes affects as many as 1 in 50 cats, with overweight cats being especially prone to the disease.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes results from inadequate production of insulin by the pancreas or an inadequate response of the cells to insulin. Without insulin, the body can’t utilize glucose. This results in elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In diabetic cats, excess glucose is eliminated by the kidneys, producing frequent urination. This in turn leads to increased water consumption to compensate for the increased urination.

There are three types of diabetes in cats:

Type I: Cats are insulin dependent and need to receive daily insulin injections because the pancreas is not making enough insulin.

Type II: The pancreas may make enough insulin but the body cannot utilize it properly. This is the most common type of feline diabetes. Some of these cats will require daily insulin injections, but in some cases, the condition can be controlled with oral medications or even just a change in diet.

Type III: This is known as transient diabetes. These are cats who have type II diabetes. They may require insulin initially, but go into remission over time as their system regulates itself.


While diabetes can affect any cat, it mostly presents in older, or overweight cats. The four classic signs noticed by most cat owners are an increased, almost ravenous appetite, weight loss, increased urination, and increased water consumption.


Diabetes is diagnosed with a thorough physical exam and laboratory testing of blood and urine. If the cat’s glucose is elevated, a second blood test, called a fructosamine, will provide more detailed information.


Diabetes is treated with a combination of diet, insulin, or oral glucose medications.

What causes diabetes in cats?

The exact cause of the disease in cats is not known, but obesity and poor diet, especially a dry diet high in carbohydrates, seem to be major factors. Other causes may include chronic pancreatitis, other hormonal diseases such as hyperthyroidism, and certain medications such as steroids.

The link between diet and diabetes

More and more evidence shows that diabetes in the cat is a preventable disease, and is most likely caused by the high carbohydrate content of most commercial pet foods, especially dry foods. Since so many cats eat primarily dry food, these poor-quality, highly processed, carbohydrate rich diets that are the equivalent of sugared breakfast cereals are increasingly thought to be the major culprit for the epidemic increase in diabetes in cats.

Veterinarians vary in their approach when it comes to diets for diabetic cats. Many traditional veterinarians still use high-fiber diets for these cats, but more and more holistic vets as well as feline vets have turned away from this approach and recommend a high protein low carb raw or grain-free canned diet.

No cure, but the possibility of remission

There is no cure for diabetes. However, with proper dietary management, some cats may no longer need insulin. If diabetes has resulted from consumption of a poor quality diet and/or obesity, it is likely to improve or even completely resolve once the cat’s weight is under control.

This article was previously published on and is republished with permission.

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