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6 Tips for Dealing with Feline Diabetes

Taking care of a diabetic cat is less intimidating than you think. Here's what you need to know.

 |  Nov 15th 2013  |   44 Contributions


I plan to bring a new cat into my family in a couple of days. She’s a beautiful girl who has the very appropriate name Bella (short for Belladonna, and it has nothing to do with Twilight). She’s particularly special because she has diabetes. She’ll need ongoing care and attention for the rest of her life, but I’ve found that the basics of keeping a diabetic cat healthy are not very scary at all. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, but even young and skinny cats can get the disease. My diabetic kitty, Bella, is 10 months old and she's never been fat a day in her life. Obese cat by Shutterstock

1. Diet is crucial to your cat’s health

Diabetic cats shouldn’t eat dry food. Most vets recommend a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet for diabetic cats, and no dry food is low in carbohydrates. Even grain-free dry foods contain a lot of substitute carbohydrates such as potatoes, peas, or tapioca. Carbohydrates tend to make blood sugar levels fluctuate quite a bit. The shelter where I’m adopting my Bella has had cats that became diet-controlled and no longer needed insulin when they began eating low-carb food. There are low-carbohydrate foods available at every price point, so you don’t have to buy super-expensive food to feed your diabetic cat properly. Lisa Pierson, DVM, has created a chart listing carbohydrate, fat, protein, and calorie measurements for many canned and raw cat foods.

2. Home testing isn’t as hard as it seems

Like diabetic humans, cats with diabetes need to have their blood glucose tested regularly. You can do this at home with a standard glucometer and testing strips that you can buy in a drugstore. Record your cat’s blood glucose level, along with the date and time, after each test. The small vein running around the edge of the ear is the easiest location to get a blood sample for the test. Your vet can tell you how often you should test your cat. You can find step-by-step home-testing instructions and videos online to see how it’s done.

3. Giving insulin isn’t as hard as it seems, either

If your diabetic cat needs insulin, you will need to give it by injection. The good news is that cats have a lot of loose skin between and around their shoulders, and this is the ideal location for giving shots. Your vet will show you how to do this, and videos of this procedure are also available online if you need a refresher.

4. You’ll need to work closely with your vet

Your cat will probably need more frequent examinations, particularly as her insulin dosage is being stabilized, and you’ll want to send records of your cat’s home-test blood glucose levels to your vet so they can become part of your kitty’s records. You’ll also need prescriptions from your vet to buy your cat’s insulin and syringes.

Veterinarian and cat by Shutterstock

5. There are ongoing expenses

Care of a diabetic cat means you’ll need supplies: syringes, test strips and batteries for your glucometer, insulin, and so on. Pet health insurance doesn't cover pre-existing conditions, so if your cat is diabetic when you adopt her, you'll need to be ready financially if she has a health crisis. A diabetic cat needs to be fed regularly -- even if you're going away for just an overnight trip, you need to make arrangements for your cat to be fed and monitored. For most people, that means hiring a cat sitter. Make sure that sitter is comfortable with diabetes care and knows how to home test and administer insulin, too.

6. There’s a lot of support available, too

The best known and highest rated feline-diabetes support website is FelineDiabetes.com. Dr. Lisa Pierson’s CatInfo.org has lots of information about nutrition, as well as a section dedicated to diabetes. Diabetic Cats in Need is a nonprofit that provides financial assistance for caretakers of diabetic cats. I’m sure there are Catster forums on diabetes; if you’re a member of one of those forums, please share the link in the comments.

Diabetes really isn’t scary. You need to be educated about the disease, you need to have a vet you trust and with whom you can communicate well, and you need to be ready for the fact that your lifestyle will change when you bring one of these special cats into your home.

Do you have a diabetic cat? Are there resources and websites you’ve found particularly helpful? Let us know in the comments!

About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer, professional cat sitter, and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.

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