5 Causes of Diabetes in Cats
What Causes Diabetes in Cats?
More and more cats are developing diabetes—a condition that impairs the body’s ability to produce or respond to insulin. Since insulin is needed in order for sugar or glucose to be utilized, this causes the levels of sugar in the bloodstream to become higher than normal.
If left uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to more severe complications, such as severe depression, hind leg weakness, seizures, coma, and even death. That’s why as a pet parent, knowing what causes diabetes in cats, as well as how to prevent and manage the condition, is very important. To help you get started, we’ve detailed the top 5 causes of diabetes in cats below!
There are two types of diabetes in cats: type I or insulin-dependent diabetes, and type II or insulin-resistant diabetes. Unlike type I diabetes, which keeps the body from producing insulin, type II diabetes prevents the body from responding to available insulin. Out of the two, obese or overweight cats are more likely to develop type II diabetes.
Sugar comes from food, so cats that eat a lot have a higher amount of sugar in the bloodstream. If food consumption isn’t moderated and the body is constantly being exposed to large amounts of sugar, it becomes less responsive to insulin. As a result, blood sugar levels spike. The good news is, through food management and exercise, type II diabetes is reversible.
Insulin is produced by pancreatic cells known as beta cells. However, if a cat has an autoimmune disorder, which is a condition that causes the body to attack itself, their immune system may damage or destroy the beta cells, resulting in type I or insulin-dependent diabetes.
Unfortunately, type I diabetes isn’t completely curable and can only be managed through strict diet management, vet-approved exercises, and life-long insulin therapy.
Pancreatitis is a disease that causes the pancreas to become inflamed. In some cases, the pancreatic tissues become so damaged that it affects the ability of the beta cells to continue producing insulin. The worst thing about pancreatitis is that, except from poor appetite and weakness, it doesn’t come with noticeable signs and symptoms, so it usually goes undetected. To be safe, it’s best to contact your veterinarian right away if you notice any changes in your cat—no matter how subtle it is.
Steroid medications or glucocorticoids (prednisolone, prednisone, and dexamethasone) are often used to treat inflammatory conditions in pets, such as allergies and asthma. While perfectly safe to use short-term, cats that take steroids for extended periods, especially in large doses, can develop steroid-induced diabetes. This is because steroids work by mimicking the effects of cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone.
Similar to humans, cats produce cortisol when under stress, causing high blood pressure and blood sugar spikes. Since steroids have the same effect, long-term use can increase the amount of sugar in the blood and make the body less responsive to insulin.
Cushing’s syndrome, also called hyperadrenocorticism, is a condition that causes the adrenal glands to overproduce cortisol, which, like steroid medications, can cause the body to become resistant to insulin and trigger the development of diabetes. However, cats rarely develop Cushing’s syndrome. Normally, it develops in cats that have existing diabetes due to uncontrolled blood sugar levels.
In most cases, the adrenal gland is surgically removed to treat Cushing’s syndrome. But if it occurs as a result of a tumor in the pituitary gland, surgery may not be an option since it’s a very risky procedure. Instead, the condition is managed through oral medications that prevent cortisol production, in addition to regular insulin injections.