This is Stephen
Any guesses as to what breed this spunky hunk of burning love is?
You got it, he’s a Burmese cat.
Stephen is… Wait, I just lost my train of thought looking at that face, THAT SMOOCHALICIOUS FACE!! Okay… So this little red picture of perfection didn’t land himself in an article on diabetes in cats by accident. Burmese cats, (particularly males), are over-represented when it comes to this disease. Before you call bullshit, my American friends, this curiously this only applies to Burmese cats in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Here in the land down under, one in ten Burmese cats over eight years of age is diagnosed with diabetes.
The major risk factors for diabetes in cats are inactivity and obesity. Put another way, the lazy, fatty boombah cats are the ones most at risk. Obese cats are 3.9 times as likely to develop diabetes compared with cats of optimal weight. Now while there are a multitude of ‘fat cat’ images ripe for the picking on the world wide web, I really don’t believe I need graphic images of what amounts to animal abuse to make my point. For this reason, I have decided to draw you a diagram instead.
I wash myself with a rag on a stick…
We shall call the above cat Puddin. Puddin’s owners think food = love. Either that, or Puddin has a black belt in the feline art of food theft. In any case, Puddin is a Puddin. This is not healthy! If you’re not sure whether your cat is overweight, check out this body condition score chart from WSAVA
Lucky for Stephen, he has an AMAZING mumma (who also happens to be a veterinary nurse) who will keep him in tip top shape, so he really has nothing to worry about (so stop worrying Stephen, I can see it written all over your face!)**.
Anyway, partly due to the tenuous link via his breed, but mainly because I loves him, I shall lightly pepper the remainder of this article with portraits of Stephen*. You’re welcome.
*And the walls of my home. And that little photo spot in my wallet where my kids should be..
** It would be remiss of me not to mention also, that Stephen’s father is such a glorious example of good looks, sharp intellect and a razor sharp wit all bundled up neatly into one bearded package that Stephen may, in fact, one day be president.
What Exactly is Diabetes in Cats?
Ok, so firstly, what is diabetes? Its proper name is diabetes mellitus, with the word diabetes meaning ‘to pass through’ and the word mellitus meaning ‘sweet’. I think basically the translation is ‘sweet urine’, but I don’t know what kind of sicko looks at a fresh, warm specimen and thinks, ‘I’m actually a little parched right now, nobody’s looking, might just take a sneaky sip’. Actually, Wikipedia just answered that question for me, a guy named Thomas Willis in 1675. Seriously Tom, I just, no Tom… No.
But I digress.
In a normal, healthy, non-diabetic cat (or human for that matter!), the glucose from food enters the bloodstream, and this triggers the pancreas to release insulin. The insulin then allows cells of the body to take up the glucose from the bloodstream. It does this by binding with a receptor on the outside of the cell that tells little glucose transporters to come and get the glucose. The cells then use the glucose for energy or store it for later. When things go wrong in cats their disease is similar to type 2 diabetes in people. They develop insulin resistance, which means the pancreas is pumping out loads of insulin, but the cells, particularly in muscle, fat and liver, just aren’t responding to it very well…
The sustained humongous demand for insulin in these cats just to get a little glucose into cells makes the pancreas angry about being ignored. Well actually it just gets really tired, and so it stops working properly. The pancreas can’t secrete as much insulin any more, and we end up with diabetes.
Now the glucose isn’t getting into the cells to meet energy requirements. So these cats are generally so hungry they could eat the ass out of a low flying duck. Even with this increased appetite they will still lose weight, because they need to break down body stores of protein and fat to make their own glucose for energy.
Now the kidneys, which normally reabsorb any glucose they see back into the blood stream, can no longer keep up with the crazy high levels.
Mr Kidney enjoyed his job putting glucose back into the bloodstream until the Great Glucose Stampede of 2014
Glucose ends up making its way into the urine (hence Tom’s delicious sugary beverage). The glucose molecules love water and drag it along with them, so the cat ends up peeing a lot more. Because the cat is peeing a lot more, it has no choice but to drink a lot more. If for some reason the cat doesn’t have access to enough water, it will become dehydrated and unwell very quickly.
I hope that makes sense! If it doesn’t, the image below is sure to clarify things. No need to thank me.
The Diabetic Cat: A Triptych
Aah yes of course! Wait, no, I still have no idea what you’re talking about.
What are the Signs that my Cat may have Diabetes?
In most cases we’ve got a cat that is initially overweight (although not always), but has been gradually losing weight despite a really hearty appetite. Kitty is also likely to be super thirsty, and you may find you’re refilling the water bowl much more frequently than you used to. The litter tray is always wet or maybe there are even little accidents happening around the house because your cat needs to pee a lot more. But he’s bright and happy. This is the situation early on, anyway.
Sometimes these signs are subtle and occur very gradually though. If they go unnoticed, the disease progresses and we end up with a situation called diabetic ketoacidosis, or DKA. These guys are really, really sick. They are usually depressed and dehydrated, and may have vomiting and diarrhoea. DKA can become deadly in a short time, and a period of fairly intensive treatment in hospital may be required to pull them through it. However, if you’ve hung in this far and read all the way through my ramblings, you know what to look out for and will be able to pick it up early if your cat does become diabetic. Feline diabetes discovered early is very manageable, and in fact many cats go into remission.
Please stay tuned for Part II of my Diabetes in Cats series - How To Care for the Diabetic Cat. If you want to be sure not to miss it you can sign up for my mailing list here.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below, and either myself or Stephen will get right back to you! I can’t guarantee Stephen knows anything about anything though.