Burmese cat diabetes

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.

fat cat

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

Download (PDF, 1.55MB)

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…

insulin resistance diabetes cartoon

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.

glucosuria in diabetes cartoon

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.

diabetes in cats

 The Diabetic Cat: A Triptych

Red Burmese Cat

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.

signs symptoms diabetes in cats



Any Questions?

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.

red burmese lying on back

Joanna Paul
Dr. Joanna Paul BVSc (hons) BSc Jo is a practicing small animal veterinarian based in Melbourne, Australia. Working in partnership with loving pet owners to ensure their fur-kids remain happy, healthy family members life-long is what brings her joy. Well, that and taking naps. Jo strongly believes that helping to maintain the wonderful bond between a pet and their human is reason enough for a happy dance.
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Showing 23 comments
  • Connie

    Nope, I’m sorry.. that just won’t do. there are not nearly enough photos of Stephen in this post..


    but that aside, a great first post on it, looking forward to your second.

  • varna

    Awesome info! Still concerned about our Heathcliff who is eating, but having great trouble walking. We have felt him over…no grissles! checked inside his paws for a tick ( he is an outside Burmese!)
    Is eating but sleeping a lot! We have recently introduced a new kitten ( a half Manx) who does love to ‘suckle him’. Minnie was a moggie from a friend and we haven’t yet had her vaccinations as she is entirely indoors and we are waiting to have the operation around xmas.

  • Brandon @ Catkins Diet

    I enjoyed your post about feline diabetes. I sure wish more people would become as informed as you. Thanks for helping others understand about how if they help their cat just lose some weight, they might be able to stop this disease.

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Brandon,
      Thanks for stopping by! Just checked out your site - there’s a lot of great information on feline diabetes there!

  • Pawesome Cats

    Great post on diabetes in cats - love your drawings too!

  • Rachel Andrews

    Thanks for sharing the information on how to detect diabetes in cats. Cat supplements are available to help them rid of the conditions that irritate their normal state of the mind.

  • Reply

    Great post! And how adorable is Stephen!!! 🙂 I’m worried that my Buttons will get diabetes…you probably saw the little tubster in my recent post. Problem is, he steals Pebbles (my other kitty) food. Pebbles is lean and Buttons has in fact lost a kilo in a year but could do with losing yet another…sigh. Really hoping I can get him down another by next year…

    • Joanna Paul

      Thank you! I did see your gorgeous Buttons, he’s very cute. It’s really hard when you have two cats and one loves food more than the other.
      Good luck with his weight loss challenge!!

  • Reply

    My hubby wants a Burmese, we can’t afford one yet and with three young children I want to wait until they are older so I can get affection from my feline! Great post, only beaten by those great drawings! And what is it with people over feeding their cats? Thanks for linking 🙂

    • Joanna Paul

      Yay, thanks Emily! Ah yes, the kids and pets thing I understand well! I still think I’m ready for a feline friend though, as I envision it being a creature I can pat and cuddle without having to deal with the associated tantrums I get from the little humans 🙂

  • Aleney @ BoyEatsWorld

    Great post. Your Stephen is a handsome fellow. My beautiful Burmese boy, Edmond, passed away two years ago at the ripe old age of 20 after being diabetic for eight years. As you mentioned if you keep an eye out for all those signs early then it’s a controllable disease and my baby lived a long, happy and otherwise healthy life. Though I have to say that between sticking him with insulin needle while stabbing myself as I did IVF myself many many times over the same period, our house did begin to resemble an injecting room. 😉

    • Joanna Paul

      Hi Aleney, wow, that’s absolutely amazing!! Edmond must have been SO well loved and cared for to do so well. Funnily enough, while I have no problem with injecting animals day in and day out, I think I would be a massive wuss if I had to stick a needle into myself! You’re braver than me 🙂

  • Sarah Hadley

    This is a really useful information about feline diabetes in cats. You mentioned each and everything with nice mix of text and graphics which makes it easy to understand.

    • Joanna Paul

      Thanks Sarah, it’s hard to know if I’m making things easy to understand or just waffling on about things I like, such as Stephen - so that’s great feedback!

  • Rascal and Rocco

    Stephen is absolutely adorable! Thanks for the important info on feline diabetes. Great to see you on the Pet Parade!

    • Joanna Paul

      He is pretty cute isn’t he! Thanks for hosting the Pet Parade 🙂

  • Judy

    Love your post Joanna. A healthy dose of humour (and of course the gorgeous Stephen) is such a great way to get serious information out there. I think Mary Poppins said it best … “Just a spoonful of sugar…”!

    • Joanna Paul

      I think Mary Poppins was definitely onto something there!
      Anyone can write generic information, and there’s plenty of it available already. I’m so happy to read your comment because finding an engaging way of delivering sometimes not-so-exciting info is exactly what I’m trying to do 🙂

  • Reply

    Great informative post. Thank you for sharing on the pet parade!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

    • Joanna Paul

      Thank you so much! It’s been great slowly getting to know the other Pet Paraders - I’m getting there!

  • Belinda Parsons

    Great post Jo! I particularly like your cartoon skills. A great engaging post about diabetes. And Stephen is one seriously cutie pie. How can you help but LOVE that face!

    • Joanna Paul

      Thank you so much Belinda! I reeeeeally want Stephen all for myself, but I think his mumma would notice if he was missing!

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