Diabetes mellitus occurs in all breeds of cats but is more likely to be found in animals aged six years or older. 

Garfield_18th_birthdayIt seems to be more common in males than females.


The most common symptoms of diabetes to look out for are increased thirst, increased urination, and sudden weight loss, especially in overweight cats. In addition, you may see changes in appetite, lethargy, poor coat, vomiting and diarrhoea, weakness, and in rare cases, the development of cataracts. If you see any of the symptoms above, it’s vital that you take your cat to see a veterinarian as quickly as possible so that he can start treatment.

Other than in cases where it has been caused by the long-term administration of drugs, the underlying cause of diabetes in cats is not clearly understood.

Diabetes usually arises either as a failure of the pancreas to produce enough insulin or an inability of the tissues of the body to respond to the hormone. With both, the levels of glucose in the blood rise, leading to glucose in the urine. Tests on the urine to check for the presence of glucose or a blood test to establish the glucose levels can be used to confirm the diagnosis.


Most cases of diabetes are controlled by daily injections of insulin and by monitoring the amount of glucose in the urine with test sticks. Not surprisingly, this is difficult with cats and many owners will give up.

Dietary changes can also help. Diets that are higher in fibre can even out absorption of glucose from the bowel. Royal Canin has launched a new diabetic wet diet for cats, which is available from your vet and should only be used under strict veterinary guidance. The diet works to help control the glycaemic peak after meals, support insulin management and help maintain a pet’s ideal weight.

As well as diet, several herbal remedies are known to be helpful. Nettle, garlic, goat’s rue and fenugreek are all believed to reduce the level of glucose in the blood.

In a similar way, there are a number of homoeopathic remedies which can help deal with the condition. Those most often prescribed include syzygium jambolanum 6x, uranium nitrate 6c, phosphoric acid 6c and phosphorus 6c.

It goes without saying that before embarking on alternative medicines, you seek the advice of a professional herbalist and work with your vet and get his advice first.

My cat Garfield was diagnosed with diabetes just before his 18th birthday. It came about during a routine blood test which he had prior to having surgery for the removal of some bad teeth and a benign tumour in his mouth. I was shown how to give him injections of insulin and I had to take him back to the vets on a weekly basis for blood tests and check ups.

I was very fortunate with Garfield because he allowed me to give him his twice daily injections without any problems. I always did it before a meal and then gave him a treat; he always kissed me and he knew that he was going to get his breakfast or his dinner.

Perhaps because of his age it wasn’t suggested that I change his diet and at that time he wasn’t even on senior cat food. Perhaps it was thought that the change in diet would distress him or stress him out too much but one thing I did do was to make sure that he ate frequently. Working on the assumption that humans with diabetes are supposed to eat small meals on a regular basis so that the glucose levels don’t have the chance to dip too low, I made sure that Garfield had something to eat every couple of hours. He was quite skinny anyway so it wasn’t like I was force feeding him to becoming overweight.

Cats by their nature will sleep for many hours and Garfield, at 18, probably slept for 20 – 22 hours a day anyway. To wake him up and take him downstairs to the kitchen for a meal and a cuddle was probably a welcome change for him as he loved me with a passion. After he ate, he’d make his rickety way down the garden to go to the toilet and then make his creaky journey back up the path again. We’d have another cuddle and he’d kiss me – he was a great kisser – and then I’d take him back to his bed where he’d sleep until I woke him again a couple of hours later.

Garfield_on_his_20th_birthday_with_BananaMan_and_MonkeyI didn’t know if this was doing him any good or not but about 9 months after his diagnosis – and just before his 19th birthday, he suffered a fit – brought on, as it turned out – by an insulin overdose. I hadn’t given him too much – by this time he was only having one injection a day but a miracle had occurred. Garfield’s pancreas had begun working again of its own accord and was producing insulin, which, in addition to the small amount I was giving him once a day made him have a fit.

As I’d just come out of hospital after an operation and was on strict bed rest, the vet came to my house with a veterinary nurse and they took Garfield back to the surgery and ran some tests. Everyone was amazed. A 19 year old cat had beaten diabetes. It’s not unheard of, but it is fairly uncommon.

Garfield lived until he was 20 years and 3 months and proof, if ever proof was needed, that older cats can – and do – beat some serious illnesses with a little bit of practical help from their owners.

© Pauline Dewberry July 2012




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