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Glucose is a type of sugar found in the bloodstream of all animals, including humans. It is the end product of carbohydrate, protein and fat metabolism, and the primary source of energy. Without insulin, the body can not utilize glucose. This results in the body not receiving the necessary nourishment it needs, and elevated blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia). In feline diabetes, diabetes mellitus or sugar diabetes, secretion of insulin from the pancreas is impaired or cells may be resistant to the actions of the insulin. As a result, the body’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels is compromised. This forces the cat’s body to break down fat tissue and the protein of muscle tissue in a futile attempt to supply the needed energy.

Diabetes mellitus is a commonly diagnosed disease in cats, developing in one in 400 cats. It was recognized in the cat more than 75 years ago. It is most commonly found in older (10 years and older), overweight (more than 15 pounds) and neutered male cats. Male cats have twice the risk of females. Burmese cats may have a genetic predisposition. Veterinarians have learned much in recent years about treating diabetic cats effectively, so the cat can enjoy good health and quality of life. Maintenance is vital.

There are three types of feline diabetes; type I is where the cat is insulin-dependent and needs to receive daily insulin injections because the beta cells of the pancreas are not making enough insulin. Type II (the most common) is when the cat’s pancreas may make enough insulin but the body does not properly use it. Some of these cats will require insulin as well, but others may get along well with oral medication to control the blood glucose. Type III is known as transient diabetes. These are type II cats that require insulin initially but over time, their system re-regulates so they can go off insulin, along with a change to a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.

In early onset, a cat will try to compensate for the inability to metabolize blood glucose by eating more food. Later, with the effects of malnutrition, there is drop in appetite. Accordingly, early signs are frequent urination, drinking excessively, a large appetite and unexplained weight loss. Laboratory findings are glucose and possibly ketones in the urine and a high blood glucose level.

In more advanced cases, there is loss of appetite, vomiting, weakness, acetone breath, dehydration, labored breathing, lethargy and finally coma. If glucose regulation is poor, a muscle weakness, demonstrated by an unusual stance in the hind quarters with the cat walking on the hocks instead of on the toes, is usually seen.

After 7 years of age, a cat should have geriatric profiles performed annually by your veterinarian to help assess the cat's health. However, monitoring your cat daily for the changes listed above is the fastest way to observe signs of feline diabetes.

In memory of "Panther," Feb. 2, 1999 to April 28. He fought the long, hard battle with diabetes.

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Robin Maurillo, of Auburn, has worked as a veterinary technician and animal cruelty investigator for numerous years in central New York.

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Features editor for The Citizen.