When managing a condition like diabetes in a cat, things can sometimes go wrong and complications can develop. Some of these can be medical emergencies, whilst others are less critical.
Two of the more serious complications are mentioned below, hypoglycaemia and ketoacidosis. They have different causes, but both are serious and can be fatal if ignored. Other less critical or less common complications are covered at the end of this page.
This is a serious condition in which the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood has dropped to dangerously low levels. With a well regulated diabetic cat, this is probably the most likely complication to arise.
It is normally caused by too much insulin, and it is sometimes known as "insulin shock" or simply as a "hypo". Urgent treatment is always required, although if the symptoms are mild, treatment at home in the form of feeding a source of sugar can reduce the risk of the condition worsening. If more severe, the situation may become critical and emergency veterinary help may be needed. It can be fatal if not treated promptly.
One of the factors that can lead to a hypo is if a cat is injected with its normal dose of insulin then either doesn't eat or is ill after eating. At time of writing, Susie has had 3 hypos since becoming diabetic, all relatively mild, and all were caused by her being ill and not eating.
In a hypo, the blood glucose level becomes too low, and the essential organs including the brain are not able to function properly. At this stage there may be a variety of symptoms depending on how severely the cat is affected. If the hypo is mild, the cat might become lethargic and unresponsive, or appear drunk. More serious signs are indicated in the table below.
This is a complication caused by diabetes which has not been stabilised adequately, or perhaps not identified and treated at all. Ketoacidosis can be mild or severe, and in its most severe form, it is a medical emergency and can be fatal.
It is basically caused from toxic waste products that are produced when the body has to keep itself going by using fats instead of sugars. The sugars (glucose) can't get from the blood into the cells because of the lack of insulin, so the body has to find something else to keep itself going. If too much fats are used at once, the quantity of waste is too high for the body to dispose of, so it starts to build up in the blood. The waste products (ketones) are normally taken out of the blood by the kidneys and passed out of the body in urine.
Early signs can be identified by using test sticks, dipping them into a urine sample. The sticks that I use for Susie are Keto-Diastix® (manufactured by Bayer). They have 2 coloured strips, one for glucose the other for ketones. Positive results for ketones are indicated on a 5 point scale according to the extent of colour change. Any positive ketone reading should be discussed with your vet, but repeated positive readings or single moderate to large results are more urgent. A typical scale is shown in the photograph below. Units might vary in packs sold in different countries, but the colour change will be the same.
Treatment for severe ketoacidosis is normally regarded as a medical emergency and may require a saline drip for rehydration as well as a faster acting insulin and close medical supervision. For this reason, it is always recommended that treatment be carried out by a veterinary professional, whether at the surgery or at a veterinary hospital. I have never seen any exceptions to this mentioned elsewhere, but in December 2000, I received an e-mail from somebody whose cat had been hospitalised for mild ketoacidosis 3 times in 6 months, developed further complications and the vet had given up hope. The owner gathered supplies to treat him at home and was able to do so successfully when the need arose. This is of great credit to her dedication and tenacity, but is very much an exception. The only recommendation that I have seen elsewhere is to discuss with the vet if ketones are present in the cat's urine.
Table - Emergency Actions
Below, I have reproduced a table that I keep handy for easy reference in case of emergencies. I compiled the information from a variety of sources, including websites and various vets.
This is another critical complication of uncontrolled diabetes that I only became aware of after receiving an e-mail in 2001. Like the other two complications above, it is serious and can lead to coma and even death if not treated urgently. It therefore requires urgent or emergency veterinary treatment. I've not included it with the 2 complications above, because hyperosmolarity is extremely rare.
It can occur when too much water has been lost from the blood through the urine and it is effectively an extreme form of dehydration. This causes the concentrations of salts in the blood to increase to dangerously high levels. Treatment is based on urgent rehydration, intravenous drip in the most severe cases. Once the acute short term problems are under control, the underlying cause should be addressed so that the diabetes can be brought back under control.
Hyperosmolarity can occur with or without ketoacidosis, so it is possible that some ketones may be present in the urine. In ketoacidosis, it is the ketones that cause the problem. In hyperosmolarity it is the high concentrations of salts.
Long Term Effects
As well as the acute complications caused by things going out of control and causing immediate problems, there can also be longer term effects from diabetes in cats, just as there can be in diabetic people. Some of the long term effects in cats include:
Important note: All information and opinion in the Susie, Diabetic Cat pages is from personal experience. Nothing in these pages is intended to be a substitute for proper professional advice, which should always be sought from a qualified veterinary surgeon.
was last updated