How to manage diabetes in cats

You might think of diabetes as a human condition, but it can affect your pets, too. Up to 1% of cats have diabetes, with Type 2 diabetes making up 90% of those cases. Just like their human owners, cats with diabetes cannot effectively produce or respond to the hormone insulin. This causes elevated blood sugar. Diabetes in cats is a chronic condition that requires daily monitoring and treatment.

What causes diabetes in cats?

There are a few risk factors for your cat to develop diabetes. Overweight cats are four times more likely to develop diabetes than cats who are in the ideal weight range. It’s also more common in older cats. Additional risk factors include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Male gender
  • Use of steroids to treat illnesses such as feline asthma or skin allergies

Additionally, some breeds of cats in certain geographical areas are more prone to developing diabetes. They include:

  • Burmese in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe
  • Maine Coon, Russian Blue, and Siamese in the USA 
  • Norwegian Forest cats in Europe

Signs of diabetes in cats

There are a few signs you can watch for to identify if your cat may have diabetes. Symptoms of diabetes in cats include:

  • Weight loss, even if the cat is eating normally, or even has an increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and water consumption
  • Increased urination, either inside the litter box or as “accidents” outside of the litter box
  • Difficulty fully straightening their back legs or limping on the back legs

Diabetes doesn’t typically cause pain in cats, but it can make them feel unwell. If the nerves in their legs and feet are affected, it can cause mild pain and tingling.

How to test for diabetes in cats

A veterinarian will look for diabetes based on clinical signs such as weight loss, urinary accidents, and appetite changes. Testing for diabetes includes checking sugar levels in the blood and urine.

A test called fructosamine concentration may be run to give a more accurate overall picture than a single glucose reading. It reports an estimated average of a cat’s blood glucose concentration over the past two weeks.

Your vet may also run tests to check for or rule out other conditions such as a urinary tract infection, chronic kidney disease, pancreatitis, or hyperthyroidism, which could also be causing the cat’s symptoms.

How to treat diabetes in cats

“Diabetes in cats is treated in two main ways,” says Chyrle Bonk, DVM, a remote veterinary consultant for, “first through giving insulin and secondly through diet.”


Cats with diabetes should eat a low carbohydrate diet. There are prescription foods available for this purpose. Kitten food and canned food also tend to be higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. However, diet may not be enough to control diabetes.

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In addition to what you feed your cat, how much and when you feed them is important too, especially if they are on insulin in addition. “A diabetic cat’s diet should remain essentially the same day in and day out,” Dr. Coates says. “Significant dietary changes will alter the cat’s need for insulin, and if the dose is not adjusted appropriately, the cat may suffer from dangerously high or low blood sugar levels.”


“Almost all cats should receive insulin when beginning treatment,” says Jennifer Coates, DVM, an advisory board member for Pet News Daily. “This greatly increases their chances of going into remission and not needing insulin in the future.”

Insulin is almost always given to cats through injection. Insulin injections are given under the skin, in approximately 12-hour intervals. While the ideal is to give the injections at the same time every day, there is room for a one to two hour deviation from the 12-hour mark.

Types of insulin preparations used in cats include:

  • Vetsulin (lente insulin)
  • ProZinc insulin (PZI)
  • Glargine insulin
  • NPH insulin
  • Detemir insulin

“It’s not hard to give most cats insulin injections,” Dr. Coates says. “The needles that are used are tiny and result in very little discomfort.” Choosing the right size syringe is important because different types use different syringes. Talk with your vet about which choices are right for your cat.

Oral medications for feline diabetes have a low success rate and are typically only used if injection is not an option.

Blood sugar monitoring

If your cat is being treated with insulin, you might need to check blood sugar to make sure the dosage is correct. There are three different levels of monitoring, depending on factors such as the severity of the illness and likelihood of remission. Your vet can help you determine how often to test.

Is it expensive to treat a cat with diabetes?

Insulin can cost anywhere from $50-$250 per month depending on how much a cat gets per day.

If your cat is treated with the same insulin humans use, you can use SingleCare coupons to save. Just show your pharmacist the coupon when you head to the counter to pick up your pet’s Rx.

RELATED: Can I save on medications for my pet?


If left untreated, diabetes can cause malnutrition, organ failure, and possibly death. That said, with proper treatment, cats can do quite well, particularly younger cats and cats for whom the disease has not progressed significantly.

“The lifespan of a cat with diabetes will depend on how well the disease is managed,” Dr. Bonk says. “With proper management that keeps blood sugar levels in check, cats can live a normal life and even go into diabetic remission where they will no longer require insulin shots.”

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If you notice signs of diabetes in your cat such as weight loss or increased thirst and urination, book an appointment with your vet. With proper care, your cat can feel much better.

— Update: 17-03-2023 — found an additional article How much does it cost to treat diabetes in a cat? from the website for the keyword how much does it cost to treat a diabetic cat.

Diabetes is said to affect about 1 in 200 cats, and is quite a common illness we see in practice. It is often not an easy diagnosis for cat owners to come to terms with, as it is generally a lifelong disease that requires quite intensive management. Twice daily injections, regular veterinary check ups and diet changes can make treatment seem quite intimidating, not only for the time management, but for costs as well.

It is important to remember that treatment costs vary from practice to practice. However, a breakdown provided by the insurance company ‘Animal Friends’ shows that the average cost of claims made for diabetes in 2020 was £1096.00. If your cat has received a diagnosis of diabetes, what sort of things do you need to consider in the treatment costs? And where do these costs come from?

Initial diagnosis and hospitalisation

The initial costs for treatment really depend on how critical your cat is on presentation. Your vet will come to the diagnosis usually by blood and urine tests, indicated by suspicion of your cat’s presenting clinical signs. If they are very unwell then hospitalisation will be required on top of the diagnostic tests; which can quickly add to your bill.

Typically hospitalisation costs will vary depending on the intensity of the treatment required. But with intensively sick pets that require multiple days in hospital and a lot of intervention, these costs can quickly accumulate. It’s important to ensure you keep an open communication with your veterinarian about any financial concerns you have in the treatment plan.


Once the diagnosis has been made, and other illnesses have been controlled or ruled out, the next cost to consider is the insulin treatment, and syringes. The cost of insulin can vary depending on the type used, but can range anywhere from £50-100 per bottle. Insulin only has a 28 day shelf life once opened, so this is ordinarily a monthly cost. However it also depends on the dose required for your cat.

You will also need particular syringes for injection of the insulin, and a box of 100 will last nearly two months. You can source these from your veterinary clinic, but a box varies from approximately £20-40. Your vet may also provide you with a sharps container and subsequent disposal for a small fee.   


Diabetes management requires frequent rechecks with your vet until their blood glucose levels have stabilised. This is very dependent on each individual case; your cat may stabilise very quickly, or they may require many tweaks of the insulin dose before reaching the right one. These rechecks are very important as too much or too little insulin is detrimental to their health; and the doses need to be changed under veterinary advice. Your cat may need days in hospital so that they can do glucose curves. And if their blood sugar is not stabilising, they may need further tests to figure out why.

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You can talk to your veterinarian about home monitoring. Many cats are perfectly amenable to having their glucose levels monitored at home, if you are comfortable doing it. This saves the stress of taking your cat to the vet (which invariably affects their blood glucose levels), and can save costs in the long run after you have made the initial purchase of the blood glucose machines and strips. You can also buy urine dipsticks and check your cat’s urine frequently for evidence of diabetic control.

A veterinary grade alphatrak starter pack costs approximately £90-120. There are excellent monitoring apps on your phone that you can use to record the data, to then send into your vet for their own records. It is a good way to subsidise the costs of ongoing treatment. And to also keep your cat happier with fewer trips to the veterinary clinic.


Along with insulin treatment, consideration of diet is a cornerstone in managing diabetes in cats. With appropriate management and diet control, some cats can actually achieve remission from diabetes, estimated at a 17-60% rate. Although expectations here are to be tempered, because for many, remission isn’t unfortunately the case. However, appropriate dietary management and weight control will help this become a possibility.

Diabetic cats require a low carbohydrate diet, and there are specially prepared prescription diets for this purpose. These diets, again, can vary in cost depending on the brand and where they are sourced. They can often be sourced online for a cheaper price. But it is best to have the conversation with your vet about which particular diet is recommended for them. For prescription food you can expect to pay approximately £20-50 per month dependent on their weight and recommended feeding guidelines. 


As you can see, management of diabetes is no simple task, however with appropriate treatment your cat can happily live many years of good quality life. If they are already insured, this will take a lot of the pressure off the ongoing costs, so it is important to seriously consider- if you don’t have it already- whether insurance is a good option for you. However, if you don’t have pet insurance and your cat has been diagnosed as a diabetic, it is important to keep the conversation open regarding finances between you and your vet, so that we can come up with the best treatment plan and options for your circumstances.

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