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Health & Wellness

How to spot metabolic diseases in cats

Common symptoms and treatment options for metabolic diseases.

Metabolism is how the body turns food into energy. The food your cat eats is turned into the fuel that runs their body and can be used right away or stored as future energy.

Metabolic diseases disrupt a cat’s metabolism and can be serious if not treated. Here’s everything to know about how to spot metabolic diseases in cats and when you should contact your vet.

What is a metabolic disease?

Metabolic diseases can affect a specific organ, or it could be a systemic disease that affects a cat’s overall health. Metabolic diseases, which may include diseases related to gland dysfunction (endocrine diseases), differ from infectious diseases since no inciting organism causes it.  

Some cats are prone to metabolic disease based on heredity, breed or age — some become symptomatic for no known reason. Here are some common metabolic diseases and how you can spot them in your cat:

Hyperthyroidism in cats

The hormones produced by the thyroid regulate many other body systems and play a key role in how quickly our cats’ bodies use energy. Cats with hyperthyroidism have an overactive thyroid, making for a lightning-fast metabolism. 

Affected cats generally lose weight despite a voracious appetite. Hyperthyroidism also harms other body systems, such as the heart.

“There are multiple treatment options for hyperthyroidism,” Dr. Emily Singler, VMD, veterinary consultant for Fetch, says. “Surgery, radioactive iodine therapy, medication and a prescription diet. Your vet can advise you of the risks and benefits of these options, but medication is the most commonly chosen option.”

With treatment, most cats do very well, so you should contact your vet right away if your cat begins losing weight. 

“This disease can look a lot like other diseases, so it is important to bring your cat to the vet for an exam and lab work to find out the appropriate treatment,” Dr. Singler says. “Also, for cats that don’t tolerate oral medication, ask your vet about compounded medication that can be absorbed through the skin.”

‍RELATED: How to spot metabolic diseases in dogs

‍Diabetes in cats

All cats can get type 1 diabetes, meaning their immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, which helps the body use and store sugar. Increased thirst (and increased urination) along with weight loss with an increased appetite are typical signs of diabetes in cats. Diabetic pets may also urinate outside their litter box, have diabetic neuropathy (making walking and jumping difficult), or change their posture where their ankles practically touch the floor. 

“Diabetes is very serious because it doesn’t allow cats to use glucose from food for energy,” Dr. Singler says. “This can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which is life-threatening. The most important way to reduce the risk of diabetes in cats is to control their weight as obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.”  

Obese or overweight cats are prone to non-insulin-dependent diabetes, otherwise known as type 2 diabetes. Normal amounts of insulin are produced by the pancreas, but it’s just not as effective as it needs to be in these cats and blood glucose levels don’t remain in check. 

Most cats will need to have insulin administered at least at the beginning of treatment, and possibly for life. Some cats can go into diabetic remission and will no longer need to receive insulin. Your vet may also recommend a prescription diet to help stabilize blood sugar levels.  

Kidney disease

Kidney disease is common in older cats. The kidney’s most important role in the body is to eliminate waste products by releasing them into the urine. When kidney function declines, so does the ability to efficiently clear waste products.

If you notice your cat has increased thirst and urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting or dehydration, you should contact your vet to test for kidney disease. 

“Chronic kidney disease can’t be cured, but it can be managed with a prescription diet, medication for nausea and vomiting if needed, fluids for dehydration and other medications and supplements as recommended by a veterinarian,” Dr. Singler says. 

While kidney disease is a chronic, progressive disease in cats, they can live with it comfortably for years, but it often eventually progresses to the point where the cat has a poor quality of life. 

“It’s important to have exams and lab work checked regularly, as diagnosing this disease early and starting a prescription diet may drastically improve your cat’s quality and quantity of life,” Dr. Singler says.

How to know if your cat has a metabolic disease 

Diagnosing metabolic diseases usually requires blood work, but more extensive tests are sometimes needed. It’s important to take your cat to regular vet appointments to detect metabolic diseases early on.

As your pet ages, you should be paying attention to any changes in their behavior, such as increased thirst or appetite, that can signal metabolic diseases. Contact your vet right away if you’re concerned they are showing signs of metabolic disease. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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