Metabolic Diseases in Cats

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I need help regarding metabolic diseases in cats. I would specifically like to know what is a metabolic diseases (as simply as possible)? What are the metabolic diseases that specifically affect cats? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments? How to diagnose? What can I do for my cat with a metabolic disease? Can they be fatal? Anything else I should know? Thanks so much for the help.


The word metabolism can be defined as all the chemical reactions necessary to convert the food that an animal eats into the energy needed to fuel all the cells in the body. The phrase “metabolic disease” is not very specific but can be used to refer to any disease that disrupts an animal’s metabolism. Since hormones play a big role in metabolism, many of the most common metabolic diseases in cats are involve problems with particular hormones. The most common metabolic disease in cats is diabetes mellitus involving the hormone insulin. Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common feline form of the disease. Most diabetic cats are initially overweight, which leads to insulin resistance—a reduced ability of cells in the body to respond to insulin. Insulin resistance results in abnormally high blood sugar levels. Increased thirst and urination and weight loss despite a good or even increased appetite are usually the first signs of diabetes that pet parents notice. Some cats may also develop weakness and an inability to fully straighten their hind legs. A veterinarian can diagnose diabetes with a physical examination and lab work. Cats with diabetes need to be permanently switched to a high protein-low carbohydrate diet. Canned food is far superior to dry. Initially, diabetic cats should receive insulin injections, but if they receive treatment in a timely manner, some will go into remission and can be weaned off their insulin injections.

Without appropriate treatment, a diabetic cat will develop ketoacidosis, become comatose, and die. Hyperthyroidism is another common metabolic disease in cats that involves overproduction of thyroid hormone, usually due to a benign tumor of the thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism in cats (like a sebaceous cyst) can be treated with medications that suppress the production of thyroid hormone, surgery to remove the thyroid gland, low-iodine diets, or an injection of radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine treatment is considered to be the best option for most cats. Cats with hyperthyroidism tend to lose weight despite having a ravenous appetite. Vomiting, diarrhea, and increased thirst and urination are also possible. A veterinarian can diagnose hyperthyroidism with a physical examination and lab work.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is also the author of numerous articles and books including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.