Diabetes in cats: do these patients have a greater risk of heart failure? | Vets & Clinics

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Diabetes in cats: do these patients have a greater risk of heart failure?

​Diabetes in cats is a disorder that affects insulin regulation which can lead to hyperglycaemia. It is caused by insufficient insulin secretion from the beta-cells of islets of Langerhans found in the pancreas. It can develop due to amyloidosis, which is the accumulation of amylin in the pancreas, or insulin resistance.

Veterinary medicine and care

Diabetes in cats

Diabetes in cats is a disorder that affects insulin regulation which can lead to hyperglycaemia. It is caused by insufficient insulin secretion from the beta-cells of islets of Langerhans found in the pancreas.  It can develop due to amyloidosis, which is the accumulation of amylin in the pancreas, or insulin resistance.

The cats most prone to diabetes are obese, adult male cats. The condition is closely associated with a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. As such, any effective treatment should incorporate nutritional therapy in addition to pharmacological therapy.

Diabetes in cats: complications

The immediate impact of diabetes in cats is a state of hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels due to the absence of functioning insulin). Hyperglycaemia can cause tissue damage, particularly in nerve tissue. Consequently, one of the main complications of diabetes in cats is feline diabetic neuropathy. It usually manifests as weakness in the limbs and difficulty walking and standing. Hyperglycaemia can also affect the retina (diabetic retinopathy) and favours the development of cataracts and metabolic epidermal necrosis.

Another common complication is urinary infections, which affect approximately 15% of cats with diabetes. The following link provides more information about the treatment and prognosis of diabetes in cats.

However, one of the least known complications of diabetes in cats is heart failure, even though studies have shown that it is one of the most frequent findings in these patients.

Diabetes in cats: heart failure

Seventy-six cats, 19 with diabetes and 57 as controls, were monitored in a study conducted by Little and Gettin in Glasgow (Scotland, UK) (1).

Thirteen of the cats with diabetes died during the study, five due to heart failure. The heart failure mortality rate was 10 times higher among cats with diabetes than for the control subjects. Similarly, the mean survival of cats with diabetes after the first visit was just over a year (385 days), whereas cats in the control group had a mean survival of 718 days after starting the study.

Although more extensive studies are needed with larger patient populations, the data obtained indicate a high rate of heart failure in the group of cats with diabetes. In conclusion, veterinary care for cats with diabetes should incorporate heart health care.

(1)  C.J.L. LITTLE, G. GETTINBY. HEART FAILURE IS COMMON IN DIABETIC CATS: FINDINGS FROM A RETROSPECTIVE CASE-CONTROLLED STUDY IN FIRST-OPINION PRACTICE. J. SMALL ANIM PRACT. 49, 17-25, 2008.
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