We don't know exactly what causes diabetes in cats and dogs, but there's some excellent research being done on the question now.

In catsEdit

Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins[1], Dr. Jacquie Rand[2], Dr. Lisa Pierson[3], and some other vets[4] believe that a typical dry commercial cat food diet is likely to cause diabetes in many cats, since cats are obligate carnivores (they must eat mainly meat), and it's species-inappropriate to have over 10% calories from carbohydrates in an obligate carnivore's diet.

See also this wiki's article on low-carbohydrate diets for a better feeding plan for your diabetic cat.

Dr. Rand also argues for genetic predisposition, (noting that more Burmese seem to become diabetic) and lack of exercise, as important factors. She also notes[5] that 80-95% of all diabetic cats are type-II, meaning their pancreas is not damaged by the immune system, but by hyperglycemia and its complications.

Other known causes:

Because of the vicious circles involved with hyperglycemia, (especially amyloidosis and glucose toxicity), this condition can sometimes become permanent. Cats with secondary diabetes, if caught early, can often go into remission. Dr. Rand's 2005 study goes even further, stating that early detection of feline diabetes can mean prevention--by changing or modifying diabetes-related factors such as weight reduction, diet changes, etc[9].

In dogsEdit

Regarding causes in dogs, genetic predisposition has definitely identified keeshonds and samoyeds, with others who appear to be significantly susceptible[10]. Middle aged to older dogs (5-12 years old--uncommon under the age of 3 years), and females versus males predominate.

As Dr. Rand noted, lifestyle is also a factor. Every informal poll taken at canine diabetes message board showed that most dogs were overweight at diagnosis.

Current research into canine diabetes finds no evidence of the Type 2 diabetes known in humans[11]. Most dogs are what's termed Adult-onset IDD, meaning they are dependent on exogenous insulin for control of their diabetes, which did not occur until some point in their adulthood.

Pancreatic cells are either deficient due to congenital predisposition (breeds who are significantly susceptible), or lost/destroyed through pancreatitis or immune-mediated beta cell destruction.

Until recently, antibodies which interfere with a dog's receptivity to exogenous insulin therapy were considered rare. This research finds antibodies present in a significant segment of newly-diagnosed (insulin-naive) dogs. They conclude that canine diabetes is much like human adult latent autoimmune (Type-I) diabetes[12].

Further ReadingEdit





  1. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins on Feline Diabetes Causes
  2. Dr. Jacquie Rand--Causes of Feline Diabetes
  3. Dr. Lisa Pierson--Feline Diabetes Causes
  4. A collection of veterinary links showing why dry food is damaging to cats and/or causes diabetes and IBD
  5. Understanding Feline Diabetes Mellitus, Rand & Marshall
  6. Better Medicine-E-Newsletter-June 2006
  7. The Story of Peanut, a Kitten with Steroid-Induced Diabetes and his Recovery
  8. the D Team-2006
  9. Basal Plasma Insulin and Homeostasis Model Assessment (HOMA) are Indicators of Insulin Sensitivity in Cats-Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery-2005
  10. Dog Breeds Susceptible to Canine Diabetes
  11. Canine Diabetes:Types & Insulin Dependency
  12. Better Medicine-E-Newsletter-June 2006
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