Shared science for the best cat diabetes management

How common is diabetes in cats? 

Diabetes mellitus is a quite common endocrine disease affecting also dogs and cats. With an increasing and aging cat population, one third of pet cats is believed to be overweight, and as obesity is a critical cause of feline diabetes, that figure can be expected to grow. Research suggests that up to 30 percent of diagnosed cats are left untreated due to the complexities of existing treatments – which means that up to one in three diabetic cats end up euthanized within the first year of diagnosis.  

“My heart just dropped”. With that sentence Jennifer Downing summarized her feelings when her 10-year-old cat Bash was diagnosed with diabetes back in 2019. A healthy, active cat, he started showing signs of lethargy. He was drinking and urinating a lot more. The prospect of giving Bash insulin injections twice a day, making sure he got appropriate feed, monitoring his glucose levels and constantly going to the vet was simply daunting.

Jennifer and Bash: better cat diabetes management

“If that was the diagnosis, that meant a whole lifestyle change for both of us. Medication should be given exactly 12 hours apart. So, let’s say, if 8 am was our insulin time, I would need to be home punctually at 8pm. What if I was working late? Or if I wanted to go to the movies? Or meet someone for dinner?,” recalls Jennifer, from Columbus, Ohio, US. “That was a schedule we would have to work around and that would be tough, but his life depended on it.”

After an initial attempt at embracing a strict and restrictive new routine, Jennifer and Bash got a new hint from their vet – and crossed paths with the work of Dr. Carla Kroh, our Head of Field Trial Leads, and her team. They conducted one of the largest development programs ever conducted for a cat medication: over 350 cats and their owners were taking part in clinical trials, globally. Jennifer and Bash joined these efforts – and a different therapy quickly improved their lives.

“We believe in furthering science. As soon as we heard about a new possibility, we applied and qualified to take part in the trial. Bash started walking better. Within two to three weeks, he was able to walk across the room, the amount of urinating went down,” recalls Jennifer. “In one or two months, he was jumping on the couch again, which was a big thing. This was really a game-changer. It gave us our life back.”

But what is the best treatment for cat diabetes?

The one which suits both pets and their owners with safety, efficacy and – convenience.

Since she was a young veterinarian practitioner, Carla knew a therapy against diabetes mellitus easy to administer was a huge unmet need – one she started exploring when joining our Animal Health Business Unit. The possibility of cooperating with colleagues working on award-winning treatments in Human Pharma was not only exciting, but something that proved quite fruitful.

What is the best diabetes management option?

A large team of scientists made every effort to exchange scientific findings and check whether and how molecular compounds used in human medicines could be adapted to improve the health of animals. The development demanded more than ten years of international and interdisciplinary cooperation - until the breakthrough. They came up with an innovation celebrated by leading veterinary endocrinologists: a once-a-day liquid solution that cat owners can easily give with a small amount of food or directly into the cat’s mouth. Dosing is easy, accurate, based on the cat’s body weight. No need for needles, no complex monitoring of glucose curves, no need to turn life upside down. It is all about finally turning diabetes management into something simpler, allowing cats and their owners to live a normal life.

“As a former practitioner, I felt deeply sorry for pet owners who were not able to inject insulin.  I remember one client coming to me shaking, asking for the euthanasia of her beloved cat, because her hands were too stiff to manage the injections. Some were afraid of giving injections; some couldn’t fit twice daily injections into their daily work life. It was heartbreaking to witness such struggles,” shares Carla. “We needed a more convenient solution able to increase life quality for both pets and their owners. This was a really rewarding journey, and I'm happy we can help so many people like Jennifer and her Bash around the globe. Being a chronic disease, managing diabetes mellitus really needs to be safe, effective, and convenient.”

Actually, what is feline diabetes?

Feline diabetes mellitus occurs when a cat has insufficient levels of, or an abnormal response to insulin. This may result in persistently high glucose concentrations in the blood, which may induce clinical signs such as increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. Untreated, it is usually fatal. Most cats suffer with a type of diabetes mellitus similar to type II diabetes mellitus in humans, with an impaired response to insulin.

Traditional insulin therapies try to mimic the natural glucose control by the pancreas, which secrete appropriate amounts of this hormone according to the body’s demand 24/7. Finding the right dose takes between six to eight weeks and may require adjustments over time. No matter how hard we try, we will not be able to resemble what the pancreas does by administering insulin twice daily. This is a very demanding and stressful situation for veterinarians and cat owners.

Diabetes mellitus in cats can be managed: get life back

The good news is that more modern therapies are now available also for them – such as SGLT2-inhibitors, which are successfully used in people.

“In contrast to insulin, SGLT2 inhibitors remove the surplus of glucose via the urine, reduce glucotoxicity on the pancreatic beta-cells, allowing the pancreas and its mechanisms to function better, and to control the blood glucose concentration again. If you monitor animals on insulin and measure their blood glucose levels throughout the day, you usually see a curve with ups and downs,” explains Carla. “If you check those levels when using a SGLT2 inhibitor, you see a much more stable control. For most cats, you usually see a constant line, a sign the pancreas is doing what it is supposed to do. This was truly striking to me!”