cat at the vet


It is important to be able to recognize an emergency and know what to do if one occurs


A life threatening condition where there is high blood glucose, ketones (from the breakdown of fat) and dehydration (a harmful reduction in the amount of water in the body). This complication develops due to

  • Untreated or inadequately treated diabetes
  • Oral treatment of diabetes
  • Insufficient insulin dose
  • Concurrent illness and/or anorexia
What causes ketoacidosis in diabetics?

In untreated or poorly managed diabetes the body does not have enough insulin to utilize glucose. Instead fat is broken down to provide energy. When fat is used as an energy source, ketones are produced. Ketones circulating in the blood cause signs, such as excessive thirst and urination, loss of appetite, nausea and/or vomiting and lethargy, which may be subtle at first. 


The diagnosis of diabetic ketoacidosis is based on detecting ketones and large amounts of glucose in the urine. See Urine Monitoring for more information. This may also be confirmed by blood tests. Ketoacidosis can also occur in cats on oral treatment for diabetes even when blood glucose is within the reference interval (euglycemic ketoacidosis).


Diabetic ketoacidosis can be life threatening and treatment must be started as soon as possible. In cats on oral treatment, ketoacidosis can occur irrespective of the blood glucose. Depending on the signs your cat is showing, your veterinarian will likely admit your cat for treatment, which can include intravenous fluid therapy, stopping oral treatment and injecting short-acting insulin. cat


A potentially life threatening condition due to low blood glucose. This is due to too high a dose of insulin for your cat’s needs, which can happen at any time.

If low blood glucose occurs

No external signs or only subtle signs that may be hard to spot

  • Behavioral changes
  • Looking for food or scavenging behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Sudden signs that require immediate care to save your cat’s life

  • Trembling, twitching muscles or shivering
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
If your cat is conscious
  • Administer the treatment recommended by your veterinarian 
  • If your cat is able to swallow, try feeding a little of your cat’s food
  • If your cat is not willing or able to eat, rub a small amount of a glucose source (such as corn syrup or glucose powder*, tablets or gel) onto your cat’s gums. Administer glucose carefully – do not pour the solution into your cat’s mouth as this may choke your cat. Take care to avoid an accidental scratch or bite.
  • Glucose is absorbed very quickly (1–2 minutes), and your cat should start to become responsive again
  • Contact your veterinarian immediately for further instructions
  • Your cat may need to visit your veterinarian and may need to be hospitalized for additional treatment

*If glucose powder is used mix this with a small amount of tap water to make a glucose solution using 5 g of glucose (approximately 1 teaspoon) per 5 kg (11 lbs) bodyweight

If your cat is unconscious
  • Contact your veterinarian immediately – this is an emergency! Carefully administer a glucose source under your cat’s tongue or rub onto your cat’s gums. Take care to avoid an accidental bite.

Other Causes for Concern

Contact your veterinarian immediately if you are worried about your cat or if your cat is showing any of the following:

  • Any swelling or pain
  • Behavioral change, anxiety or depression
  • Eating less or not eating
  • Excessive thirst for 3 days or more
  • Any changes in or abnormal urination (e.g. excessive urination for 3 days or more, urination at night, small, frequent urination, straining, blood in the urine, urinating outside of the litter box)
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea or constipation

Think your cat has diabetes?

Talk to your vet