An Old and Thirsty Cat Doesn’t Always Mean Diabetes | Ask Dr. Joi

By Dr . Joi Sutton|2017-11-09T15:00:29-05:00Updated: November 9th, 2017|Pet Care, Pet Diabetes, Pet Newsletter|11 Comments
  • Tortishell Cat on the Prowl

I get some great questions from clients. They inspire me with article ideas and keep me in tune with diabetic pet owners. I enjoy interacting with our readers, and sometimes the questions are worthy of a newsletter. I bet if one person has this question and takes the time to write me, there are likely lots of folks with a similar question. Today’s question involves a kitty that has been drinking a lot of water.

My 18-yr old female cat has been drinking a lot of water. Should I buy a testing meter to check for diabetes? Thank you very much for your kind help.

You are wise to think of diabetes, but first I’d suggest having an examination and a full blood panel and urinalysis at your veterinary office as there are other possible causes of excessive thirst and urination besides diabetes. For 18-year old cats, we are especially concerned about kidney disease. Hyperthyroidism, a kidney infection or Cushings disease are other culprits that come to mind.

Now, if your kitty does turn out to be diabetic, I would suggest getting into a regimen where you would include blood glucose testing and insulin injections twice daily with the goal of getting control of your cat’s diabetes. I’m a big advocate of at-home testing for diabetic pets because testing at home is much easier and less stressful for the pet. This will also save you a lot of money versus having to bring your sweetie to the vet’s office for testing. Pet blood glucose monitors have come a long way. Back when I was in vet school, we used meters made for testing human blood. But with advancements in technology, the meters made today that are specifically calibrated to test the blood of small animals is definitely the way to go. If you have to go this route, your veterinarian should provide you with a quick lesson on how to perform both a blood glucose test as well as an insulin injection. And you can always refer back to prior articles of mine to get some helpful pointers too.

Most meters are sold as a starter kit of sorts. They will include all that you need to get going immediately – test strips, a lancing device and lancets, control solution, a blood glucose log book and of course, the meter. As the name implies, a starter kit is all you need to get started.

Nonetheless, first schedule an examination with your veterinarian as kidney disease is rampant in older cats and is a very common cause of increased thirst in older kitties. It would make no sense getting a blood glucose meter if you cat is not diabetic.

Most vet clinics offer what is called a “senior profile”. It includes a chemistry profile which includes testing the blood glucose, kidney values, liver values, and electrolytes, as well as a complete blood count which will look for anemia or infection. A full urinalysis where they will be looking at her urine concentration and chemical analysis and also any cells in the urine will also take place. A urine culture may also be in order in addition to the senior profile for your thirsty cat.

Now, if your kitty has kidney disease, there are things your veterinarian can offer to help slow the progression and improve her quality of life. Fluid therapy and kidney diets are the most common options. Kidney diets can help delay the progression of disease. So, the sooner you take her to your vet, the better her long term prognosis.

Good luck and schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian.

Have a question or comment? Then post below! I always enjoy hearing from my readers!

NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.

About the Author: Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work though Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida. Connect with Dr. Joi on LinkedIn


  1. Jennifer Chilton July 7, 2018 at 4:06 am - Reply

    Left a comment aboutbpaossible phases of diabetes cat going from one and to another.

    • ADW Diabetes July 9, 2018 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Hi Jennifer,

      If you do not see your comment pop up right away, it is because its waiting moderation approval. =] We do this to keep everything PG13 and keep scammers from posting. Hope that helps!

  2. Jennifer Chilton July 7, 2018 at 4:04 am - Reply

    My senior female Kitty went in for exam and had bloodwork. The tests said she was diabetic with 285 blood glucose. 2 days later she stopped eating. For a week I force fed her and when I went back to vet for insulin training, her blood glucose came back normal. She was having trouble walking, back hind legs were weak, but her glucose was fine. One week later we did a fructosamine test. It came back normal. During these 2 weeks after the not eating and getting her eating again using appetite pills, she starting walking better and has started comijngbout tobsee me more, not hiding. Her litter looked fine and her water was not disappearing. All of a sudden she is drinking excessively again, peeing a lot, but she’s walking and she even jumped up on the bed. Is she having diabetic phases? Her bloodwork did not show kidney disease. What’s going on?the symptoms were there then they weren’t and now they are there again. Please answer with any thoughts on this. Thank you.

    • Dr . Joi Sutton July 8, 2018 at 12:10 am - Reply

      Cats typically start as type 2 diabetics. It sounds like she she is indeed diabetic, so please keep in close touch with your vet and know our goal is to prevent her from becoming a permanent diabetic. One key action will be to get her off of dry food and feed low carb canned food only. If she is tubby we want her at a proper body weight.
      She may also be having some pancreatitis if she is having intermittent signs of diabetes.
      Do get a blood glucose meter and monitor her blood glucose at home! She may need to go on insulin—we need more glucose levels to know for certain. Fructosmine tests are a reflection back, but I find much greater value in home glucose testing. Let’s get some more glucose numbers.
      Chat with your vet. Good luck!

  3. Myrna feldman November 16, 2017 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Dear Dr. Joi,
    Should a senior blood panel show right away if excessive thirst and urination is caused by kidney disease or is it sometimes not recognized?
    Also, is Orbax often used for chronic diarrhea when Metronidazole does not work?
    I have a few senior cats with these problems.
    Thank you.

    • Dr . Joi Sutton November 19, 2017 at 3:33 am - Reply

      A senior blood panel may reveal kidney disease, but you need a urinalysis and possibly urine culture as well. A pet loses the ability to concentrate the urine before the kidney values go up on the blood work. Also, a pet may spill protein into the urine as an early indicator of kidney disease.

      I would not consider orbax a “common” treatment for chronic diarrhea.


  4. dds31453 November 9, 2017 at 11:37 pm - Reply

    I am the owner of a 15 yr. old diabetic cat. He was first diagnosed in 2010. The vet had me giving him 5 units of insulin twice a day. As time went on, I realized that the diet was the most important part of the treatment. I cut out ALL the dried food and fed him only Fancy Feast CLASSIC with snacks of raw chicken and beef. Within a year, he was almost completely off the insulin. Cats don’t need grain and vegetables in their diets. The grain converts to sugar, just as it does in a human. Cats are carnivores. Save yourself money and stress by following this simple diet.

  5. JosieCat November 9, 2017 at 12:50 pm - Reply

    My husband and I have a (presumed) 15 1/2-year-old diabetic cat, Lucy, whose diabetes we’ve been addressing (one way or another) since her previous family ditched her and we gave her a home on Feb. 29, 2012.

    Two comments:

    I’m surprised that the author said nothing about putting a newly diabetic-diagnosed cat on a diet as low in carbs as possible. That in itself can work wonders.In our Lucy’s case, we we were able to treat her diabetes for FOUR YEARS simply with a low-carb diet. We don’t know what she was being fed before she came to us, but we can assume that whatever it was, it wasn’t good for her. We immediately took her entirely off dry food, and also learned how to figure out carb content in the various canned food (which usually isn’t listed on the can). For the last several years she’s been on a raw meat diet (with supplements), along with our other six cats, and is in general very healthy (as are the others).

    We test Lucy various times a day as necessary. At first she needed insulin at least every 12 hours, but she has healed to the point at which she rarely needs it more than once in 24-26 hours, or even longer. (And she rarely needs more than one unit per dose.)

    A note re: insulin type: We at first used the feline insulin ProZinc, but it’s short-acting and -lasting and was not controlling her well. Ironically, we found that the human insulin Levamir works far better, as it’s longer lasting and very effective at blood glucose control. (We use a Levamir pen, inserting a U-100 syringe with half-unit markings into the rubber tip to draw the insulin.)

    My other point is that feline glucometers are expensive, and human glucometers are not, and they work perfectly fine for cats. If and when the feline glucometers start to be sold for a reasonable price, we might consider buying one. Though probably not, as they really aren’t necessary, in our experience. The main thing is to use the same glucometer all the time, so that you maintain a constant baseline/number scale.

    • Catmom November 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm - Reply

      I’ve been treating my cat for 6.5 years for diabetes and you have hit the nail right on the head with your post. A wet food diet that is low in carbs (usually pate food with no gravy) is essential. Some cats can be difficult to transition to an all wet diet, but it can be done with persistence and patience. I have a cat someone had dumped that I brought in off the streets and she would rather starve than eat wet food. I’m slowly adding more wet food to her diet in the hope she’ll one day eat wet only. Also, so important to note as you did, JosieCat, that human glucometers are just fine for testing your animals. The animal glucometer test strips are so expensive that it breaks the bank for most folks. To ensure more people are willing to test instead of blindly shooting their cat with insulin or, God forbid, putting their cat to sleep, please use a human glucometer. Again, JosieCat, you sound very knowledge about feline diabetes. I congratulate you on becoming very informed about your kitty!!

    • Dr Joi November 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm - Reply

      Joi here…

      Lots of folks do use human glucose meters for their pets, but in fact pet glucose meters are more accurate for pets. Human meters tend to underestimate the blood glucose of dogs and cats. A human meter is better than no meter, but the accuracy of pet meters is better for pets. It’s unfortunate that the pet strips cost more, but the manufacturers mak their own prices. We at ADW do our best to keep the prices as low as possible.

      I very much agree with low carb diets for diabetic cats and if you read though our 6+ years of articles you’ll find I’ve often recommended low carb diets for diabetic cats.


  6. NewHampshire November 9, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Mine started drinking bowl after bowl, but the key was he lost 5 lbs! He is usually 20 lbs… so I knew he was diabetic and got him right to the vets.

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