Behaviourist's Corner

Changes to drinking habits


There are some things that you may not think to mention to your vet – your cat drinking more or less than normal is one of them. But Petplan vet Brian Faulkner says that if your cat’s drinking habits noticeably change with age, you shouldn’t ignore it. Here, he outlines three common health conditions related to changes in drinking habits.

Diabetes

In a healthy cat, blood sugar levels are precisely balanced, and the pancreas produces just the right amount of the hormone insulin to help regulate the cat’s energy requirements. Diabetes occurs when too little insulin is produced (Type 1 diabetes) or because the body isn’t responding correctly to insulin production (Type 2 diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is very rare in cats, but due to the pancreas becoming less efficient as cats age, older or overweight felines can often be diagnosed with Type 2. Male cats also appear to be at more risk, although vets are not yet exactly sure why.

Diabetic cats become very thirsty because there’s too much sugar in the urine, which, in turn, draws water out of the body. Other symptoms include hunger, lethargy, excessive weeing and weight loss. In some cats, diabetes can affect the nervous system so that the cat finds it difficult to straighten its back legs. This is usually referred to as a ‘plantigrade stance’, and the condition makes walking and jumping very difficult.

Some breeds – such as the Burmese – are more vulnerable to diabetes than others. But for all cats, at every life stage, the risk lessens with good levels of activity (especially indoor cats) and a complete, balanced diet. It can be hard to monitor your cat’s water intake as they often drink (unseen) from puddles, toilets or dripping taps. But if you notice your cat drinking more and showing other related signs of diabetes, do speak to your vet as soon as possible.

Kidney disease

Your cat’s kidneys do two things – they filter waste from the body, and they concentrate the urine when your cat needs more water, or when she is drinking less. Historically, the domestic cat evolved from much drier areas, such as Egypt. Due to this ancestry and the need to concentrate urine in hot, dry climates, a cat’s kidneys work very efficiently. However, this also makes them vulnerable to kidney problems, which, along with the fact that kidneys naturally deteriorate with age, means that older cats can often suffer from kidney disease and chronic kidney failure.

Extreme thirst is usually the first symptom, but as the toxins build up in the blood, your cat is likely to eat less, feel nauseous or even be sick. It’s important to seek your vet’s advice if you notice any of these symptoms. Accidental poisoning can also cause kidney damage in cats of any age – anti-freeze is a common culprit and should always be kept out of your pet’s reach.

Hypothyroidism

Older cats can develop an overactive thyroid gland, which is a condition known as hyperthyroidism (unlike older dogs, which are more prone to hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland).

Metabolic rate, vitality and co-ordination are all controlled by the thyroid gland so if it’s working more frantically than it should be, your cat will be irritable and skittish, and may even pant. Your cat is likely to drink noticeably more, wee more often and lose weight, despite eating more.

Hyperthyroidism can occur in any breed, at any age, but it’s more likely to develop in cats as they get older. If you have any concerns, always check with your vet, who will recommend thyroid medication to help.


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