To my knowledge house cats (and likely other felines) are the only animal able to go into remission after onset of Type 2 diabetes mellitus. I don't have a reference, this has been by peers in my research institution and by a veterinarian. Has this mechanism been studied, and if so, what is it?

  • $\begingroup$ Could you please provide any source of this information? And are you talking about type 1 or type 2 diabetes? Because I am pretty sure once you develop T1 you cannot get back, at least if you're a mammal. $\endgroup$
    – yotiao
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 13:11
  • $\begingroup$ I've just had a look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diabetes_in_cats#Insulin_injections and I am not sure what more would you want. Although I do think that Wiki is wrong in saying that diabetic remission in T2 is unique to cats. Temporary remission happens even in T1 humans, and in T2 humans as well. $\endgroup$
    – yotiao
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for pointing that out to me @yotiao. It seems I have been misinformed, and it is rather a case of early intervention to reduce glucose toxicity that allows felines and dogs to go into remission. $\endgroup$
    – user560
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 1:51

1 Answer 1


I spent a couple of years working in a diabetes research institute. And you did hear right.

Cats dogs monkeys all can be susceptible to diabetes, although rats and mice don't seem to have diabetes that behaves the same way as humans - I don't think a mouse has ever been observed to get diabetes without specific gene knockouts. One could argue that mice simply do not get diabetes the way people do.

There are two causes of type 2 diabetes in the research world. The first happens because the animal may have a genetic susceptibility and environmental conditions induce the disease (like most people). The second happens because of mutations in one specific gene or another pretty much cause it to happen when the animal gets to a mature age (google term: mature onset diabetes in the young (MODY)). MODY genes have not proven to be a great model for type 2 diabetes treatment in most people (about 1% of diabetics have a MODY diabetes though).

Cats and dogs have been animals of interest as models of diabetes because their symptoms are human like and have shorter reproductive cycles. Some cats (like Burmese) clearly have a greater genetic predisposition to diabetes, but cats who are obese, have high glycemic diets, or who get little or no physical activity are more likely to develop diabetes.

As with humans, the condition leads to the insulin secreting cells of of the pancreas to slowly degrade and if these cells are gone, there is no recovery from type 2 diabetes. All this given its likely that cats get diabetes that is similar to the human condition.

In treating cats its been shown that such diabetes can be reversed. The most important thing to do - common to all treatments - is to change the cat's diet - restrict calories if the cat is obese and change high glycemic food. Additionally, insulin or drug treatments that reduce insulin resistance (such as are given to humans) can restart the islet cells that secrete insulin if the animal is lucky and don't always have to be lifetime prescriptions.

The reference I have does not give remission statistics, but it must work a reasonable amount of the time.

But I wouldn't want to leave you with the impression that cats are special. It turns out that human diabetes type 2 is often reversible. This reference estimates 80% of the time. This study mostly focuses on the same treatments - change of diet and some fasting, but no exercise regimin as the cats.

There's probably nothing magical about cat diabetes 2... ;)

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    $\begingroup$ The main difference in practice is probably that it is easy to put a cat on to a high protein, low carbohydrate diet because, as a carnivore, the cat will be perfectly content. Humans on the other hand require dedication and willpower to reduce carbohydrate intake to the required extent. $\endgroup$
    – Alan Boyd
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AlanBoyd that's true, cats are obligate carnivores and that diet requirement likely explains their remission capacity. $\endgroup$
    – user560
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 21:26
  • $\begingroup$ @shigeta Interesting answer. As an aside, there is a spontaneous mouse model of T2DM, called NSY mice. They seem to develop T2DM in an age-dependent manner, and do not present with hyperinsulinemia or common co-morbidities like obesity. $\endgroup$
    – user560
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 21:28
  • $\begingroup$ I think that if the human rate of remission were 80% that would be significant. Animals are quite different though and its a lot of work to demonstrate that any animal model is the same as humans - they almost always have some operational difference. Still the effect of lower glycemic index diet, weight loss, fasting and exercise is well understood in humans. $\endgroup$
    – shigeta
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 2:58

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