Photo: Myrna MacDonald.

Wanted: chubby, diabetic cats

Researchers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) are investigating whether a diabetes therapy that's already used for people may also help cats overcome the disease.

"Diabetes in cats and in people are very similar diseases," explains Dr. Meg Scuderi, a small animal internal medicine resident at the WCVM.

"People with Type 2 diabetes can go into remission and no longer need insulin injections, which happens in cats as well."

A hormone in humans, GLP-1, is key in treating diabetes. The hormone is naturally released when a person eats or when there's food in the stomach. It also helps to increase insulin secretion and to inform the brain when a person's stomach is full.

"They've been able to synthesis a synthetic version of this hormone[GLP-1], and that's used in some people now to treat their Type 2 diabetes. It increases insulin secretion and helps people feel fuller so they lose weight," says Scuderi.

Thanks to the synthetic version of GLP-1, people with diabetes have successfully lost weight. Researchers now want to try this hormone in overweight diabetic cats to see if it helps them lose weight and/or improves their diabetic control.

Scuderi and her research team — including WCVM professor Dr. Elisabeth Snead —are hoping to find people who are willing to enrol their cats into this unique study.

In return for their cats' participation, cat owners receive a health care package valued at $1,200. Fees for all blood work — including insulin levels and glucose curves — are covered by the study provided the cats complete the study.

In addition to their regular insulin injections, cats involved in the study will receive small injections of the synthetic GLP-1 to try and increase their satiety and elevate their insulin secretion levels. Clinicians will perform regular glucose curves and blood work so they can monitor each patient's progress.

"The ultimate goal is for their cats to go into remission and not need insulin anymore," says Scuderi.

Before the study begins, enrolled cats will undergo a full physical exam including chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasounds, urinalysis and feline leukemia/FIV testing. The testing ensures that the study's animals are healthy and not suffering from other diseases besides diabetes mellitus.

Owners will bring their cats to the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre a total of eight times over six months. The animals can be dropped off in the mornings, and blood work will be performed to measure levels of blood glucose, insulin and other hormones such as glucagon, adiponectin and leptin. Researchers will give the cats their food and insulin, and they will perform a blood glucose curve throughout the day.

"Most vets recommend having a blood glucose curve performed at these kinds of intervals anyway," says Scuderi. "It's the equivalent to going to their regular veterinarian for a blood glucose curve for follow-up to make sure they're on the right dose of insulin."

Only Scuderi, Snead or trained veterinary technologists will handle the cats using low-stress handling techniques. During the day, they'll be kept in a quiet cat room away from other pets.

As an extra perk, cat owners will also receive a free supply of Purina diabetic cat food during the six-month study.

"Most diabetic cats have great appetites, so [switching food] is usually not a problem," says Scuderi. "We offer both dry and canned food."

To be part of the study, cats must be diagnosed as diabetic and have been on glargine insulin for at least one month. Since the goal is to have participating cats lose weight, they must be considered normal weight to overweight. Eligible animals must also be receiving doses of Lantus® (glargine) insulin — the most common insulin used in cats.

Researchers have conducted studies targeting the synthetic GLP-1 in non-diabetic cats, but Scuderi says this will be the first project involving cats with diabetes.

"Healthy cats lost weight when given synthetic GLP-1," says Scuderi, adding that animals treated with synthetic GLP-1 haven't shown any serious side effects.

"The main side effect is weight loss, and that's what we want to see happen in these overweight, diabetic cats because it improves their diabetic control and increases the chance we get their diabetes into remission," says Scuderi. "Our hope is to get them to a better body weight so hopefully their diabetes will go into remission during the study."

If you wish to enrol your cat in this study, contact Dr. Meg Scuderi (scuderim@gmail.com; 306-966-7101) or Dr. Liz Snead (liz.snead@usask.ca; 306-966-7091).

Melissa Cavanagh of Winnipeg, Man., is a second-year veterinary student and the WCVM's research communications intern for the summer of 2013.
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