Feline acromegaly: an uncommon disease

Most cats in which acromegaly is diagnosed are presented for complications associated with diabetes. Did you know that our pets can suffer from diabetes just like humans? This beautiful young man is Rocky, a thirteen-year-old Burmese cat who Dr Briana has become extremely fond of. Eighteen months ago, Rocky was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus and his case turned out to be quite a complicated one. But first, what is diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by an excess of glucose in the blood. Glucose is an important sugar that many of the cells in our bodies require in order to complete their daily functions. Glucose cannot be absorbed and utilised by the body unless a hormone called insulin is present. Insulin can be thought of like a key that unlocks doors and allows glucose to enter the cells. Without insulin, the glucose is trapped within the bloodstream and cannot be utilized by the body. When an animal has diabetes, there is often not enough insulin in the body to allow the glucose to work.

What does diabetes look like?

Animals affected by diabetes will often show:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Ravenous appetite
  • Weight loss

How do we treat diabetes?

As most cases of diabetes are caused by insufficient insulin, in order to manage diabetes, the body must be provided with more insulin. The insulin will need to be given via injection (most often two injections per day). Some cats can be ‘cured’ in which they reach a state when the injections are no longer required. In other cats and in all dogs, insulin injections will be lifelong. When treating a diabetic animal with insulin, it is very important that the blood glucose is monitored very carefully. If the dose is too low, the blood glucose levels will remain high. If the dose is too high, the blood glucose will drop too low. If the levels are not closely monitored, the result can be fatal.

So, what about Rocky?

Rocky's very diligent owners closely followed all recommended steps. They gave him his insulin injections twice a day, kept him on a strict diet, regularly brought him in for check-ups and even learnt how to measure his blood glucose at home.

Despite all the care and planning that went into Rocky's treatment, his body would not respond to the insulin and his blood glucose remained consistently high. Rocky was referred to specialist care where he had several specialised tests. Based on results, it was confirmed that Rocky had a rare disease called feline acromegaly.

Acromegaly is caused by a tumour on the pituitary gland that causes over-secretion of ’growth hormone’. When there is too much growth hormone circulating through the body, it interferes with the bodies of insulin receptors and stops insulin from successfully letting the glucose into the cells.

Due to the love, care and diligence of Rocky's owners, it was possible to diagnose this rare disease before it was too late. Rocky has now successfully completed his radiation therapy to rid the pituitary of its tumour and he is slowly on his way towards recovery!

We all salute you Rocky for your spirit, courage and cool-headedness.