Research project: Diabetes mellitus in cats

Last changed: 30 November 2016

Cats suffer from a type of diabetes similar to type 2 diabetes in humans. Similarities between cats and people include similar risk factors, for example being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle.

Several studies are included in the project. First, we have investigated the incidence of diabetes in the Swedish cat population. We have shown that the Burmese cat breed is a high risk breed for diabetes also in Sweden. We also saw that several other breeds showed an increased risk of diabetes (Russian blue, Abyssinian, and Norwegian forest cat). On the other hand, some breeds showed a decreased risk of diabetes (Persian, Birman etc.). Middle-aged and older cats were at highest risk, and male cats were twice as often affected as females. (Paper 1)

We also wanted to investigate the associations between environmental risk factors and diabetes. We therefore performed a large questionnaire study, where data from over 2,000 diabetic and non-diabetic cats were compared. We found that being overweight was an important risk factor for the disease. Being an indoor cat was also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, whilst outdoor access was protective. Interestingly, we found an association between eating predominantly dry food, as compared to wet food, and an increased risk of diabetes in cats judged as being normal weight by their owners. (Paper 2)

Since Burmese cats are predisposed to diabetes, we have chosen to study this breed in more close detail. We are comparing profiles from healthy Burmese cats with cats from two low-risk breeds (Birman and Maine coon).

Finally, we want to investigate the gene expression in the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas of diabetic and healthy cats. To do this, it is necessary to have a technique to be able to isolate the islets from the surrounding tissue. We have developed a technique for use in cats (Paper 3), and will use this technique for our next study.

Cats and people live in the same environment, and have undergone similar changes in lifestyle during the last decades. We live a more sedentary life, and our cats have moved indoors, where food is being served instead of hunted. Also, cats are the only animal except primates to develop a type 2 diabetes similar to humans. Therefore, the cat is a very valuable animal model for human studies.

PhD student

Malin Öhlund

Supervisor group

Bodil Ström Holst, KV (main supervisor), Göran Andersson, HGEN (ass. supervisor), Tove Fall, UU (ass. supervisor), Jens Häggström, KV (ass. supervisor), Helene Hansson Hamlin, KV (ass. supervisor), Ann Pettersson, KV (ass. supervisor), Helena Röcklinsberg, HMH (ass. supervisor).

Published papers

1. M. Öhlund, T. Fall, B. Ström Holst, H. Hansson-Hamlin, B. Bonnett, and A. Egenvall (2015): Incidence of Diabetes Mellitus in Insured Swedish Cats in Relation to Age, Breed and Sex. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 29:5, 1342–1347.

2. M. Öhlund, A. Egenvall, T. Fall, H. Hansson-Hamlin, H. Röcklinsberg, and B. Ström Holst (2016): Environmental Risk Factors for Diabetes Mellitus in Cats. Accepted for publication in Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

3. M. Öhlund, P. Franzén, G. Andersson, B. Ström Holst, and J. Lau (2014): Laser Microdissection of Pancreatic Islets Allows for Quantitative Real-Time PCR Detection of Islet-Specific Gene Expression in Healthy and Diabetic Cats. Journal of Gastroenterology, Pancreatology & Liver Disorders 1:4, 1-9. DOI:


Malin Öhlund
PhD student at the Department of Clinical Sciences; Clinical Pathology Unit             

CV Malin Öhlund                                           

Telephone: 018-672958

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