When a cat develops diabetes, control of its blood glucose becomes a challenge. Some cats become chronically hyperglycemic, a term that indicates an abnormally high level of blood sugar. This condition may lead to peripheral nerve degeneration, or diabetic neuropathy.
Diabetic neuropathy affects approximately 10 percent of cats with chronic hyperglycemia. It most often affects the femoral nerve, which in turn causes the cat to walk on its heels. This abnormal gait correlates with progressing degeneration of the joints and nerves in the hind legs. A cat first loses the ability to stand on its toes, and as the hind legs become weaker, the animal becomes unable to jump and then to walk. Advanced cases may also involve degeneration of nerves in the front legs, which further impacts the cat's locomotor abilities.
If identified early, diabetic neuropathy may be treatable by careful regulation of blood sugar. Supplements of vitamin B12 can also be effective in reversing a portion of neuropathy's associated nerve damage, though only a qualified veterinarian can determine the best course of treatment.