Diabetes mellitus, the medical name for diabetes, is a disease caused by a lack of insulin that affects the level of
glucose, or sugar, in your dog or cat’s blood. The glucose comes from the food that your pet eats. Food is broken down into very small components by your pet’s digestive system so their bodies can use it for energy. Glucose is one of these components, and an important source of energy. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the bloodstream where it travels to cells throughout the body. Insulin is required for the cells to absorb glucose. Insulin is produced by the pancreas in response to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Healthy pets produce insulin easily, but pets with diabetes don’t. In canine and feline diabetes, unused glucose builds up in the bloodstream.
Is diabetes in my pet the same as diabetes in people?
The two conditions are very similar. In fact, your veterinarian will be using medication, equipment, and monitoring systems similar to those used for diabetic people.
How common is diabetes in dogs and cats?
Diabetes is reported to affect anywhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 dogs and cats, but experts believe that the disease is on the rise.
Can diabetes lead to other health problems?
Yes. Dogs and cats with diabetes can develop other health problems, usually after living with diabetes for a year or more. For dogs, the most common complication of diabetes is cataract formation. Persistently high blood glucose levels make the lens of the eye become opaque, causing blindness. For cats, weakness of the hind legs is a potential complication. Persistently high blood glucose levels may damage nerves, causing weakness and muscle wasting.
Will diabetes affect my dog or cat’s life expectancy?
Today, with effective treatment and monitoring, a diabetic dog or cat should have the same life expectancy as a non-diabetic dog or cat of the same age. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment helps diabetic pets maintain a good quality of life.
Risk factors in dogs
- Age (middle-aged to older dogs are more affected)
- Unspayed females
- Breed – these breeds are at higher risk of developing diabetes:
– Cocker Spaniels
– Doberman Pinschers
– German Shepherds
– Golden Retrievers
– Labrador Retrievers
– Toy Poodles
Risk factors in cats
- Age (older cats are more susceptible)
- Neutered males
- Other insulin-resistant disorders or diseases, such as chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormones)
- Physical inactivity
Is my dog or cat at risk of diabetes?
While diabetes has been diagnosed in dogs and cats of all ages, genders and breeds, certain pets are at greater risk of the disease.
Are there warning signs I should be aware of?
Some common signs of diabetes in dogs and cats include:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination — your pet produces more urine per day or has “accidents” in the house (dogs) or outside the litterbox (cats)
- Excessive hunger yet losing weight
- Lethargy (less active/sleeps more)
- Cloudy eyes (dogs)
- Doesn’t groom (cats)
- Thinning, dry, and dull hair
How will my veterinarian test my pet for diabetes?
Your veterinarian may begin by performing a general health examination and asking questions about any signs your pet may
be displaying. Then, a sample of your pet’s urine will be tested for the presence of glucose (a type of sugar) or ketones (acids
produced by the body as it breaks down fat instead of glucose for energy). If glucose is present in your pet’s urine, your veterinarian will then test your pet’s blood to determine the blood glucose level. A diabetes diagnosis is considered definite when persistently high glucose levels are found in both the blood and urine.
How do I take care of a pet with diabetes?
Although there is no cure for diabetes, the disease can be successfully managed with the help of your veterinarian. Daily
insulin injections are usually required to restore your pet’s insulin level and control their blood glucose levels. Many owners
are anxious about giving injections, but it’s easier than you think, and you’ll quickly learn how to handle the dosing routine with little stress for you or your pet.
Diet plays a vital role in helping to keep your pet’s diabetes regulated. Your veterinarian can recommend a diet that’s best
suited to the needs of your pet. A high-quality, consistent source of protein is an essential part of any diabetic diet. High-protein,
low-carbohydrate foods are currently recommended for diabetic cats because they provide the extra energy cats need to get through their active days, without the extra carbohydrates that can turn into excess sugar. It is important to feed your pet based on its ideal body weight. Consistent timing and size of meals is also very important.
Exercise can help dogs with diabetes, but it needs to be regulated because activity affects blood glucose levels. It’s best to create a consistent exercise routine for your diabetic dog and stick to it. There is no clear recommendation for exercise in diabetic cats because their activity is difficult to regulate.
Regular veterinary check-ups can help identify changes in your pet’s condition and help you to manage this disease successfully over time. Managing your dog or cat’s diabetes will require some effort, but the rewards are well worth it. Pets whose diabetes is under control have normal thirst, appetite, urination, and activity levels. Their weight is generally stable and they are less likely to develop complications.