Diabetes is a glucose control problem that can affect both dogs and cats. A growing epidemic, raising awareness about diabetes is vital to identifying and treating the disorder early.
Does My Pet Have Diabetes?
Diabetes is a complex disease caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin. Diabetes can develop gradually, over time, and the signs may not be apparent at first.
There are a few signs to look for especially in older pets.
1. Extreme Thirst and Increased Urination
The foremost clinical sign of diabetes is increased water consumption (“polydipsia”) and consequently increased urination (“polyuria”).
Thirst is sometimes difficult to quantify. Is my dog drinking excessive amounts of water or just temporarily thirsty or hot? This must be evaluated over time and sometimes is vague in small dogs and cats.
It’s easier to spot in large dogs, because their water bowl will empty quickly. The resulting urine will be diluted or clear, almost like water.
2. Increased Appetite and Weight Loss
Dogs with diabetes will lose weight although may be still eating normally, or even appear hungrier than usual. That’s because the body can’t convert the food into energy – due to either a lack of insulin or insulin resistance. Since they are not getting energy from food, their body starts burning fat and muscle for energy, causing a reduction in overall body weight.
3. Chronic or Sudden Bouts of Fatigue
Feeling fatigued or lethargic is also a sign of diabetes, and can be caused by blood sugar swings on both sides of the spectrum. When their blood sugar is high, it stops their body from getting the energy they need from food, so they are tired all the time. Blood sugar dips can cause sudden bouts of fatigue.
4. Depression and Vomiting
Advanced diabetes can lead to ketoacidosis, a condition where the fat and proteins in the liver breakdown from lack of insulin, releasing a toxic amount of ketones. This imbalance can cause depression. Ketoacidosis, if left untreated, can also cause vomiting.
5. Chronic Infections
Diabetes can slow down your body’s ability to fight infection. The high sugar levels disrupt certain immune processes and allow bacteria to grow so infections develop more quickly.
The most common infections associated with diabetes are:
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Skin Infections
Cataracts form when water is pulled into the lens, disrupting clarity and eventually leading to blindness. When your pet has excess glucose,the eye converts it to another sugar called sorbitol, which pulls the water in. More excess glucose = more sorbitol = more water = less clarity.
If your pet presents with any of these symptoms, see your veterinarian immediately.
Who’s at Risk for Diabetes?
Many factors contribute to diabetes, such as disease, genetics, obesity and certain medications.
As pets age, the cells that secrete insulin naturally wear out. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the cells wear out faster in some pets than others. It’s a good idea to start screening your pet’s blood sugar levels during their yearly exam once they turn six.
Diabetes occurs in females twice as often as males. When females go into heat, they produce the hormone progesterone, which can lead to high blood sugar and insulin resistance. Having your pets spayed as soon as possible can decrease this risk.
Being overweight places extra stress on your pet’s health in a variety of ways, including their ability to maintain proper blood glucose levels, and can cause them to become resistant to insulin.
Your veterinarian can screen for diabetes during a routine examination with an inexpensive test. A Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Chemistry Profile gives your veterinarian a screen of all the blood parameters such as organ enzymes, blood cells, and – most importantly, in this case – the blood glucose value.
If the test reveals high glucose levels, a urine test is recommended to confirmation that glucose is high enough in the blood stream to spill over into the urine.
Managing Diabetes: Treatment Options
It is important to understand that diabetes is considered a manageable disorder—and many diabetic pets can lead happy, healthy lives!
Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the symptoms and lab work are and whether there are any other health issues that could complicate therapy. Each pet responds differently to treatment, and therapy must be tailored throughout his or her life.
Understanding of the disease and daily care of your pet are critical to successfully managing diabetes. Treatment involves a combination of weight loss, diet, insulin injections, and possibly oral medications.
Weight Loss and Diet
Today, there are special diabetic foods available such as Purina DM which can greatly reduce the need for insulin injections. Cats, especially, can receive initial insulin treatment and be converted to the special diet for long term management of the their diabetic condition. Dogs generally need insulin therapy in addition to a special high fiber diet dog food.
Blood Glucose Monitoring and Insulin Injections
At home blood glucose monitoring has come a long way in veterinary medicine. A blood glucose monitor, called a glucometer, is readily available.
A pet owner can prick the ear tip of a cat or the carpal pad of a dog with a small lance to produce a tiny drop of blood. Don’t worry – this will not hurt your beloved pet. This tiny blood drop can be siphoned on to plastic glucose test strip and placed in the monitor for blood glucose measurement. Luckily there are great Youtube training videos, like this one from the folks at VCA Animal Hospitals, that can help.
This technique sounds complex, but it gets easier with practice.
Managing Your Pet’s Health
When managing your pet’s diabetes, you’re constantly making decisions about treating blood glucose, exercise and healthy eating. Making those decisions is much easier if you keep track of that data, but tracking that data can be overwhelming.
Activ4Pets’ online pet health record makes it easier to organize and track your pet’s health information online, including:
- Blood glucose
- Blood Pressure
- Physical activity
And, you can share valuable health information with your veterinarian, which can lead to improved outcomes. Get started today >>
Meet the Author
Dr. Clayton Jones
Dr. Jones has 25 years of veterinary medical experience as a staff veterinarian and medical director of his own practice. He also is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Society and President of the US-Cuba Veterinary Cooperation Society.