Diabetes Mellitus

Some people think diabetes is just a “human thing’, but unfortunately, that is not the case.  Pets (dogs and cats) can also get diabetes and it is actually quite common.  Diabetes occurs when the body cannot use glucose, the main source of energy for a body’s cells.  When there is not enough glucose transported into the cells, there is not enough energy for the cells to function normally; in turn, the tissues become starved for that energy.  A dog or cat will not be able to live long if this goes untreated. 

Some of the first things a pet owner may notice in a diabetic animal are significant weight loss, increased water consumption, and frequent urination.  Weight loss occurs due to “metabolic starvation” that causes the body to break down the fat and muscle tissue that are then converted to sugar by the liver.  Increased water intake and frequent urination are the result of glucosuria, which is when the blood glucose reaches a certain level and the glucose overflows into the urine, drawing large volumes of water with it. 

Diabetes is most often seen in older pets, although it can be seen in young ones also.  If you notice any of the above-mentioned symptoms, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.  Although a diabetes diagnosis is fairly candid, your veterinarian may run additional blood tests to rule out any other medical conditions often seen in older pets. 

Treatment of diabetes consists of two main components:  insulin and diet.  Your vet will prescribe your pet with an initial type and dosage of insulin to be given daily, under the skin, with a small needle.  It is important that your pet’s blood sugar is checked periodically by your veterinarian, especially after the initial injections.  In this way, they will know if the insulin dosage needs to be adjusted.  Your diabetic pet’s diet is also extremely important.  Dogs typically require a high-fiber diet, whereas cats need a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.  Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe the proper food requirements that your pet needs.  Daily exercise will be an important factor as well, differing on the breed, age and overall health of the animal. 

Maintaining the correct insulin and feeding schedule is crucial for the health of a diabetic pet.  Regular veterinary check-ups and testing may be supplemented by at-home monitoring of your pet’s blood and urine glucose levels.  This will help to ensure they continue to receive the appropriate dosages, although it is not uncommon for them to be adjusted periodically.  However, always consult your veterinarian before making any adjustments to dosages or frequency of injections!

During regular check-ups, your veterinarian (with your help at home) will always be looking for signs of other diabetes-related complications.  These may include hind leg weakness due to low blood potassium (hypokalemia), high blood pressure (hypertension), or lower urinary tract infections.

Diabetic pets can definitely live long and healthy lives with the proper management and veterinary care.  Consult your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your pet’s weight, appetite, or behavior at any time.