November is National Diabetes Month, and we’re joining with veterinarians across the nation to focus on this disease that claims the lives of thousands of pets every year. Diabetes Mellitus (DM), commonly referred to as diabetes, is becoming increasingly common among both dogs and cats. Left untreated, the devastating disease is potentially fatal. With early detection and treatment, diabetic pets can continue to live normal, healthy lives.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the body cannot use glucose (blood sugar) effectively. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which carries glucose throughout the body to the cells. In diabetics, there is either not enough insulin or something is interfering with its delivery to the cells. The lack of glucose causes the cells to slowly starve and die, while an excess of sugar elsewhere causes excessive thirst and urination as the body attempts to flush the sugar out of the system.
There are two types of diabetes in dogs and cats: Type I DM and Type II DM. Type I DM is normally seen in dogs and occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin. Pets with Type I DM will be diabetic for life. Type II DM is normally seen in cats, and occurs when the pancreas either doesn't produce enough insulin, or something is interfering with its delivery to the cells. Feline DM can be transient, meaning a cat that is diabetic today may be in remission in a few months.
Complications of diabetes include Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which occurs when the body attempts to break down fat in order to feed the starving cells. The fat breakdown produces ketones which poison the body, causing vomiting, dehydration, lack of appetite, electrolyte imbalances, and more. DKA is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate emergency hospitalization of your pet followed by intensive 24/7 monitoring and treatment.
Risk factors for diabetes
Diabetes can affect dogs and cats of any age. Most diabetic dogs are diagnosed at 7-10 years of age, and diabetes is more common in female dogs than male dogs. Most diabetic cats are diagnosed at 8-13 years of age, and diabetes is most common in neutered male cats.
Certain breeds of cats and dogs may be predisposed to diabetes. In cats, Siamese are especially vulnerable. In dogs, the Samoyed, Keeshond, Miniature Pinscher, Cairn terrier, Schnauzer, Australian terrier, Dachshund, Poodle, Beagle, and Bichon Frise contract diabetes at a higher rate than other breeds.
Obesity is the greatest risk factor for diabetes in pets. As cats and dogs age, they may also develop other health issues that could lead to diabetes or affect their response to diabetes treatment, including heart disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, and hyperadrenocorticism (overactive adrenal glands) in dogs or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid glands) in cats.
Signs and symptoms of diabetes in pets:
- Excessive thirst and water drinking
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Constant hunger
- Cloudy eyes or cataracts, especially in dogs
- Weakness and lethargy
- Poor skin conditions like excessive dandruff or an oily coat
If you notice any of these signs in your pet or think your pet may be at risk for diabetes, bring them to the clinic for a diabetes consultation. Pre-diabetic pets can have their outcomes positively affected by weight loss, changes in diet, or short-term insulin therapy.
Caring for diabetic pets
Pets with diabetes often require lifelong treatment with special diets, exercise, and daily insulin injections, especially for dogs. The key to managing diabetic pets is maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and avoiding extreme fluctuations that can be life-threatening.
Diabetic pets usually require twice-daily insulin injections, and a high-fiber diet and daily exercise program are recommended.
With proper treatment and careful management, diabetic cats and dogs can live healthy lives. If you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior or weight, be sure to call the clinic immediately. Your veterinarian can perform blood and urine tests to confirm the diagnosis and begin treatment.