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Managing Diabetes in Dogs and Cats

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a serious but treatable disease that affects all pets. It requires careful management from the pet owner along with the help of a veterinarian. Pet Diabetes Month is recognized every November to bring awareness to this disease.

It is critical that pet owners recognize the signs and symptoms of diabetes and how it is treated. Untreated, diabetes can be fatal in dogs and cats. Caring for a diabetic pet is often a lifelong process that can include medication, special diets, and exercise plans. Although this sounds daunting, there is indeed hope. With proper management, diabetic pets can live a long and healthy life—and in some cases of feline diabetes, it can even be reversed!

Here’s what you need to know.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has created a great informational video about diabetes. This five-minute video explains the difference between Type 1 and 2, causes, and symptoms. 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes in pets is similar to the disease humans get. Type 1 diabetes develops when a body suffers from a shortage of insulin. Type 2 diabetes is when there is an adverse response to the insulin produced by the body. Both types of diabetes cause an imbalance of glucose, or sugar, in your pet’s blood. Glucose provides energy to your pet’s organs and is needed for proper function and survival. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates the amount of glucose in the blood.

Type 1 is more commonly found in dogs, whereas Type 2 is often found in cats. However, the differences between the two types are not as clearly distinguished in pets as they are in humans.

“Diabetes in dogs and cats can occur at any age. However, diabetic dogs are usually 4–14 years of age and most are diagnosed at roughly 7–10 years of age.  Most diabetic cats are older than 6 years of age. Diabetes occurs in female dogs twice as often as male dogs. Certain breeds of dogs may be predisposed to diabetes.” – AVMA, Diabetes in Pets

Signs and symptoms

dog_and_cat_in_bathroomIf there is too little insulin, glucose cannot enter cells and can build up in your pet’s bloodstream. When a dog does not receive enough glucose, a signal is sent to his or her brain indicating a need for more fuel. These dogs will often eat excessively in an attempt to gather more nutrition.

The buildup of glucose in the bloodstream eventually overflows into the urine, taking large amounts of water with it. This causes pet to drink and urinate frequently.

If you recognize any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care veterinarian:

  • Excessive eating
  • Excessive drinking (and urinating)
  • Weight loss (even with increased appetite)
  • Vomiting
  • Cataracts (cloudy eyes) and vision loss
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Dull or poor condition of hair
  • Infections (especially on the skin) that don’t heal or are recurring

The earlier diabetes is diagnosed, the faster your pet can receive the treatment and management needed to live a healthy life.

In addition to an early diagnosis, it is highly recommended that you consult with a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist. An internal medicine specialist is a veterinarian that has completed advanced training in endocrine diseases such as diabetes. They are highly trained to work with diseases that affect your pet’s internal body system. If your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, we highly recommend that you work closely with an internist to manage your pet’s disease.

Treatment and management

As is true in diabetic humans, when a dog or cat’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin, insulin injections are needed to keep blood-sugar levels normal. Your veterinarian can teach you how to administer insulin injections so that you can confidently do them at home.

Type 2 diabetes can be caused by obesity. Therefore, strict dietary management is important, as is a good exercise program. Medication, nutrition diet and exercise all work together to balance the pet’s blood sugar level. Each diabetic pet is different so management is personalized to the pet’s needs. Consult with your veterinarian for dietary recommendations and feeding schedules.

The treatment of diabetes in your pet requires a lifestyle change for you and your pet. It requires commitment to administer medication and to provide a proper diet and fitness regimen for your pet. Diabetes left untreated or managed poorly can lead to other conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis, liver disease, and bacterial infections along with increased weakness.

Diabetic pets can live long and happy lives.

Proper management of diabetes can help slow the development of cataracts or loss of vision, a common side effect of diabetes. And a well-managed diabetic cat can actually require less and less insulin—eventually removing the need altogether, in some cases.

A board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist should regularly examine your diabetic pet to check blood glucose levels and adjust insulin dosage as needed. Working with an internist will provide your pet with the best care and management to lead a healthy life.

Learn more about pet diabetes.

You can learn more about pet diabetes at PetDiabetesMonth.com. You can find a glossary about important diabetic terms, patient stories, and videos. The site even has a fun Gluco Loco! game to test your knowledge of pet diabetes!

pet diabetes game

If you have questions regarding pet diabetes and would like to schedule a consultation with one of our internal medicine specialists, email us at info@vsecto.com or give us a call at 805.492.2436.

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