Diabetes is a disease we are all too familiar with. It’s so prevalent in people that most of us know at least one person who is dealing with this illness. What some people may not be aware of is that it is very common in animal medicine as well.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes Mellitus is a disease where the body suffers from a shortage of insulin secreted by the pancreas. Insulin acts to lower blood sugar after a meal by enabling that sugar (glucose) to enter the body’s cells. There are 2 common forms of diabetes: Type 1 (insulin-dependent) occurs when the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. Type 2 (insulin-resistant) occurs when your pet’s insulin either isn’t working properly, or their cells are not reacting to it appropriately. When a pet has diabetes, glucose will build up in the bloodstream, and spill over into their urine. This causes uncontrolled diabetics to urinate in large amount, as well as drink larger amounts of water to compensate. Because sugar can’t enter the cells, the body is starving, but you may see a weight loss, even with an increased appetite. Eventually, the body will break down muscle and fat for energy instead. The problem is, this leads to an increased of ketones in the blood, which is toxic at high levels. This condition is called diabetic ketoacidosis (not good!).
Typically, dogs tend to be Type 1, while cats tend to be Type 2 diabetics, although there are exceptions to every rule. With Type 1 diabetes, a patient requires additional insulin in the form of injections. Oral medications, weight loss, and change in diet may be treatments used for Type 2 diabetes (+/- insulin injections). That means that most dogs will require insulin injections for life, while most cats can recover (become insulin independent) by managing diet, losing weight, controlling blood glucose, and removing factors that cause insulin resistance.
Signs of Diabetes
- Increased thirst and urination
- Sticky urine clumps, urinating outside of the litter box
- Increased appetite (early stages) or decreased appetite (late stages)
- Weight loss
- Weakness or depression
How is it Diagnosed?
After a physical exam and discussion of your pet’s symptoms, your veterinarian will take blood and urine samples for testing. In addition to checking the glucose (sugar) levels in the blood and urine, your vet will be checking for evidence of other disease that have symptoms similar to diabetes, like kidney disease and hyperthyroidism.
Some Causes of Diabetes
- Feeding people food, which can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Since the pancreas makes all of your pet’s insulin, don’t make it angry!
Treatment & Management
Treatment varies due to your pet’s species (dog or cat), and particular circumstances. In most cases, you will need to provide insulin injections twice daily for the rest of their life. The good news is, most patients do very well once you’re on the best dose and type of insulin for them. Improving energy levels, watching body weight, and removing anything that can cause insulin resistance are other aspects of treatment. Monitor you pet’s drinking and urinary habits closely, and avoid high carb diets or moist diets higher in sugar. When dealing with your insulin bottle, make sure to roll it before pulling up your pet’s dose. Shaking the bottle can damage the insulin. It’s also important to know the appropriate time window for your pet’s meals and injections.
Home glucose monitoring is incredibly useful, and one of the best ways of keeping track of your pet’s glucose levels. In regular cats & dogs, glucose levels sit around 80-120 mg/dL, with the goal number for diabetics between 100-300 mg/dL. There are a number of monitors available, but the most popular (and highly recommended) glucometer is the AlphaTrak2. This machine has been adapted for cats and dogs, and is more accurate than a human test. Only a tiny drop of blood is needed, and obtained with a lancet (tiny needle) from the ear, lip, paw pad, or elbow callous.
Low Blood Sugar
This can happen if too much insulin is given. We usually say that a blood glucose reading of less than 80 mg/dL is too low. Your pet may show signs such as lethargy, confusion, or potentially a seizure. If your pet is still alert, feed a small meal and recheck their glucose in 30 minutes. If there is no change to their glucose level or you start to see symptoms, bring your pet in to your veterinarian immediately.
Take a deep breath and relax. With a good support team and good management at home, your pet can live a long and happy life.
Helpful tools that you can discuss with your vet: