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November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month

November usually reminds us of Thanksgiving, changing leaves, and holiday preparations. But it also marks National Pet Diabetes Awareness Month, which is very important to keep in mind as fatty treats are available for your pet, and walks become sparse in the dropping temperatures. Understand causes, symptoms, and preventative measures to provide your pet with a tail-wagging holiday season!

Diabetes, clinically known as Diabetes mellitus, is a disease of the pancreas, a small organ located near the stomach. The pancreas has two different types of cells that have very different functions. One group of cells produces the enzymes necessary for proper digestion. The other group, called beta cells, produces the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates the level of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream and controls the delivery of glucose to the tissues of the body. In simple terms, diabetes is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar.

The clinical signs of diabetes are related to elevated concentrations of blood glucose and the inability of the body to use glucose as an

 energy source. The four main symptoms of diabetes mellitus are increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and increased appetite. 

When there isn’t enough insulin, the cells of the body become starved for their primary source of energy — glucose. In response to this apparent starvation, the body starts breaking down stores of fat and protein for energy, causing weight loss. The apparent starvation stimulates hunger and the pet eats more, resulting in weight loss in a dog or cat with a ravenous appetite. The body tries to eliminate the excess glucose by excreting it in the urine. Since glucose attracts water, it increases the volume of urine produced. To avoid dehydration, the animal drinks more and more water.

To prevent diabetes before the disease occurs, manage your pet’s weight with a balanced and regular diet with plenty of exercise. Avoid overly fatty or sugary treats, especially during the holiday season. If daily walks are not manageable, make sure to give your pet time to play and move around. Reduce stress factors and visit the veterinarian regularly to ensure the physical and mental wellbeing of your pet.

Are there different types of diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is usually classified into three types of disease:

  • Type I diabetes results from total or near-complete destruction of the beta cells. This appears to be a rare type of diabetes in the cat, but is actually the most common type of diabetes for dogs.
  • Type II diabetes is often predisposed by obesity, and often old age. While some insulin-producing cells remain, the amount of insulin produced is insufficient, there is a delayed response in secreting it, or the tissues of the animal’s body are relatively insulin-resistant. This appears to be the most common form of diabetes in cats.
  • Type III diabetes from insulin resistance caused by other hormones and can be due to pregnancy or hormone-secreting tumors.

How common is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes is the second most common endocrine disease in cats, appearing in one in every 200 felines. It is seen more frequently in middle-aged to senior cats and is more common in males than females. The number of diabetic cats is increasing at an alarming rate due to the tremendous increase in the number of overweight and obese cats.

In dogs, diabetes is less common but still very prevalent, appearing in one in every 500 dogs. Most often, dogs develop diabetes due to immune deficiencies, so it is seen most in middle-aged to senior dogs. Unspayed female dogs have much higher cases of diabetes than male dogs. 

Also stay aware of diabetic symptoms when pets are affected with obesity, Cushing’s Disease, and other autoimmune disorders and diseases that affect the pancreas.  For both dogs and cats, chronic or repeated pancreatitis causes damage to the organ and may result in diabetes as well.  

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed by the presence of the typical clinical signs (excess thirst, excess urination, excess appetite, and weight loss), a persistently high level of glucose in the blood, and the presence of glucose in the urine. 

Diabetes is the most common disease that will cause the blood glucose level to rise substantially.

Diabetic cats and dogs have excessive amounts of glucose in the blood, so it spills into the urine. Once blood glucose reaches a certain level, the excess is removed by the kidneys and enters the urine. This is why pets and people with diabetes mellitus have sugar in their urine (glucosuria).

Definitive confirmation of feline diabetes may require a specialized test called a serum fructosamine test. This test tells us average blood glucose levels over the past 7 -14 days. 

How is diabetes mellitus treated in cats and dogs?

Diabetes is a treatable condition. Although long-term treatment requires commitment and dedication, it is rewarding to manage this condition successfully in a beloved cat or dog.

Initial steps in treating a diabetic pet include removing potential predisposing causes for the diabetes. For example, some medications such as corticosteroids predispose cats to develop diabetes, and withdrawal of these drugs may lead to resolution of the condition. Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, so weight normalization can actually lead to resolution of diabetes in some pets.

All pets with diabetes benefit from being fed a well-balanced diet, and your veterinarian is the best source for guidance about which nutrient profile will best benefit your furry friend. Many pets with diabetes benefit from a diet that is high in protein and relatively low in carbohydrates because a relatively low carbohydrate diet decreases the amount of glucose absorbed from the intestinal tract and lowers the requirement for insulin. Unfortunately, while nutrition is a critical element of diabetes management success, it is generally not as simple as making a simple nutritional choice.

Canine Treatment

Initially, your dog may be hospitalized for a few days to deal with any immediate crisis and to begin insulin regulation. One example of an ’immediate crisis’ is a dog that is so sick they have stopped eating and drinking for several days. Dogs in this state, called diabetic ketoacidosis, may require several days of hospitalization with intensive care. Otherwise, the initial hospitalization may be only for a day or two while the dog’s initial response to insulin injections is evaluated. At that point, your dog returns home for you to administer medication. During the initial phase of insulin therapy, regular return visits are required to monitor progress.

Dogs with diabetes generally require two insulin injections each day, and nutrition is an important component of disease management. In general, they must be fed the same food in the same amount on the same schedule every day. Treatment must be looked upon as part of the dog’s daily routine. This means that you, as the dog’s owner, must make both a financial and personal commitment to treat your dog. If you are out of town or go on vacation, your dog must receive proper treatment while you are away. The special diet, insulin, and syringes are not overly expensive, but the financial commitment may be significant during the initial regulation process or if complications arise. 

Feline Treatment

Most cats require regular insulin injections to control the diabetes mellitus, at least initially. Your cat may require several hospital visits until an appropriate insulin dosage is determined. New technology has allowed the adoption of home glucose monitoring with the use of a simple device. Most cats will achieve initial stabilization within a few days to a few weeks, and will require one or two daily injections of a small dose of insulin. Your veterinarian will determine the appropriate administration frequency, dosages, and type of insulin that your cat requires.

Moreover, we encourage cat owners to keep a daily record of the following information, plus the cat’s weight once per week:

  • Time of insulin injection
  • Amount of insulin injected
  • Amount and time of food fed and eaten
  • Amount of water drank

Some of our clients also find it valuable to monitor the amount of glucose in their cast’s urine to keep a look out for further testing. For further instructions on how to monitor your diabetic cat, schedule an appointment with a doctor at Harmony Veterinary Center or your local veterinary clinic. 

Finances in Diabetes Treatment

The financial commitment may again be significant if complications arise. It is important to pay close attention to all instructions related to administering medication, nutrition, and home monitoring. If financial issues pose a burden for your pet’s treatment, consider assistance from the Lexie Fund. At Harmony Veterinary Center, we value your pets’ well-being as well as yours and will take steps to make treatment accessible whenever possible. 

What happens if my pet receives too much insulin?

If a cat or dog receives too much insulin, it is possible for the blood sugar level to drop dangerously low (hypoglycemia). For this reason, it is important to be very careful to ensure your furry friend receives the correct dose of insulin.

Clinical signs displayed by a pet with a very low blood sugar level include weakness and lethargy, shaking, unsteadiness, and even convulsions. If a diabetic pet shows any of these signs it is important to take a blood glucose reading if you have a home monitoring device, and seek immediate veterinary attention. In mild cases of hypoglycemia, you may observe wobbling or a ‘drunken’ walk, or the animal may seem sedated when you call or pet them. Low blood sugar is a medical emergency! Your veterinarian can advise you about specific emergency treatment of low blood sugar in your cat that you can deliver at home until the pet can be seen by a veterinarian.

What is the prognosis for a pet with diabetes mellitus?

Once diabetes mellitus is properly regulated, the pet’s prognosis is good as long as treatment and monitoring are consistent. Most dogs and cats with controlled diabetes live a good quality of life with few symptoms of disease.

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