Diabetes In Cats And Dogs


Certain triggers make us veterinarians start thinking deeply during pet examinations. A seemingly simple question, like "Has he been drinking more or less than usual? How's his appetite? " can provide significant clues in our search for answers. For instance, if a dog or cat suddenly starts urinating and drinking much more than usual, it suggests its body might have an issue. Among the possible causes, diabetes is often one of the most concerning for pet owners.

Diabetes mellitus is a common health condition in middle-aged cats and dogs, and a diagnosis can be alarming for owners. While diabetes is usually a lifelong condition that requires careful management, the good news is that it can often be controlled. Many pets with diabetes continue to live long and happy lives with proper care.

What Is Diabetes In Cats And Dogs?

Diabetes in veterinary medicine can refer to two different conditions: diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) and the rarer diabetes insipidus (water diabetes). Since diabetes insipidus has different causes and treatments, this article will focus on the more common diabetes mellitus.

The pancreas is a vital organ containing beta cells that produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone that allows glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream to enter the body's cells to be used for energy. Diabetes occurs when there is a dysfunction or loss of these beta cells. In some cases, the pancreas cannot produce insulin, known as insulin deficiency or Type 1 diabetes, requiring the pet to receive insulin externally. In other cases, the pet produces insulin, but the body doesn't respond to it effectively. This condition is known as Type 2 diabetes or insulin-resistant diabetes.

Although pets are generally classified as either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetics, the reality is more complex. Diabetes can exist on a spectrum. A recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine indicates that a pet's condition may be more variable than previously believed. For instance, while it was once thought that dogs were almost exclusively Type 1 diabetics and cats were almost always Type 2, this is not always the case.

Cause Of Diabetes In Cats And Dogs

Diabetes in dogs and cats does not have a single cause. For some pets, it is a genetic condition, with certain breeds like Australian Terriers, Beagles, Samoyeds, and Burmese being more prone to it. Additionally, underlying health issues such as obesity, pituitary disease, and adrenal disease can increase the risk of developing diabetes. Medications, particularly steroids, can also trigger diabetes in dogs and cats.

Signs Of Diabetes In Cats And Dogs

Regardless of the cause, all diabetic pets experience elevated blood sugar levels that spill into their urine, leading to predictable clinical signs:

  • Increased thirst and urination: Glucose in the urine prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing water effectively, causing pets to drink and urinate more frequently.
  • Increased hunger: Although blood glucose levels are high, the body cannot use it for energy, similar to being at a buffet with your mouth taped shut. The body continues signaling pets to eat more to raise blood glucose levels.
  • Weight loss: Despite eating more, the body cannot utilize the ingested calories, leading to weight loss.
  • Other signs: These may include vomiting, poor coat condition, cataracts in dogs, and an abnormal gait in cats.

If left untreated, diabetes can cause liver dysfunction and a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis. A diabetic pet that is vomiting or disoriented should receive immediate veterinary attention. Without prompt treatment, diabetic ketoacidosis can result in brain swelling, kidney failure, pancreatitis, and rapid death.

Diagnose Of Diabetes In Cats And Dogs

Diagnosing diabetes initially involves standard bloodwork and urinalysis. The primary indicator in blood tests is elevated blood glucose, although other abnormalities are often present. A urinalysis is highly recommended because finding glucose in the urine is a key sign of diabetes.

Additional tests, such as urine cultures to check for urinary tract infections, thyroid tests, and x-rays, are often conducted to get a comprehensive view of the pet's health.

Since diabetes affects each pet differently, and some pets may be more severely ill at the time of diagnosis, a thorough assessment is crucial. This allows your veterinarian to provide the most effective and timely treatment.

Treatment Of Diabetes In Cats And Dogs

Insulin injections are the primary treatment for pets showing clinical signs of diabetes, both dogs and cats. In cats, the most commonly used insulins are glargine and PZI. In dogs, Lente, NPH, and Vetsulin are the preferred options. Each type of insulin has its advantages and disadvantages regarding duration in the bloodstream, availability, and cost. The latest American Animal Hospital Association Diabetes Management Guidelines recommend multiple options, allowing veterinarians and owners to choose the best insulin for the pet together.

While many owners of newly diagnosed diabetic pets worry about giving injections, most adapt quickly. Insulin injections are administered twice a day, usually timed with meals. Due to the small needle size and low volume, even initially hesitant owners find that their pets tolerate the shots well.

How Fast Do Diabetic Pets Show Improvement?

Managing a pet's blood sugar is both an art and a science. Finding the correct insulin dose often takes time, as various factors like stress and illness can cause daily fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This can make monitoring your pet's blood glucose confusing, especially in the beginning.

Your veterinarian may recommend a glucose curve, which involves testing blood glucose throughout the day to ensure the prescribed insulin effectively manages the pet's blood sugar. Additionally, some veterinarians monitor fructosamine levels obtained from a single blood test to provide an overall picture of blood glucose control over several weeks.


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