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Diabetes in Pets: Is Your Pet At Risk?

Diabetes in Pets: Is Your Pet At Risk?

Humans aren’t the only ones who can develop diabetes—our furry friends can too! Diabetes in pets, as in humans, poses many unique challenges that demand our devoted attention and boundless compassion. And the prevalence of this condition is more widespread than you may realize!

According to Vetsource, approximately 1 in 300 dogs and 1 in 230 cats in the United States will develop diabetes in their lifetime—and that number only keeps rising. As a lifelong condition, it affects pets across various breeds, ages, and lifestyles. Left untreated, it can lead to serious health consequences for your beloved canine or feline companion.

In this post, and as part of Pet Diabetes Month, we aim to raise awareness about diabetes in pets while recognizing the importance of proactive care and early intervention. Delving into the complexities of this condition, pet parents can gain the knowledge needed to provide the care and support their pets need to live a happy and healthy life!

What is Pet Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to simply as diabetes, is a chronic endocrine disease that arises when your pet’s body is unable to regulate blood sugar (glucose) effectively, resulting in elevated levels in the bloodstream. Fundamentally, it is a metabolic disorder that affects your pet’s ability to convert food into energy. In order to gain a complete understanding of what diabetes is, it is important to grasp the connection between glucose and insulin—a hormone vital for glucose homeostasis—as well as the pivotal role played by the pancreas in this intricate process.

Glucose, a type of sugar obtained through the digestion of dietary carbohydrates, serves as a main and vital source of energy for the cells within a pet’s body. In a healthy pet, the pancreas produces insulin and releases it into the bloodstream after the consumption of food. Insulin works by allowing cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, providing energy for various bodily functions. By working together, the pancreas and insulin help to maintain the balance of glucose in the bloodstream, ensuring the overall health and vitality of your fur baby!

However, in pets with diabetes, this balance is disrupted!

Generally speaking, there are two types of diabetes that a dog or cat can have.

• Type 1 Diabetes: Occurs when the pancreas fails to produce sufficient insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot enter cells, leading to accumulation in the blood. Dogs are more commonly affected by this type of diabetes.

• Type 2 Diabetes: Occurs when the body produces insulin, but the cells become resistant to its effects, resulting in high levels of blood sugar. While cats are more prone to this type of diabetes, it can also occur in dogs.

Recognizing the Risk Factors

Much like humans, the development of diabetes in pets can be influenced by a variety of factors—there isn’t a singular, exclusive cause. By understanding and recognizing the potential key risk factors, you will be more adept at helping to manage and prevent this condition in your beloved furry friend!

Genetics is a notable risk factor for diabetes, with certain breeds of pets being genetically predisposed to a higher risk of developing the condition. In dogs, breeds such as Fox terriers, Cairn terriers, Miniature Poodles, Pugs, Beagles, Australian terriers, and Samoyeds are particularly susceptible. Similarly, among cats, breeds like Burmese and Siamese are more prone to the condition—elevating their risk.

Other common risk factors of diabetes in pets can be found below!

• Age: Most dogs typically receive diabetes diagnosis between the age range of 7 to 10, whereas most cats are usually diagnosed older than 6 years of age. Pets in their middle to senior years are also more prone to developing diabetes.
• Gender: Unspayed female dogs are said to be twice as likely as male dogs to develop diabetes. Male cats are commonly more affected.
• Inactive Lifestyle
• Obesity: Overweight or obese pets have a higher risk. Obesity can lead to insulin resistance, making it difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar levels.
• Poor Diet Choices
• Steroids: Long-term use of certain medications, especially those containing corticosteroids, can affect insulin sensitivity—potentially increasing the risk of diabetes.
• Pre-existing health conditions: Pets that have certain health conditions, such as Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, or chronic pancreatitis, may have an elevated risk.

What Signs and Symptoms Might My Pet Show?

There are many symptoms of diabetes that your dog or cat may exhibit. However, the four main clinical symptoms that are clear indicators include: increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and an increase in appetite.

When there is a lack of insulin in your pet’s body or when their body is unable to effectively use the available insulin, it can lead to an accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream, causing a condition known as hyperglycemia. This leads to insufficient glucose being transported into your pet’s cells, disrupting normal cellular function and leaving the tissues starved for their primary source of energy.

To compensate for cells not utilizing sufficient glucose, your pet’s body may break down alternative energy sources, such as fats and proteins—resulting in weight loss. Their kidneys will try to filter the excess glucose by excreting it in urine, and because glucose tends to draw in water, it leads to increased urine production. Excessive urination can cause your furry friend to become dehydrated, prompting them to experience excessive thirst. Despite elevated glucose levels, their cells remain starved for energy, stimulating an increased appetite.

Along with these four main symptoms, there are other signs that you might possibly observe in your furry friend. Let’s take a look at them below!

Monitoring your pet for these signs and symptoms is essential, and if you notice any concerning changes, always contact your veterinarian!

How Do Veterinarians Diagnose and Treat Diabetes in Dogs and Cats?

Based on the signs and symptoms your pet is displaying, it can raise the suspicion of diabetes. However, veterinarians will use a combination of physical examinations and laboratory tests to confirm the condition officially. While the diagnosis of diabetes is typically straightforward, performing a series of tests allows veterinarians to assess your pet’s overall health and rule out other potential causes of the symptoms, such as other diseases. Diabetes symptoms may often overlap with those of other health conditions—therefore, conducting a full-scale analysis and running additional tests helps ensure an accurate diagnosis and differentiate between other possible causes.

Additionally, diabetes can have various effects on your pet’s body, and these evaluations can help identify any concurrent problems often associated with the condition. These may include urinary tract infections, pancreatitis, the development of cataracts, and more.

Let’s take a look at some of the common diagnostic steps veterinarians will take to confirm diabetes in your beloved companion!

• Physical Examination: Veterinarians will conduct a thorough physical examination and look for signs of diabetes, such as weight loss, increased appetite, lethargy, frequent urination, and more—as reported by the pet owner. They may also assess changes in skin and coat quality, body condition, eye and dental health, and more.
• Blood Glucose Test: Very crucial! This is a primary and direct way of testing for diabetes in your cuddly pets by measuring the concentration of glucose in the blood. Elevated levels of glucose can indicate diabetes or an issue with insulin regulation.
• Urinalysis: Veterinarians will examine your pet’s urine for the presence of glucose or high levels of ketones. In healthy pets, this should not be present. Pets that are diabetic will excrete glucose in their urine—a condition known as glucosuria. A urinalysis can also be used to detect other abnormalities, such as kidney problems or urinary tract infections. Pets with diabetes are commonly prone to UTIs because elevated glucose levels in the urine can foster an environment favorable for bacteria growth.
• Complete Blood Count (CBC): While not directly indicative of diabetes, this test can help to identify certain complications or conditions that may be associated with disease in pets. It reveals any changes in the white or red blood cell counts, serving as a valuable indicator of the presence of potential infections, inflammatory diseases, anemia, or other health issues.
• Blood Chemistry Panel: Along with measuring your paw-some pal’s blood glucose level, this panel also assesses blood components such as liver enzymes, kidney functions, and electrolyte balances. Any abnormality in these areas can indicate issues such as kidney disease, liver disease, or electrolyte imbalances related to diabetes. 
• Fructosamine Test: This test is used to measure average blood glucose levels over the past two to three weeks, serving as a useful monitoring tool. In pets with diabetes, it aids veterinarians in evaluating the overall effectiveness of insulin therapy and offers insight into how well a dog or cat’s blood sugar is being controlled. Additionally, it can also be used to confirm the diagnosis in cats. In contrast to a single blood glucose test, which may be influenced by stress or other factors, the Fructosamine Test provides a broader view of glucose control over an extended period.
Keep in mind that regular veterinary check-ups are absolutely necessary to ensure the wellbeing of your fur baby! They play a pivotal role in the early detection of diabetes in your furry friends and can prompt immediate intervention and management, increasing the likelihood of successful treatments and minimizing any potential complications they may face!

Taking Action - What Treatment Options Are Available?

Upon receiving a confirmation of diabetes diagnosis for your precious pet, it is imperative to take swift action to ensure their well-being and manage their condition appropriately. The good news is—there are various treatment options available, and with the right approach, your furry friend can lead a happy and healthy life! From insulin therapy to dietary modifications and lifestyle adjustments, understanding the treatment options recommended by veterinary professionals will be able to empower you to provide the best possible care for your furry companion. Treatment plans will be tailored to your pet’s individual needs and your veterinarian will be able to provide you with assistance.

Let’s delve into some of the treatment options available for dogs and cats that have been diagnosed with diabetes!

Insulin Injection

Insulin is the main method of treatment for pets that are diagnosed with diabetes. Depending on factors like the type and severity of diabetes, bodily weight, species, and breed, your veterinarian will determine the most suitable type of insulin, dosage, and dosing schedule for your furry companion. Vetsulin, an FDA-approved brand, is commonly prescribed for both dogs and cats, although alternatives such as ProZinc, Lantus, Novolin, and Levemir may also be recommended.

Your veterinarian will then guide you on the proper techniques for administering insulin. This may include hands-on training or a video demonstration to ensure that you can confidently care for your pet’s needs—especially when you are at home!

Insulin is administered by injection under the skin—it cannot be given orally. It is also available in two strength levels: U-40 and U-100. At a minimum, your canine or feline friend will require twice daily injections and it should not be given in the same location every day! This may cause scar tissue to form. Despite the initial intimidation of having to poke your fur baby with a needle, rest assured that these needles are fairly tiny and thin! And according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, they are tolerated generally well by pets. So while it might sound a bit scary, it’s just another small step in keeping your furry friend in healthy standing.

Keep in mind that each pet may respond differently to insulin. As a result, you may find that your vet will often start with a specific type of insulin and dosage, and then make adjustments based on your pet’s response—monitored through their blood glucose levels.

Dietary Modification

A consistent, carefully crafted and well-balanced diet is extremely vital for the treatment of diabetes in pets! Veterinarians may recommend a specialized prescription diet designed for diabetic dogs or cats. These diets are formulated to help regulate their blood glucose levels and may contain specific carbohydrate, fat, protein, and fiber content to help control the absorption of glucose. If you have a veterinary nutritionist, they can help you to create a homemade diet. Consistency in feeding time, portion control, and type of food is essential as it can help regulate insulin levels and blood sugar.
• For diabetics cats: A high-protein, low carbohydrate diet is recommended. Canned foods are often preferred over dry foods.
• For diabetic dogs: A high- fiber diet is often recommended.
Water intake is crucial for every pet—especially if they are diabetic. Pet owners should ensure that their pets have access to an adequate water supply. Also, be mindful of any treats or snacks that you give your pet! Avoid high-sugar treats, as excessive intake can contribute to diabetes. If feeding your pet snacks or treats, it’s important to choose options that align with your pet’s dietary needs and the management of diabetes.

How Can Pet Owners Actively Monitor and Manage Their Pet's Diabetes At Home?

As a pet parent, navigating life with a diabetic pet can present numerous challenges, and at times, it can even be a little overwhelming. After all, it’s a serious condition that can impair your fur baby’s life. However, the rewards of ensuring our pets can live a long and healthy life far outweigh the challenges!

Successfully managing your pet’s diabetes is a collaborative effort between you and veterinary professionals. However, as a pet owner, your role extends far beyond collaboration—it’s a hands-on responsibility in managing your furry friend’s condition and well-being right from home. By monitoring every aspect of your pet closely, it can provide valuable insights into the day-to-day management of their condition. Remember: consistency is key in all that you do, especially when it comes to feeding, exercise, and medication administration.

Here are some tips on how you can effectively monitor and manage your cuddly companion’s diabetes from home!
If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s crucial to adhere to the prescribed medication and treatment plan that was recommended by your veterinarian. Administer insulin injections at the same time every day.
Invest in a daily glucose-monitoring system, such as a glucometer. You can ask your veterinarian for other recommended devices. Establish a routine and maintain a log or digital record of your pet’s glucose readings. Keep in mind that blood sugar levels should remain within normal ranges—levels that are too high or too low can be life-threatening! This log is a valuable tool for both pet owners and veterinarians to assess the effectiveness of the current treatment and make any necessary adjustments.
Regular veterinary check-ups are essential! These appointments evaluate your pet’s overall health, allow for adjustment of insulin doses if needed, and address any other health complications. Check-ups may include blood tests, urinalysis, and other procedures.
Exercise plays a significant role in managing pet diabetes. Be sure to establish a regular exercise routine based on your furry friend’s age, breed, and overall health. Physical activity can help regulate blood sugar levels, improve insulin sensitivity, and contribute to weight management. This may include daily walks or playtime sessions. Consult your veterinarian to determine the appropriate duration and intensity of exercise, tailored to your pet’s needs.

Reducing the Risk of Diabetes: Preventative Measures 

While diabetes is a condition that cannot be cured or prevented entirely, there are steps that you—pet parents whose furry companions are currently diabetes-free, can take to fortify their well-being. These preventative measures ensure their current health is optimal, while potentially lowering the risk of them possibly developing this disease down the line.

Let’s take a look at some below!
Beyond preventative measures, adopting a proactive care approach is also important! Monitor your pet’s body condition and stay vigilant to any changes in your pet’s behavior such as altered eating habits, fatigue, increased urination, or unexplained weight loss. By embracing these strategies, the risk of diabetes in your furry friend can be reduced—promoting a long, happy, and healthy life.


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