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!
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!
Taking Action - What Treatment Options Are Available?
Let’s delve into some of the treatment options available for dogs and cats that have been diagnosed with diabetes!
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.
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.
How Can Pet Owners Actively Monitor and Manage Their Pet's Diabetes At Home?
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!
Reducing the Risk of Diabetes: Preventative Measures
Let’s take a look at some below!