iStock_000002977378_Large (1)With more pets leading a sedentary life and the increase in pet obesity, more dogs and cats are developing diabetes at some point in their lifetimes. This disease is an important one for pet owners to be familiar with. Do you understand what pet diabetes is, what the symptoms look like, and why it is so serious? If not, be sure to keep reading so that you can be in the know about diabetes in pets.

The Pathogenesis of Diabetes in Pets

When a pet eats a meal, the nutrients are broken down into parts that are usable to the body as energy. Fiber and starches (carbohydrates) are broken down into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream then transferred into cells. In order for this transfer of glucose into the body’s cells, a hormone called insulin is required.

When there is not enough insulin being made, or the cells do not respond to a normal amount of insulin, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, resulting in diabetes. This excess glucose leads to a variety of symptoms including:

  • Increased thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Ravenous appetite
  • Weight loss

Pets with diabetes may also be more lethargic than usual, have a dull coat, and be prone to urinary tract infections. Dogs with diabetes often develop cataracts as well.

Not so Sweet

When a pet has diabetes, it is very important that we treat the problem appropriately. Untreated diabetes can lead to many complications and is inevitably fatal. Uncontrolled diabetes in pets can result in:

Starvation – Because the body is unable to use glucose, a major form of energy, it must rely on fat and protein for its energy sources. Many pets with diabetes begin to use their own fat and muscle tissues for nutrition, eventually resulting in extreme wasting, even if the pet is eating.

Development of ketoacidosis – When the body uses fats and proteins to create energy, waste products are made. These products, called ketones, can cause a pet to become very sick if they accumulate in any degree. A pet that is suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) will often be extremely weak, dehydrated, and be unable to keep food down. Without treatment, DKA leads to death.

Neuropathy – Cats in particular are known to have nerves that are sensitive to excess glucose. If blood sugar remains high, many will develop a diabetic neuropathy which causes them to walk rocked back on their hind legs.

Management of Pet Diabetes

So, if your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, what is an owner to do? Fear not, many pets respond very well to treatment so be sure to talk to your veterinarian about a treatment plan that can help your pet live a normal, happy life.

The management of diabetes in pets is a multi-pronged attack. Successful treatment often involves:

  • Insulin injections – Unfortunately, animals do not respond well to the oral blood sugar medications that people often take. This means that in order to effectively control diabetes in pets, we must depend on daily insulin injections. Many pet owners are intimidated at the thought of administering injections; however most pet owners can learn to be comfortable with this treatment.
  • Dietary therapy – Depending on the pet, a change in diet or weight loss plan may be helpful in the management of diabetes. Your pet’s doctor will make recommendations specific to the individual situation.
  • Careful home monitoring – You are one of the most important factors in the successful management of your diabetic pet. Closely watching eating, drinking, and urination habits as well as changes in behavior can be very helpful. Some pet owners are also taught to monitor blood sugars at home.
  • Routine veterinary care – Every pet responds differently to the treatment of their diabetes, and it is important for to work closely with your veterinarian. He or she will recommend frequent blood sugar checks and glucose curves especially during the initial phases of treatment.

Diabetic pets need a little extra care, but there is no reason that they cannot live normal doggy and kitty lives with a bit of effort.

If you have questions or concerns about your pet, or think your pet may be exhibiting signs of diabetes, please make an appointment with your veterinarian. Visit our emergency room if symptoms are severe and your veterinarian is unavailable since diabetes can be life threatening. We are here to help you and your furry friend, no matter the circumstances.