The month of November was “American Diabetes Month”, but our education on the subject continues year-round. Diabetes is a common disease in people, but not everyone is aware that Diabetes is also common in our furry family members. Diabetes in animals also has many of the same causes as we see in people—namely, genetics, diet, and a lack of exercise. Many of us tend to “baby” our pets, providing daily treats and table scraps. Unfortunately most domesticated dogs and cats are no longer as active as their ancestors and those high calorie foods lead to weight gain and obesity, predisposing them to problems like Diabetes, arthritis, and joint or back injuries.
The hallmark symptoms of Diabetes include drinking more and urinating more, and eventually also weight loss despite having a good appetite. Weight loss may go un-noticed, however, when it occurs in animals who are already overweight.
It is important to understand there are numerous other causes of these symptoms as well, such as urinary tract infections, hyperthyroidism, and kidney disease, to name a few; so making a diagnosis of Diabetes starts with some testing to rule out other problems.
When caught early, and proper treatment is provided, Diabetes frequently can be managed very well for the life of your pet. When not caught until later, however, life-threatening complications (such as diabetic ketoacidosis) can develop.
Virtually all dogs who have diabetes are considered insulin-dependent, similar to “Type I Diabetes” in people, meaning that they are treated with insulin. Most affected cats develop “Type II Diabetes”, or non-insulin-dependent diabetes, but despite the name, they also require insulin treatment most of the time. Proper diet is also an important part of managing diabetes.
Insulin injections can seem daunting at first, but after a little training with their veterinarian, most people learn to give them at home with ease.
There are some important differences between managing diabetes in people versus managing diabetes in dogs and cats. First, it is important to never alter the insulin dose recommended by your veterinarian. Dogs and cats do not wear glucose-pumps that some people wear. Dogs and cats are usually treated with long-acting insulins that are injected 1-2 times daily, and we only change their dose based on a 12-24 hour test called a “glucose curve”. In the initial weeks after diagnosing your pet with Diabetes, it will often take multiple of these glucose curves before the proper dose of insulin is determined for your pet. These tests can be done by your veterinarian, or some people learn to do them at home.
In dogs, Diabetes can frequently lead to cataracts and blindness. This is not the case in cats, because the lenses in their eyes are different from that of dogs. Some lucky cats can also “recover” from diabetes with good glucose control, and be managed with diet alone, but this does not occur dogs.
Once your pet’s diabetes is well managed, they typically need some form of monitoring to make sure they continue to be well controlled. This may include watching for changes in thirst or urination at home, checking bloodwork or urine testing every 3-6 months, or learning to check for problems at home using glucose and ketone sticks. The right protocol for you and your pet can be determined with thoughtful discussion with your family veterinarian.