Diabetes Mellitus is a disease which causes increased sugar levels in the blood of your pet. The most common cause of Diabetes is lack of the hormone Insulin in the body. Insulin is made by the pancreas and is responsible for allowing the body to use the sugar that is derived from the food we eat. After a meal, much of our diet is converted into pure sugar (glucose). This sugar stays in the blood until the insulin “opens the gate” to allow it into the muscle cells where it is used for fuel. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and the body has to rely on other, less efficient fuels to operate on. As a result, the pet tends to lose weight even though they are very hungry. The increased amount of sugar in the bloodstream can lead to mental confusion, increased risk of infection (especially urinary tract) and cataracts. The other cause of Diabetes is resistance to the effects of insulin in the body. This can occur when certain drugs are in excess in the body, either from over production by the body or by administration in the form of medicine. In pets, this type is far less common than lack of insulin.

What are the symptoms of Diabetes?

The hallmark symptoms of Diabetes are:

  • Increased Thirst
  • Increased Appetite
  • Listlessness
  • Increased Urination
  • Weight Loss despite good appetite
  • Cataracts

The symptoms of this disease can be subtle, and many owners never notice the early signs until the pet has lost significant amounts of weight or becomes very ill!

How does our veterinary team diagnose Diabetes?

Diagnosis of Diabetes is based on the history (heavy thirst and urination, weight loss, hungry all the time), the physical examination and predominently on blood and urine tests. Finding sugar in the urine and concurrent high blood sugar levels will most often define the disease. In some cases, when the blood sugar levels are just a little above normal and the pet is stressed, another test called the fructosamine assay can be used to solidify the diagnosis. This test gives us an average measurement of the blood sugar over the past two weeks. If it is elevated then the pet has had sustained high sugar levels (hyperglycemia) which is the hallmark of the disease.

Which animals can get diabetes?

Both cats and dogs can get diabetes. Overweight animals are much more likely to develop this disease as are older pets, especially animals with a history of pancreatitis. Symptoms may worsen when pets go through periods of stress, or during the estrus cycle as the reproductive hormones and stress hormones antagonize the effects of insulin. In addition, certain drugs such as cortisone and progestins may cause diabetes in otherwise healthy animals.

Why do the some pets get so sick from diabetes?

Most pets can handle high blood sugar for some time. However, using fats as an alternative fuel source can lead to severe changes in the pH of the blood. When the pH of the blood gets too acidic, the pets become very ill. These pets require intensive care to get them through the crisis, but will often times be able to be regulated on insulin.

Can Diabetes be prevented?

It is difficult to prevent diabetes. Maintaining proper weight and avoiding offending drugs noted above are the best way to prevent this disease.

How is Diabetes Treated?

In most cases, diabetes is treated by replacing the missing insulin. This is done by injection as insulin can not be absorbed from the stomach. The response to therapy is usually very rewarding. Most pets need to take insulin for the remainder of their lives although in some cases the need for insulin may resolve after underlying problems are addressed such as obesity, administration of certain drugs that lead to diabetes (cortisone, progestins).

Treatment Basics For Pets

It’s important that you understand a few basic rules when treating your diabetic pet:

  • In order for insulin to work, there must be “fuel” (food) to burn in your pet. Otherwise, the blood sugar will go too low! Therefore–Never give insulin if your pet won’t eat!
  • If you make a mistake during the injection, (i.e. some goes on the floor or on the skin) NEVER GIVE A SECOND INJECTION. IF YOU DO, YOU RISK OVERDOSING.
  • Handle insulin properly–Never shake and always refrigerate.
  • Know the signs of overdosage (low blood sugar): weakness, whining, dizziness, seizures.
    • If any of these occur, give your pet a few teaspoons of kayro (corn) syrup. This will bring the blood sugar up quickly; then, feed a small meal. Consult with the doctor before giving the next dose of insulin. If you can not get in touch, reduce the amount of insulin by 1-2 units to be on the safe side.
    • Recheck blood sugar levels regularly. Diabetics’ needs change over time, and therefore the insulin dose must be adjusted. Once your pet is regulated well, re-evaluations every 6-16 weeks are normal. At that time we will check the blood sugar and evaluate the urine for signs of infection.