Sugar Rush: Understanding Diabetes in Pets

We may be aware of the increase in diabetes among people in the US, but with more pets living a sedentary lifestyle coupled with the rise in pet obesity, diabetes cases in pets are also increasing. VetSource estimates that 1 in 300 cats and 1 in 250 dogs will develop diabetes during their lifetime.

Diabetes is more common in older pets, but younger pets can also be affected. This serious disease can not only affect the quality of life of your pet, but it can also lead to secondary health problems such as bacterial and fungal skin infections, bladder inflammation, and heart and kidney problems.

With your veterinarian’s help, it is possible to manage diabetes in pets effectively. However, pet owners must have an awareness of the risks and signs of diabetes and what they can do to help their pets. November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month, making it the perfect time to delve deeper into this topic.

The Pathogenesis of Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is the most commonly diagnosed form of diabetes and is a disease of the pancreas. When a pet eats a meal, the nutrients from the food are broken down into glucose, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and then transferred into the cells. For this transfer of glucose into the cells, a hormone called insulin is required.

When the body does not produce enough insulin or is not responding to the normal amount of insulin produced, glucose builds up in the bloodstream, causing diabetes. This excess of glucose results in several symptoms, including:

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

Pets with diabetes might also be more lethargic than usual, have a dull coat, and be prone to urinary tract infections. Dogs with diabetes also are likely to develop cataracts.

Risks of Diabetes in Pets

When pets suffer from diabetes, we must treat the problem appropriately. Untreated diabetes can lead to complications and is inevitably fatal. Uncontrolled diabetes can result in:

Starvation – When the body cannot use glucose as its primary energy source, it must rely instead on stored fat and muscle. Many pets with diabetes begin to use their fat stores and muscles for nutrition, resulting in extreme wasting, even if the pet is eating. 

Ketoacidosis – When the body uses fats and proteins to create energy, it makes waste products. These waste products, called ketones, can make pets very sick if they accumulate in the blood. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a known diabetic complication and can cause pets to become extremely weak, dehydrated, and unable to keep food down. Without treatment, DKA is fatal.

Neuropathy – Cats are known for nerves that are especially sensitive to excess glucose in the bloodstream. If blood sugar remains high, cats will develop diabetic neuropathy that causes them to walk abnormally.

Managing Diabetes in Pets 

A diagnosis of diabetes for your pet can feel overwhelming, but with early detection, you and your pet’s veterinarian can manage the disease effectively. With a multi-pronged approach, pets can still live healthy, long lives.

Successful treatment often includes:

Insulin injections. Unfortunately, pets do not respond well to the oral blood sugar medications people sometimes take. Therefore, daily insulin injections are necessary to control diabetes in pets. Many pet owners feel anxious about administering shots, but with some instruction and practice, most people become comfortable with the procedure.

Dietary therapy. Depending on the pet, a diet change or weight-loss plan may help manage diabetes. Your pet’s doctor will make a diet recommendation based on each situation.

Careful home monitoring. You know your pet the best, and your observations are vital in helping us manage your pet’s condition. Be sure to monitor eating, drinking, urination, and any behavior changes. Many pet owners also monitor their pet’s blood sugar and weight at home.

Regular medical progress exams. Every pet responds differently to treatment, and finding the correct insulin dose is often a process. Regular blood and urine testing will be necessary as we find the right balance initially, and we recommend periodic testing moving forward so we can make any adjustments needed to keep your pet feeling their best.

Diabetic pets need extra care and attention, but treatment is manageable. If you have questions or concerns about your pet or think they are exhibiting signs of diabetes, please make an appointment with your primary veterinarian for an evaluation.

Importantly, since diabetes can be life-threatening, please visit our ER if your pet is experiencing a diabetic emergency. Call us at 757-935-9111 if you have any questions or concerns.

About Us

The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.