What Is Diabetes?

Just like us, our furry friends can also suffer from diabetes. This article aims to educate you on what pets are at risk, symptoms to look out for, diagnosing diabetes and treatment methods.



Diabetes Mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body cannot process glucose normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by the insulin hormone. Diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or does not use the insulin produced correctly.


Cats and dogs can get both Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.


Type 1 Diabetes:


Type 1 is also known as insulin deficiency caused by the body not being able to produce insulin. In type 1 diabetes there is a destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis.


Type 2 Diabetes:


Cats are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, however obesity, diseases and medications can result in type 2 diabetes in dogs also. In type 2 diabetes the body's cells do not respond to the insulin produced. In some cases, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed through improvements in diet and exercise.


Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening illness, however, it can be successfully treated in the majority of cases.


Who is at risk?


As mentioned earlier, cats are more likely to suffer from the Type 2 diabetes form of the disease.


Cats at Risk:


  • Middle-aged cats to older aged cats

  • Overweight cats - these are four times more likely to develop diabetes than cats at a healthy weight.

  • Some pedigrees like Siamese are predisposed to diabetes

  • Those on medications such as glucocorticoids steroids (often used to treat feline asthma).


Dogs at Risk:


  • Middle-aged to older dogs

  • Overweight dogs

  • Certain breeds can be predisposed such as German Shepherds, Keeshonds and Samoyeds

  • Dogs with Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism)

  • Intact (not spayed) female dogs

  • Those on glucocorticoid (steroid) medications


However young cats and dogs can also get diabetes, but it is thought this is due to genetics.


Symptoms to look out for:

  • Increased thirst

  • Frequent urination

  • Weight loss, even if there seems to be an increase in appetite

  • Can also have a decrease in appetite

  • Their coat appears dull and unkept

  • Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)

  • Sleeping more than usual or just generally less active

  • Recurring infections or chronic infections

  • You may notice a change in the smell of their breath as well


If you notice any of these signs then please make an appointment with your vet as this could indicate diabetes. These signs can also indicate other health problems. Early intervention is the best chance of keeping your animal happy and healthy for as long as possible.



Diagnosing Diabetes


Diabetes can be diagnosed by a physical examination by a vet along with urine and blood tests. Your vet will lookout for high levels of sugar in the blood and urine as an indication of diabetes. A special blood test (fructosamine) may also be performed to look at blood sugar levels. All of these tests can be performed in our in-house laboratory.


Treatment


Diabetes is a condition that needs lifelong treatment and a lot of commitment. At the early stages, it can take time to get your pet stabilised.


Insulin:


Diabetes is usually treated with insulin which is administered as an injection under the skin. This can appear alarming, but don't worry, you will be taught how to give an insulin injection by a member of the nursing team or one of our vets.


There are different types of insulin and each dose is different for each pet, therefore it is important not to change the dose without veterinary instruction. To get to a stage where your pet is stable, their insulin dose may be altered over time based on monitoring and blood tests.


Along with blood glucose monitoring, diet and exercise are also important.


Food:


Certain foods are better for diabetic dogs as they release sugars more slowly. Your vet can recommend which diet they think is most suitable for your pet.


Exercise:


Exercise also plays a role in diabetes management. Exercise uses up blood sugars so diabetic dogs benefit from an exercise routine.

There are many elements that can be monitored at home such as fluid intake, urination frequency, appetite, weight etc. Keeping a diary of these and bringing it along to your vet checks can be helpful, booking in for a nurse appointment might be something useful, they can help create a routine book with you.


Check-ups:


Frequent check-ups with the vets can also help. This allows the vet to check the blood glucose levels by doing a blood glucose curve. This allows the vet to see the pet's blood glucose change throughout the day. This is something we frequently do at Roundwood Vets.


Hypoglycemia


If your pet has diabetes, it is important to also monitor for signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and diabetic ketoacidosis (not enough insulin in the body to control blood sugar levels). Having low blood sugar is an emergency and can be fatal.


Your vet will discuss with you the signs to look out for and when to take action.


If your pet is hypoglycaemic they need to be given sugar. You can rub something very sugary such as honey or jam onto their gums and contact your vet immediately.

Just remember to make sure the jam has not got any xylitol in the ingredients as this is toxic to our furry friends.


Diabetic Ketoacidosis


Diabetic ketoacidosis is also a medical emergency and you should contact your vet immediately.


Signs of this may include:

  • Increased thirst/drinking,

  • Lethargy

  • Weakness

  • Vomiting

  • Dehydration

  • Weight loss with muscle wasting.


Most well managed diabetic patients that respond to treatment can have a very good quality of life. With a strict routine, commitment, lifestyle changes and regular vet checks they can live a happy life.


Having a pet with diabetes can seem like a scary thing but can be easily managed with treatment such as food, exercise, insulin and checkups.


If you're concerned your pet has diabetes, everyone at Roundwood is happy to have a chat about any worries, this isn’t something you need to figure out alone.



To avoid obesity causing type 2 diabetes, check out last week's blog on tackling obesity.


Order Dr Hannah Parkin's Amazing Guide To Caring For Your New Puppy.
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