Diabetes is a common disease affecting older pets and can lead to many health issues. The condition is not curable, but diabetes is more manageable when detected in the early stages. Our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital provides details about this disease to help you recognize the signs in case your pet is affected.

Diabetes in pets—The basics

The interaction between glucose and insulin is vital to your pet’s ability to provide energy to their body’s cells. When they ingest food, nutrients are broken down, and glucose, a type of sugar,  is one of the resultant components. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines by the bloodstream and transported throughout the body. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is required for glucose to be used by the body’s cells for energy. If the amount of insulin in the bloodstream is insufficient, or if the body is unable to respond to the insulin, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, a condition called hyperglycemia. Two types of diabetes can affect pets.

  • Insulin-deficiency diabetes — Also known as Type I diabetes, this condition occurs when your pet’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin. This can happen when the pancreas is damaged or is not functioning properly. Insulin-deficiency diabetes is the most common diabetes type in dogs.
  • Insulin-resistant diabetes — Also known as Type II diabetes, this condition occurs when the pancreas is producing insulin, but your pet’s cells aren’t responding to the insulin’s message to transport glucose into the cells. This is the most common diabetes type in cats.

Diabetes in pets—The damage

Regardless of the type, diabetes results in the same negative effects on your pet’s body. 

  • Starved cells — Their cells are not able to receive the glucose they need for energy, and they start breaking down fats and proteins to use as an alternate fuel source.
  • Hyperglycemia — High sugar levels in the bloodstream cause damage to many organs, including the kidneys, heart, eyes, blood vessels, and nerves.

Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to devastating problems for your pet. Conditions such as cataracts, enlarged liver, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, and seizures are all known effects of diabetes. In addition, in severe cases, your pet can develop ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition. Signs include rapid breathing, lethargy, vomiting, and sweet-smelling breath.

Diabetes in pets—The risk factors

While any pet can be affected by diabetes, certain risk factors include:

  • Age — Older pets are at higher risk for developing diabetes. Dogs typically are diagnosed between 7 and 10 years of age, and cats are typically over the age of 6.
  • Obesity — Overweight pets are predisposed to develop diabetes.
  • Breed — Certain dog breeds, including miniature schnauzers, miniature poodles, pugs, and toy poodles, are at higher risk.
  • Gender — Unspayed female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to be diabetic, and male cats are at higher risk than female cats.
  • Other conditions — Pets affected by other health issues, such as hyperadrenocorticism, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, heart disease, and kidney disease, are at higher risk.
  • Steroids — Long-term use of medications containing corticosteroids puts pets at higher risk.

Diabetes in pets—The signs

Warning signs that your pet could be affected by diabetes include:

  • Lethargy — You may notice a marked decrease in energy, and you may find your pet sleeping more.
  • Frequent urination — When glucose levels in the bloodstream reach a certain level, the glucose will overflow into the urine, drawing large volumes of water into the urinary tract. This results in your pet needing to urinate more frequently.
  • Increased thirst — Your pet will need to drink more to replace the fluid they lose when urinating so much.
  • Increased hunger — As your pet’s body breaks down fat and proteins to use as energy, they will become increasingly hungry.
  • Weight loss — Despite a good appetite, your pet will begin to lose weight as their condition progresses.
  • Cloudy eyes — Dogs frequently develop cataracts as the glucose damages the lenses in their eyes.
  • Unkempt coat — Cats frequently stop grooming, and their fur becomes dry and dull.

Diabetes in pets—The management

Diabetic pets require lifelong treatment, including a special diet, a good fitness regimen, and possibly daily insulin injections. Regular blood sugar monitoring is necessary to ensure your pet’s blood sugar stays near normal levels and doesn’t get too high or too low, which could result in a life-threatening condition. Management steps include:

  • Weight loss — If your pet is overweight, a weight loss program will be recommended to help them lose the excess pounds. Losing weight can cause some cats to go into remission.
  • Diet — Our veterinary professionals will recommend an appropriate diet for your diabetic pet. Typically, diabetic dogs require a high-fiber, low-fat diet, and cats require a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
  • Exercise — Diabetic pets need to maintain a moderate but consistent exercise routine to avoid sudden spikes or drops in glucose levels.
  • Insulin — Diabetic pets frequently require daily insulin shots under their skin to control their disease.
  • Monitoring — Our veterinary professionals will determine what glucose monitoring system is best for you and your pet.

Diabetes can significantly affect your pet’s quality of life, but if the disease is caught early and managed appropriately, they can live a long, happy life. If you are worried your pet may be diabetic, contact our team at Columbia Pike Animal Hospital so we can develop an appropriate management strategy.