Terrier Dog  and Cat Sitting on a Sofa

November is national pet diabetes awareness month.  Therefore, we wanted to present answers to some frequently asked questions about pet diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease caused by lack of insulin that affects the level of glucose, or sugar, in your dog or cat’s blood.  The glucose comes from the food that your pet eats.  The food is broken down into very small components by the digestive system so that the body can use it for energy.  Insulin is required for the cells throughout the body to absorb glucose.  Insulin is produced in the pancreas in response to the amount of glucose in the bloodstream. Healthy pets produce insulin easily, but pets with diabetes don’t. In canine and feline diabetes, unused glucose builds up in the bloodstream.

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is reported to affect anywhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 dogs and cats.  But experts believe that this disease is on the rise.

Can diabetes lead to other health problems?

Yes, dogs and cats with diabetes can develop other health problems.  For dogs, the most common complication of diabetes is cataract formation.  Persistently high blood glucose levels make the lens of the eye become opaque, causing blindness.

For cats, weakness  of the hind legs is a common complication.  Persistently high blood glucose levels may damage nerves, causing weakness and muscle wasting.  For this reason, early diagnosis of diabetes in you dog or cat is especially important.

What are the risk factors for diabetes?

Risk factors for dogs include age, (middle-aged to older dogs are more affected), genetics, obesity and recurring pancreatitis.  It is suspected that some breeds are more at risk.

Risk factors for cats include age (older cats are more susceptible), obesity and physical inactivity.  Other disorders or diseases such as pancreatitis or hyperthyroidism can cause insulin reduction or resistance.

Some common signs of diabetes in dogs and cats include:

Excessive thirst

Excessive urination – your pet produces more urine per day and may have “accidents” in the house (dogs) or outside the litterbox (cats)

Excessive weight loss despite a normal appetite and eating habits

Lethargy (less active/sleeps more)

Cloudy eyes in dogs

Decreased grooming in cats

Decreased jumping ability and rear limb weakness in cats

Thinning, dry and dull hair

How do I know if my dog or cat is diabetic?

If you observe your pet exhibiting signs of diabetes, a simple blood or urine test at your veterinarian’s office can help to confirm the diagnosis.  Your veterinarian can then advise you on the appropriate next steps, treatment and care of your pet.

How do I take care of a pet with diabetes?

Although there is no cure for diabetes, the disease can be successfully managed with the help of your veterinarian. Daily insulin injections are usually required to restore your pet’s insulin level and control their blood glucose levels.  Diet plays a vital role in helping to keep your pet’s diabetes regulated.  A high-quality, consistent source of protein is an essential part of any diabetic diet. Consistent timing and size of meals is also very important.

Exercise can help dogs with diabetes, but it needs to be regulated because activity affects blood glucose levels. Frequent veterinary check-ups can help identify changes in your pet’s condition and help you manage this disease successfully over time.

Managing your dog or cat’s diabetes will require some effort, but the rewards are well worth it.  Pets whose diabetes is under control are less likely to develop complications.