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Diagnosing and Managing Diabetes in Your Pet

I think that I’ve said this in a previous blog, but after writing so many blogs- they start to seem to run together in my mind. So if I’m repeating myself- I’m sorry. Although there are so many differences between our species- we share lots of diseases. As you know, our pets can fall victim to cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease- the list goes on and on. The same goes for diabetes- which is a growing problem among both our human population as well as our pets.

Diabetes can affect both dogs and cats (about 1% of dogs and cats develop the disease)- and can develop due to a number of different contributing factors. In both species, very similar to Diabetes in humans, your pet is unable to make enough insulin, stops producing insulin altogether or is unable to utilize the insulin they produce effectively.

When your pet eats, carbohydrates are converted to simple sugars. The most common sugar is glucose. Glucose is absorbed by your pet in the intestines where it goes into their blood and travels to cells. Your pet’s cells use insulin to help turn the glucose into fuel. With the wrong amount of insulin, glucose can’t enter the cells and can lead to high levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

Primary Risk Factors for Diabetes

Like in humans, one of the main risk factors is obesity- and obesity is a serious problem for pets in our country. More than half of the pets in the United States are either overweight or obese. The number pushes closer to 60% for dogs. Maintaining a healthy weight for your pet is one of the best things you can do to prevent diabetes

Age also plays a factor, with the majority of cases being diagnosed are pets that are middle aged or senior pets. It’s not to say that a young pet can’t develop the disease, it is just more common in older pets.

Genetics can also be a factor- as certain breeds are pre-disposed to the development of diabetes. These breeds are at higher risk:

  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepherds
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Pomeranians
  • Terriers
  • Toy Poodles
  • Miniature Schnauzers

Remember, any dog can develop diabetes- not just the breeds on this list- and just because a breed is on this list does not mean they will develop diabetes.

Symptoms to Watch For

Excessive Thirst and urination is the most common. As your pet drinks more, they need to urinate more. They may also lose weight- even though their appetite seems to be increased. They may appear to have less energy, or in some cases seem to be lethargic. Haircoat changes are also possible- and in dogs, their eyes may become cloudy.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your veterinarian will need to conduct a series of tests to confirm a diagnosis- just like a human doctor would do for their patients. A urinalysis will also be performed to check for a variety of components in the urine including ketones. Once a diagnosis is made, it is time to create a management plan for your pet.

Every pet is different, and it may take a few weeks to get the appropriate management plan in place. It is likely that you or someone in your household will need to give your pet daily insulin injections. Don’t worry, even if it sounds scary, it is actually easy when you get the hang of it. It may take you and your veterinarian a few weeks to find the best insulin dose for your pet based on your pet’s routine. Once you find the routine that works, stick to it.

Beyond daily insulin injections, diet is just as important. Your veterinarian will be able to recommend a diet that is right for your pet to help manage their glucose levels. The diet needs to be high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Proper portion control and timing of the meals in accordance with their injection times is critical.

Over time with proper management, your pet’s diabetes control will become second nature. It is important to have regular check-ups with your veterinarian to keep an eye out for any changes in their blood work.

For much more information on this disease- check out this scientific article from our friends at Veterinary Information Network.