Though most of us will have heard of diabetes, not all are aware that it can affect our pets too. Diabetes occurs when there are abnormally high sugar levels in the blood, caused by a problem with insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that works to move sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells after a meal.
Types of Diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes, referred to as Type 1 and Type 2. Interestingly, dogs tend to get Type 1 diabetes while cats are much more prone to Type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the dog is unable to make any insulin at all. In Type 2 diabetes, the body does not respond to the insulin that is being produced as it should. Type 1 diabetics will require insulin injections to be given to them for the remainder of their life. This is often the case for Type 2 diabetics also, however in rare instances some patients can be managed with oral medication while others will be able to achieve complete remission (whereby they are no longer diabetic) over time.
So, what causes Diabetes?
Diabetes can be a genetic issue. We know that certain breeds such as the Poodle, Samoyed, Burmese cat and Siamese cat are all predisposed. We now know that those who are prone to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) are more likely to develop diabetes during their lifetime. For those cats with type 2 diabetes, many will be overweight and being fed inappropriately. Diabetes can also be caused by certain medications, for example, it may occur after prolonged corticosteroid use.
What do we need to be looking out for?
Signs of diabetes can come on slowly over time or may seem to appear out of the blue. Owners will notice that their pets are suddenly much thirstier than they used to be and are urinating a lot more; perhaps having accidents in the middle of the night. Animals will typically become much hungrier, sometimes to the point that they are begging for food and raiding the bins. Despite this increased appetite, weight loss is commonly seen. This typically occurs without any change in their exercise or feeding schedule.
On top of these signs, we may notice that an animal is vomiting more regularly, becomes much more inactive and has sweet-smelling breath. A dog that has had untreated diabetes for a while may develop cataracts over their eyes which can reduce vision. Cataracts are rarely seen in cats. However, infrequently they sometimes develop a ‘flat-footed’ posture, whereby their back feet and ankles are touching the ground. The technical term for this is a ‘plantigrade stance’.
How is it diagnosed?
Luckily, diabetes is very easy to check for and can be picked up on simple, routine blood and urine tests that we can run within our clinic. Many diabetics will also have urinary tract infections. So, we recommend that the urine of any newly diagnosed diabetic be checked for signs of infection.
Some animals will be clinically quite well at the time of their diagnosis. However, others may be experiencing ‘diabetic ketoacidosis’ and be in a critical condition. Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening complication that occurs in uncontrolled diabetics. These patients will need to be hospitalised with us for intensive treatment as we stabilise them and their blood sugar levels.
What treatment is available?
Receiving the news that your beloved pet has diabetes can be a hard pill to swallow. Our team will be there every step of the way to guide you and offer advice. The vast majority of our patients will be managed with a veterinary insulin, ideal for use in diabetic pets. As with human diabetes, the insulin can be administered to pets either by syringe or an insulin pen. Your vet will discuss the options and agree a tailored plan that suits you and your pet.
Those owners whose pets are prescribed Caninsulin and are part of our Healthy Pet Club receive a 20% discount on every bottle purchased. To find out more about the 20% discount on selected lifetime care medications as part of the Healthy Pet Club membership >
Initially, some can find giving the injections a little overwhelming. However, within a few days most will find that they are more than comfortable with the procedure and it becomes second nature.
As well as providing daily insulin, we recommend a prescription diet which has been designed for diabetics. This will be high in protein but low in carbohydrates. For those Type 2 diabetics who need to lose weight, we can discuss how to achieve this via a combination of diet and exercise.
What is my pet’s prognosis?
Thankfully, when treated promptly most dogs and cats can go on to lead relatively normal lives. They will not necessarily have a reduced lifespan. In the initial management of diabetes, we tend to see patients quite often as there is a chance of remission in cats with prompt early treatment. We also establish the most effective insulin dose and get everything under control. Animals will need to come in regularly for blood and occasionally urine tests throughout their lifetime. As time goes on and we have established the most appropriate treatment protocol, we will continue with check-ups in our clinic to ensure all is okay, though they will be less frequent.