Diabetes Recognition and Treatment

Diabetes is a serious, chronic illness that many people are familiar with to some degree – often having had friends or family members affected at some time in their lives. Our dog and cat family members can also suffer from Diabetes Mellitus – lack of insulin production which can lead to many different symptoms.

The first sign of diabetes in animals is usually increased water consumption and increased urine output. For cats this usually means MUCH large clumps in the litter box. Our diabetic dogs may sometimes have accidents in the house. This happens because the increased blood sugar levels leads to glucose in the urine and that will cause more urine to be produced leading to the increased thirst. In some cases when cleaning up any accidents dog owners have commented that the urine was “sticky” because of the sugar content.

Another sign of possible diabetes in dogs and cats is significant weight loss. Often these animals have a good or even exaggerated appetite. Despite having high blood sugar, their bodies are “starving” for energy with the lack of insulin preventing the cells being able to access and use the carbohydrate energy. I have diagnosed many skinny cats with diabetes and have had owners say “I did not think she was diabetic because I think of diabetes being associated with obesity”. Sure enough obesity in our pets like in people can be a risk factor for development of diabetes. This is especially true for overweight cats. However once diabetes has developed these “fat cats” will dramatically lose weight – unfortunately this is not a healthy weight loss strategy.

Diabetes in animals can lead to some of the same problems that we can see with this disease in people. The immune system is suppressed in these individuals leading to increased risk of infection particularly bladder infections with dilute sugar containing urine. Neuromuscular weakness – often seen as drooping or weak back legs of cats can develop. Unregulated diabetics can spiral out of control to develop Ketoacidosis – a very serious and potentially fatal condition with anorexia, vomiting, severe dehydration and possible multi-organ failure.

Essentially all diabetic dogs will require lifelong insulin therapy which is given twice a day by injection at home by the dog owner. While this can seem challenging, most dogs and their care giving families develop effective routines around feeding time that makes insulin treatment a very practical and comfortable procedure. Veterinarians rely on blood testing – usually done periodically in clinic to monitor our patients progress. Some dog and cat owners have been taught to use a glucometer – a device that can measure blood glucose levels from a tiny drop of blood to help manage their animal’s diabetes

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