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Diabetes awareness month: pets get diabetes, too

Aug 17

Categories: Blog

Its diabetes awareneness month for people but pets get diabetes, too. Diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, is one of the more common problems vets see in pets. This disease leads to chronic sugar overload meaning the blood glucose or "sugar" is too high. Insulin regulates sugar control and when your pets doesn't have enough or is blocked in your pet due to other medical problems, they can develop diabetes.

No single cause is known to be the blame for the development of diabetes but obese pets are at greatest risk. Diet and exercise play crucial roles in our prevention of this disease so go ahead ask your pet's vet.  The most common signs of diabetes is increased water consumption, an increase in urination frequency (also known as PU/PD: polyuria/polydipsia) and changes in appetite. Weight loss may also be a sign of diabetes. There may be other reasons for these signs (29 or more: it was a test question for drdeb in vet school:-), but diabetes is always considered a possible cause. So, if you notice any changes in your pet's behavior or physical appearance it's always a good idea to visit the veterinarian for a check up. If possible bring a sample of your pet's urine (no litter please) because along with a blood sample we can check for many of those problems on that list of 29!

Diabetes most commonly affects pets who are the 3 F's-"fat:female:forty"; although any age pet, boys included can be at risk. Cats may develop diabetes mosre commonly than dogs and they often can have 2 types: insulin dependent and insulin independent forms. Male cats may be at greater risk and certain dog breeds may also have a greater chance of diabetes development: Keeshond, miniature pinscher, and cairn terriers seem predisposed.

High blood sugar will not go away by itself and must be treated according to your pets needs and with veterinary supervision. If diabetes is left untreated emergency treatment and hospitalization for coma, blindness and death can occur. You will become very familiar with your veterinarian: many, if not all, of my diabetic pet owners have my cell phone number on speed dial. It's one of those diseases that at least in the beginning requires a lot of team work on everyone's part! Diet plays probably the most important role just like in people. Fortunately, our pets aren't tempted by choices so it's up to the pet parents to regulate the type and quantity of appropriate foods to establish a foundation of control. Dietary recommendation for pets have changed recently especially for cats so now might be a time to review these choices with your veterinarian. All dogs and most cats require insulin injections to stabilize blood sugar. Even though many oral medications exist as choices for people, these medications don't work very well in pet diabetes regulation.

Once the diagnosis, testing and stabilization is complete, your veterinary team will show you how to administer, store insulin properly and sometimes home test your pet for response to insulin therapy. Remember, diet plans need to be followed, too, especially if your pet needs to lose weight. Just like in people, losing 10-20% of excess body weight can markedly imporve response to diabetes medications.

You'll become "frequent fliers" at your pet's vet during the first 3-6 months as we monitor your pet's progress. Some times a quick outpatient testing and re-evaluation is performed, but sometimes a blood sugar "curve" is performed in the veterinary hospital to assess the effects,duration, and proper dosing of insulin. Once the blood sugar is normalized the visit will usually be 2-4 times a year in conjunction with other well care/preventative care needs of your pet.

With diabetes, consistency is key to ensuring your pets best health. Close attention and keeping a diary will be the best way to assess success. Giving your pet medication and proper nutrition in the same quantity at the same time each day  is ideal. There is, of course, some allowed variation for real life situations that may occur. Best to ask your vet when in doubt!  If you're going on vacation or out of town, it may be better to board your pet at your veterinary hospital or have a pet care giver familiar with insulin injection techniques and schedules to care for your pet when you're away.

Here on some suggestions as you care for your diabetic pet:

  • feed a diet that is based on your veterinarian's recommendation: this consistency is  paramount in disease control
  • provide regular, controlled exercise in a routine daily fashion: no weekend warriors here, please
  • give medication/insulin at the same time every day: usually twice daily: if you need to adjust: check with the vet
  • do not give insulin if your pet is not eating, is vomiting, and or has diarrhea. Call your veterinarian for immediate advice and recommendations
  • keep a small container of Karo Syrup on hand in case of low blood sugar complications: your pet may be acting sleepy, disoriented, weak, lethargic if the blood sugar gets too low
  • advise any veterinarian or emergency specialist if your pet is taking insulin-certain drugs can affect the way your pet responds to insulin
  • spay and neuter your pets: the sex hormones and pregnancy (can you say gestational diabetes?), just like in people can really affect sugar balance: making regulation near impossible- "mother nature" is not one with whom to battle!

Treating a diabetic pet requires a high level of commitment and dedication from the pet parent as well as the veterinary team. With appropriate treatment, support, and encouragement, patience and love, your pet can live a normal comfortable life with this disease. Ask your pet's vet for help and if you feel you need more information or support, well, Animal Health Care is there as your pet's veterinary resource!