Pets, as with humans, can be affected by diabetes. And with the number of overweight and obese pets on the rise, so too is the incidence of diabetes.
Diabetes in animals is similar to that in humans. It occurs when the body does not make enough insulin, stops producing it, or doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is responsible for allowing glucose (sugar) in the blood to enter the cells, thereby giving the cells the energy they need to function. The job of insulin is to help keep the blood sugar from getting too high or too low.
With diabetes—and impaired insulin production or function—the cells don’t have enough sugar to function properly. Instead, the body begins to break down tissues which are converted to sugar. This causes the blood sugar to rise even higher. With prolonged high blood sugar levels, organ damage occurs and even death if the pet isn’t treated.
Though diabetes affects less than 1% of dogs and cats, it’s important to be aware of the risks for this disease and know the common signs.
Certain breeds of dogs are at a higher risk for developing diabetes, including Australian Terriers, Beagles, Bichons Frises, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Fox Terriers, Keeshonds, Miniature Poodles, Pugs, Puli, Samoyeds, and Miniature Schnauzers. Older dogs and cats are more susceptible for developing diabetes, as well as inactive and obese pets.
As your pet ages, it’s important to continue with regular veterinary wellness checks, but also to watch for signs of diabetes, such as:
- increased thirst
- increased urination (a response to increased urination as the body tries to rid the excess glucose)
- increased appetite
- weight loss despite an increased appetite (your pet can’t convert the nutrients from food into sugar and instead the body begins to burn fat and muscle for energy)
- weakness or lethargy (less activity)
- poor skin condition
- dull, thin coat
If your pet has any of these signs, you should see take your pet to see your veterinarian right away. While there is no cure for diabetes, your veterinarian can easily diagnose it and create a treatment and management plan for your pet. As with people, diabetes is typically controlled with insulin injections, usually given once or twice a day following a meal. Your veterinary healthcare team will show you how to administer insulin injections and most pet owners become comfortable with giving injections very quickly.
Managing feeding times, diet, and exercise, combined with regular veterinary checkups are just as important as insulin injections. Your veterinarian will advise you of any diet changes that may be best for your pet and if your pet is overweight or obese, a plan will be devised to help your pet reach his/her ideal weight.
A diagnosis of diabetes can be overwhelming; but keep in mind that once a pet’s diabetes is properly managed, the prognosis is good. If left undiagnosed or untreated however, diabetes can lead to other, more serious health problems, including cataracts, blindness, urinary tract infections, enlarged liver, seizures, and ketoacidosis (a life-threatening complication).
Be aware of the signs of diabetes, because the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated.