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Pet Health

Diabetes: More than just a sugar problem

By November 16, 2022 No Comments

If your pet seems to always be at the water bowl or begging to relieve themselves more than normal, diabetes may be a concern.

What does it mean to be diabetic?

Glucose (sugar) is the main energy source for the body’s cells. Insulin produced by the pancreas signals the cells to absorb glucose from the blood. Diabetes mellitus (diabetes) occurs when there are elevated levels of blood glucose levels because of not enough insulin, or insulin resistance (the inability of cells to recognize insulin signals).

Here’s the issue: when cells don’t absorb glucose, they “think” the body is starving and signal it to break down fat stores to ketones, and muscle to protein to use as alternate energy sources. This results in abnormal fat loss, muscle wasting, and weakness.

 If diabetes isn’t treated or remains uncontrolled, the pet may become very sick and need to be hospitalized.

What pets are at greatest risk of diabetes?

  • Both cats and dogs can get diabetes—usually middle-age or older.
  • Female dogs tend to get diabetes more often than male dogs.
  • Diabetes is more common in male cats than in females.

What are some causes of diabetes?

  • Risk factors include obesity, chronic pancreatitis, long-term use of medications that contain corticosteroids and chronic progesterone exposure (in unspayed female dogs).
  • Other conditions that make a pet more likely to develop diabetes or interfere with treatment include heart disease, hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), hyperadrenocorticism (an overactive adrenal gland), kidney disease, pancreatitis, skin infections, periodontal disease, and urinary tract infections.

Is managing my pet’s diabetes really all that that critical?

Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can make pets susceptible to other diseases or conditions, such as:

  • Cataracts (which can lead to blindness)
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Kidney failure
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Diabetic neuropathy

Another potential complication is diabetic ketoacidosis, a medical emergency due to severe changes in pH (acidity of the body) and electrolyte imbalances. This condition can be life-threatening and can occur before diabetes is diagnosed or during treatment.

Signs to watch out for include:

  • Increased thirst/excessive water consumption
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss

These symptoms can also be signs of other diseases or medical conditions, so it’s important that we examine your pet to determine what’s causing them. Let us know if your dog or cat shows any of these signs. 

If your pet has diabetes and stops eating and drinking, it may be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis. Other signs of ketoacidosis include:

  • Sweet-smelling breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lack of energy/weakness
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing diabetes is relatively simple.

Your veterinarian will examine your pet and perform blood and urine testing. Persistently high glucose levels in the blood (hyperglycemia) and the urine (glucosuria) are often enough to confirm the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. In some cases, fructosamine will also be assessed; this shows average blood glucose levels over the last one to two weeks.

What do I need to know about treating my pet’s diabetes?

Diabetes cannot be cured. Successful management requires treatment with insulin, treating any underlying causes, using diet to minimize glucose spikes, and monitoring the pet’s response to the treatment with glucose curves.

  • Long-term insulin injections, usually twice daily, will be required.
  • Careful monitoring of glucose levels is required.
    • Monitoring pets with diabetes is crucial to make sure they’re responding well to insulin therapy and other aspects of the diabetes management plan.
  • A well-balanced diet is an essential part of effective diabetes management. Your veterinarian will recommend the best diet for your dog or cat’s individual needs.
  • Pets need to be fed at the same time each day (with their insulin) and the amount of food and treats should be kept consistent to help keep their glucose controlled.

How do I manage my pet’s diabetes at home?

If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, you play an incredibly important role in helping to manage the disease. Giving insulin injections and monitoring glucose levels quickly becomes routine for most pet owners.

We will make sure you understand how to give insulin and how to monitor your pet’s blood sugar, so you become comfortable with the process.

  • Your veterinarian will recommend insulin type and dosing instructions.
  • Monitoring usually is performed with a glucose curve.
    • We will teach you how to use a glucometer to check your pet’s blood glucose levels at regular intervals for at least 12 hours – between insulin injections.
    • Curves are used by our veterinary team to check your pet’s response to insulin.
      • Your veterinarian will recommend when a change in insulin dose is needed and when a glucose curve needs to be repeated.
      • Do not change your pet’s insulin without his advice.
    • We may recommend using a continuous glucose monitor for your pet.
      • This is an implantable device that stays in your pet’s skin for up to 14 days and can be scanned with a sensor or a smartphone.
    • Exercising your pet consistently and minimizing stress is important for diabetes control.
    • Continue to monitor your pet and let us know if you see changes in:
    • Appetite
    • Energy level
    • Grooming habits (particularly in cats)
    • Water consumption
    • Urination (amount of urine)
    • Weight

Is diabetes something my pet will have forever?

  • Although diabetes is never cured, some cats go into diabetic remission with treatment and no longer need insulin injections.
  • Cats may stay in diabetic remission for months or even years. Some may revert to requiring insulin.
  • Cats have the best chance of going into remission when insulin therapy is started quickly and adjusted appropriately, as well as using a suitable diet.

 Give Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital a call today if your pet is showing any signs of diabetes or if you’re concerned about your pet’s health. As long as the disease is well managed, many dogs and cats with diabetes can enjoy a good quality of life.

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