Media reports have suggested that more and more people are being diagnosed with diabetes and it appears that our pets are similarly affected. Banfield Vet Hospitals regularly review the health of their patients and have recently evaluated the medical data of 2.5 million dogs and almost 500,000 cats that were presented to their hospitals in 2015. They discovered that the incidence of diabetes in dogs has almost doubled in the 10 years from 2006 to 2016; in cats, the increase was 18%. This suggests that all pet parents should be aware of this medical condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes develops when the pancreas doesn't produce enough of the insulin hormone. Insulin is needed to help move glucose into the cells of the body where it is used for energy. The result of this lack of insulin is high levels of glucose in the blood, which manifests as increased hunger and thirst, excessive urination, and weight loss.
The cause and symptoms of the disease is the same in both dogs and cats; however, there are differences. Diabetes in dogs is much like our type 1 diabetes. It's an absolute deficiency of insulin and affected dogs need to be given replacement insulin for the rest of their lives. In cats, the disease is similar to type 2 diabetes in people; insulin is needed, but with good management and the right diet, the disease may go into remission.
How is Diabetes Diagnosed and Treated?
Any pet with increased water intake and urination will have blood and urine tests to identify the cause. In a diabetic pet, the key finding is very high glucose levels in both blood and urine. Cats in particular can have higher than normal blood glucose because they're stressed in the clinic, so the test results can be misleading. An alternative test is to measure blood fructosamine levels; this is a protein in the blood that reflects blood glucose levels over the previous few weeks.
Treatment involves one or two daily injections of insulin and regular blood tests to make sure the prescribed dose of insulin is keeping glucose levels within normal limits. It's important that diabetic pets are fed the same amount of food at the same times each day, and their exercise levels are kept consistent. This makes it easier to regulate their blood glucose.
If a diabetic cat is diagnosed and treated quickly and their diet is modified, then there's a very real possibility that they will no longer need insulin.
The pet parents of diabetic dogs and cats should be alert for any symptoms that suggest their disease is no longer being controlled. These include general signs of illness, weight loss, thirst, and disorientation. If there are any doubts about how well their diabetes is being managed, a visit to the vet is in order to perform a blood glucose curve. This test measures their glucose levels at several times during the day to assess their response to their insulin injections.
Diabetes in dogs and cats is a serious condition, but one with which pets can live. Proper treatment relies on time and effort on the part of their pet parents and a close relationship with their veterinarian. With the right care, diabetic pets can enjoy a relatively normal life.