Diabetes is one of the most common health problems in middle-aged cats and dogs. For owners, it can be frightening, explained Jessica Vogelsang of PetMD, a pet health and wellness website. Diabetes is often a lifelong condition that requires your vigilance to help manage it. In veterinary medicine, it can refer to two unrelated conditions, namely diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) and the less common diabetes insipidus (water diabetes).
Diabetes occurs when there is a loss or dysfunction of the beta cells of the pancreas. In certain cases, the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin, making your pet rely on the external administration of the hormone. This is described as insulin-deficient diabetes or Type 1 diabetes. It also happens when your pet produces insulin, but its body does not respond to it, a condition known as insulin-resistant diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
But there’s good news. If your pet’s diabetes is managed, they continue to lead long and happy lives.
A Closer Look at Pet Diabetes
Banfield Pet Hospital released its 2016 State of Pet Health report, compiling the medical data of 2.5 million dogs and nearly 500,000 cats treated there in 2015, wrote DVM 360, a vet industry news website. The Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge team (BARK) aggregated data from 925 of its hospitals to find 10-year trends in common diagnoses among dogs and cats.
In 2011, the report found a 32% increase in canine diabetes and a 16% increase in feline diabetes since 2006. Diabetes cases continued to grow in prevalence among canines as they increased by 79.7% since 2006, up from 13.1 cases per 10,000 to 23.6 cases per 10,000 in 2015. Additionally, the prevalence of diabetes among felines rose 18.1% over the same time period, an increase from 57.2 cases per 10,000 to 67.6 cases per 10,000.
In Stijn J.M. Niessen and colleagues’ report titled “The Big Diabetes Survey: Perceived Frequency and Triggers for Euthanasia,” a total of 1,192 veterinarians participated, indicating a median one in 10 diabetic pets were euthanized at diagnosis and a median one in 10 within one year due to a lack of success or compliance.
The opinion of the majority of clinicians was that owners were “probably” (41.8%) or “definitely” (26.7%) more likely to consider insulin injection therapy when animals were insured. Factors considered by clinicians to be of “great importance” in the owner’s decision-making when euthanizing their pets, stopping the treatment, or not beginning diabetes mellitus treatment, were “concurrent disease” (45%), “costs” (44%), “age of the animal” (37%), “problems obtaining adequate control” (35%), “welfare of the pet” (35%), “too much impact on owner’s lifestyle” (32%), and “injection problems” (17%).
Based on the clinicians’ experience, they considered “QoL (quality of life) of the animal” (60%), “costs of treatment” (52%), “having to inject their animal” (48%), “lifestyle changes the owner has to make” (38%), “hypoglycemia” (23%), and “diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)” (7%) to be of great concern for owners of diabetic pets.
The clinicians themselves cited “QoL of the animal” (63%) as the most commonly stated factor of “great concern” along with “hypoglycemia” (46%), “difficulties in getting the owner on board with the treatment” (44%), “DKA” (43%), “difficulties in obtaining rapid and adequate control” (42%), and “costs of treatment” (13%).
The Causes of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
There is no one cause of diabetes among your furry friends, though it is a genetic condition in some. For example, certain breeds like Australian terriers, beagles, Samoyeds, and Burmese are more prone to developing diabetes. Obesity, pituitary disease, adrenal disease, and other underlying medical conditions can make your pet more susceptible. Medications like steroids can also induce this condition among dogs and cats.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetic pets have elevated blood sugar that spills over into the urine. If you see your pet drinking and urinating more frequently, it’s a sign of diabetes. This happens when glucose in your pet’s urine prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing water into the bloodstream. Another warning sign of this condition is increased hunger, meaning its body cannot utilize glucose for energy even when there are high levels of it in the blood. This prompts your pet to consume more food, thereby raising its blood glucose levels.
Despite your pet’s increased appetite, it may lose weight since its body can’t do anything with the calories it consumed. Other symptoms of diabetes are vomiting, cataracts in dogs, abnormal gait in cats, and poor coat condition. If diabetes is left untreated, it can result in liver dysfunction and ketoacidosis. If your pet is vomiting or appears disoriented, have it checked by your vet immediately. Diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to pancreatitis, brain swelling, kidney failure, and rapid death.
Treatment of Diabetes
Insulin injections are the mainstay of diabetes treatment for dogs and cats. Glargine and PZI are the insulins most commonly used in cats. NPH and Vetsulin insulins are the first used in dogs. Each one has its own pros and cons.
The current American Animal Hospital Association Diabetes Management Guidelines suggested multiple options to allow you and your vet to select the best insulin for your pet, mentioned PetMD’s Vogelsang.
Injections are administered twice a day and timed with a meal. Treatment also requires regular examinations, blood and urine tests, including monitoring your furry companion’s weight, appetite, drinking, and urination, reminded non-for-profit corporation American Veterinary Medical Association.
Caring For Your Diabetic Pooch or Feline
Keep your pet’s blood sugar to normal levels and avoid reaching too-high or too-low levels since these can jeopardize their life. There’s no one size fit all for diabetes treatment, so what might work for your pet might be ineffective for your friend’s pet.
A high-fiber diet is recommended for diabetic dogs. Daily exercise is recommended. Be sure to speak with your vet about which exercise program best suits your pet after considering its overall health, age, and weight. Female dogs diagnosed with diabetes should be spayed.
For felines, it is recommended to feed them a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet. Like dogs, daily exercise is also recommended. However, you might experience difficulty to practice a daily fitness regimen with your cat, but your vet can help you develop an exercise plan.
Your pet should be monitored for long-term complications like cataracts, hind leg weakness due to low blood potassium, high blood pressure, or lower urinary tract infections.
Similar to humans, your furry companions may also develop diabetes in their lifetime. Consult your vet if your pet starts to drink more water or urinate more often. Don’t wait until your pet’s diabetes escalates. If your pet is obese, it is more likely to have diabetes. Whether your furry companion’s diabetes is genetic or a product of its lifestyle, treatment and management will have to start with you.