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Diabetes in Dogs and Cats      

Dr. Al Townshend

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus, is a condition that can occur when the body cannot utilize glucose. Glucose is the primary source of energy for the cells of the body. Insulin, which is produced by the cells of the pancreas, is necessary for the transport of glucose into the cells of the body. Without glucose, the cells cannot function properly.

There are two types of diabetes in pets as there are in humans. Type I diabetes is when there is little or no insulin being produced. Type II diabetes occurs when not enough insulin is produced, or the body no longer responds normally to the amounts of insulin produced by the pancreas, which is called insulin resistance.

Dogs most commonly have Type I diabetes, while cats can have either. Type II is the most common in cats. While many cats initially require daily insulin injections, the treatment goal is to correct the factors or conditions causing insulin resistance and eliminating the diabetes.

Risk Factors

  • Weight: Obesity is the most significant risk factor for both dogs and cats. Excess weight due to inactivity can predispose an animal to obesity and diabetes.
  • Life Stage: Diabetes usually occurs in older animals.
  • Breed: Some dog breeds known to have a higher risk of developing diabetes include: Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, and Goldens, to name a few.
  • Neutered male cats and unspayed female dogs are at greater risk.

Signs Associated with Diabetes

  • Increased thirst
  • Increase in urination
  • An increase in appetite
  • Weight loss despite eating more
  • Cats with diabetes often experience a dull heir coat
  • Dogs with diabetes often experience cataracts

Diagnosis of Diabetes

When a pet is showing signs, it is essential the Guardian gets the pet to the veterinarian where the diagnosis is made by testing for high blood glucose levels and high levels of sugar in the urine.

Treatment of Diabetes

  • Every pet diagnosed with diabetes is different. The treatment will be unique to the pet dependent of the species and type of diabetes and will require a close working relationship between the Guardian family and their veterinarian.
  • Early diagnosis is critical for quick control. Cats and dogs that are seriously ill from diabetes can require significant time in the hospital to recover and come under control.
  • Dogs generally will require the correct type of insulin at varying doses twice a day for the rest of their lives.
  • Cats usually require insulin initially, but about 80% of cats develop diabetes due to other stress or disease occurring in their lives. Finding that cause and correcting it can lead to the complete remission of diabetes.
  • Testing blood and urine frequently are essential in providing the correct daily dosage of insulin. Dosage can vary due to changes in activity, food, and other environmental factors.
  • Keeping the daily life of a diabetic consistent is an essential part of the control of blood sugar levels. Pets should receive the correct dosage of insulin at the same times every day. The pet should be fed the same amount of food at the same time every day, in relation to when the insulin is given (most pets should be fed just before the insulin is given to assure the insulin gets into the blood at the same time the digested food enters the bloodstream).

Diet Considerations

  • Cats seem to respond best to highly palatable high protein and low carbohydrate recipes, while dogs respond to high protein and low carbohydrate recipes and diets higher in fiber.
  • High protein and low carbohydrate recipes generally require less insulin, help control weight better, and are biologically appropriate foods for an animal that evolved as a carnivore.
  • Diets higher in fiber have worked well for some dogs by slowing the absorption of glucose and maintaining a more consistent blood glucose level longer.
  • It is essential to find the right food for each individual pet to ensure that diet helps to make a difference in the management of their diabetes diagnosis.

Additional Resources

Diabetes and Pets

Canine and Feline Diabetes

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