In pets, there are two forms of diabetes. The less common form is called diabetes insipidus and refers to the body’s inadequate urine concentrating ability due to a lack of a specific hormone. The disease originates either from the brain or the kidneys, which would determine how we dictate treatment. We don’t see this type of diabetes very often. The more common type is called diabetes mellitus, which is a complex syndrome, ultimately resulting in increased blood glucose levels, otherwise referred to as hyperglycemia.
There are many factors that can lead to diabetes — obesity, poor diet, genetics and problems with the pancreas, to name a few. Ultimately the body reduces its ability to produce insulin, the blood glucose levels rise, and the pet will start to show clinical signs at home. The most common clinical signs observed would be increased drinking/urinating and weight loss. If the disease is advanced, a pet owner may notice their animal, not eating, vomiting and showing signs of weakness and dehydration. Owners may notice that cats affected with the disease might walk differently or have trouble jumping. Both breeds can develop cataracts due to diabetes.
Cats usually develop the disease later in life, and male cats seem to be at higher risk than females. Tonkinese, Norwegian Forest and Burmese cats are the highest risk. Dogs also tend to develop diabetes later in life. Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers and Samoyed breeds appear to be at higher risk.
One or more of the above clinical signs ultimately bring the patient to the clinic and combined with a good history and physical exam lead the veterinarian to suggest blood and urine testing. These tests are how we diagnose diabetes mellitus. It would also allow your veterinarian to rule out or find other internal/metabolic concerns that may be happening at the same time — the most common of those being pancreatitis and urinary tract infections.
Although your veterinarian may suggest many things when it comes to treating diabetes, the mainstay of treatment is insulin. Unfortunately, diabetes Mellitus cannot be treated without insulin. Insulin is given in the form of an injection and is often given twice a day for the rest of the patient’s life. Along with insulin, there may be diet and lifestyle recommendations as well. Any secondary problems need to be addressed. The ultimate goal is strict control of the patient’s blood sugar levels, subsequently reducing the severity of clinical signs and preventing further complications. Diabetes should be treated as soon as possible to improve success and to limit complications.
Diabetes is a life-long chronic disease in most cases. Approximately 30% of cats have the ability to go into diabetic remission, but this is not the case for dogs. It will require good communication and follow up testing with your veterinarian to manage properly. All patients require routine bloodwork (unique to each patient) to find the right dose of insulin and to catch/treat possible complications quickly. Adding twice daily injections into your pet’s life may seem daunting, but you would be surprised how quickly you become a pro. Your veterinary team will be there to help you along the way.
If you feel your dog or cat may be showing signs of diabetes, please contact your veterinarian to schedule an exam and possible lab work.
Written by: Dr. Jeremy Mount, DVM