Diabetes in Dogs and Cats

What is diabetes, and how do I know if it’s affecting my dog or cat? What are the symptoms, testing, and treatment options available? Can this disease be cured? In this article, I will discuss diabetes in dogs and cats as well the prognosis for our “fur babies” afflicted by this challenging but often times controllable disease.

Diabetes Mellitus is a disease caused by dysfunction of the endocrine system of the body. Specifically, the pancreas which is responsible for creating Insulin, an important hormone that drives sugar into the cells of the body, fueling those cells to carry out their daily activities. While the exact cause of diabetes is not fully understood, it is thought that the body attacks its own pancreas, resulting in the destruction of the cells responsible for producing insulin. Factors including genetics, pancreatitis, obesity, or long term steroid use can increase the likelihood of your cat or dog becoming diabetic.

Type I diabetes, also known as insulin-dependent, occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough Insulin to meet the demands of the body. This is the most common form of diabetes in both dogs and cats. Type II diabetes occurs when the pancreas makes some insulin but cannot secrete enough to meet demand or the tissues of the body have difficulty absorbing insulin into the cells. Type II diabetes can be found only in cats.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

By far the most common signs of diabetes are increased thirst, urination, and weight loss despite a healthy appetite. These warnings signs should not be ignored, and any pet displaying these signs should be evaluated by a Veterinarian in order to look for underlying diseases including diabetes.

Testing for diabetes usually centers around a routine blood and urine test. High levels of sugar in the blood, and confirmed by sugar in the urine, are the typical findings to support a diagnosis of diabetes. While the kidneys are capable of absorbing sugar, there is a threshold amount which diabetic patients will exceed resulting in sugar present in their urine. In addition to diabetes, a urinary tract infection is also possible as the excess sugar attracts bacteria to urine. It is important to note that there are other causes of large amounts of sugar in the blood or urine, but by far the most common cause is diabetes.

After a diagnosis of diabetes is made, your veterinarian will likely recommend treatment. Treatment for diabetes centers around 3 principles: reducing clinical signs at home (drinking, urination, weight loss); preventing dropping your pet’s blood sugar too low, and preventing a diabetic crisis from occurring known as Diabetes Ketoacidosis. The standard treatment for diabetes is insulin injections and diet modification focusing on a low carbohydrate, higher protein diet. A member of our veterinary team will demonstrate how and when to give insulin to your pet.

Can Diabetes Be Cured?

In cats, the answer is yes! Some cats are able to achieve remission of their diabetes with insulin and diet therapy. Dogs, however, are unlikely to go into remission, and usually require treatment for life. Diabetic dogs can have full and rewarding lives, and managing their diabetes is possible with good compliance at home and correct over-site from the attending veterinarian.

It should be mentioned that diabetes can be a frustrating disease, and that not all patients respond to insulin therapy as well as we would like. Resistance to insulin injections or concurrent diseases can interfere with insulin absorption and make some cases more challenging to control. To evaluate how your pet is responding to insulin therapy there are several Blood Test options available to the veterinarian as well as the monitoring of urine for the presence of sugar or ketones. Your veterinarian will go over everything with you, and answer any questions you might have.

What If I Don’t Treat My Pet?

Diabetes left untreated puts patients at great risk for a syndrome called Diabetes Ketoacidosis. This life-threatening complication arises from a severe electrolyte derangement that can occur when diabetes is left untreated or the patient’s diabetic state is not well controlled. DKA patients are severely lethargic and dull and require hospitalized care with aggressive fluid therapy; it is life-threatening when this occurs. Only after the electrolytes in the body are restored to normal levels can insulin be restarted at home.

Diabetes is a manageable disease in many cases. If you think your pet has diabetes, we recommend scheduling an appointment with a member of our Veterinary Hospital for evaluation and testing. With a lot of love and some good veterinary management, most diabetic pets will go on to leave healthy, happy lives, keeping their tails wagging for years to come.

Jeffrey Stupine VMD
Medical Director
World of Animals Veterinary Hospitals