Diabetes in dogs and cats

Pet Diabetes Month – November 2018

November is National Diabetes Month;

Diabetes mellitus is a common disorder in dogs and cats, particularly with those overweight or obese. Diabetes mellitus is also known as “sugar diabetes” because it results when the pancreas fails to regulate blood sugar or glucose. The month November is designed to create awareness of this common endocrine disease in our pets; we need to be aware of the growing rate of Diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats. Diabetes mellitus can be fatal in dogs and cats especially when left untreated.
Veterinary medicine acknowledges two types of diabetes mellitus: type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Type 1 diabetes is the body’s inability to make enough insulin, in this case, your pet requires life-long insulin therapy (delivered via a syringe twice a day). Type 1 diabetes is most common in dogs and your dog is diabetic for life.
In the case of Type 2 diabetes, the body has some insulin produced from the pancreas but is insufficient or something is interfering with its ability to be used by the body. Type 2 diabetes is typical in cats and can be transient. In other words, type 2 diabetes maybe suppress by the insulin injections for a few to several months, not necessarily for life.

What are the clinical signs of diabetes and why do they occur?

● Excessive thirst
● Excessive urination is often the sign that suggests going to take your pet to the vet for an exam
● Inappropriate urination
● Weight loss (most commonly over the back), despite an overweight body condition
● Increased hunger
● The increased whiteness of the lens of the eye due to cataracts
● Blindness
● Weakness
● Lethargy
● Poor skin condition (like excessive dandruff or an oily hair coat)
Glucose is an important constituent of energy needed by cells, but it must first be absorbed by the cells. With diabetes mellitus, the body doesn’t have enough insulin or the insulin is not effective, (insulin is the hormone required to transfer glucose into the cells of the body). As a result, the cells of the body are starved, and the body is stimulated to produce more glucose. However, without insulin in the body, the glucose can’t get into the cells. Insulin attaches to receptors on the surface of cells and opens “pores” in the cell wall that allows glucose molecules to leave the bloodstream and enters the cells. But without an adequate amount of insulin to “open the door,” glucose is unable to get into the cells, so it accumulates in the blood, setting in motion a series of events that result in diabetes mellitus.
As a result of the insulin insufficiency, the starved cells start breaking down stored fat and protein for energy and as a result, there is weight loss. There is also hunger from starving so, the pet eats more and despite seeming to have appetite they still lose weight. The body eliminates the excess glucose by excreting it in the urine. Since glucose attracts water, it promotes loss of body fluids into the urine, resulting in the overproduction of urine. To avoid the problem of dehydration, your pet drinks too much water.
It is important to note that the untreated patient develops diabetic complications called diabetic ketoacidosis, where the body breaks down fat in an attempt to feed the starving cells. These fat breakdown products (ketones) poison the body, resulting in vomiting, dehydration, inappetence, electrolyte abnormalities, and even too much acid production in the body. Diabetic ketoacidosis can be life-threatening, and typically requires intensive supportive care (can be expensive to treat).

Certain breeds are more predisposed to diabetes mellitus. In cats, we have breeds such as Siamese, Persian, and in dogs, we have breeds the Samoyed, miniature pinscher, schnauzer, Australian terrier, dachshund, poodle, and Beagle.
Diabetes mellitus is more frequent in female dogs than male dogs. Opposingly in cats; where the males are over-represented. Age-wise Diabetes mellitus is very typical in older pets (about 9 years of age in dogs, and 11 years of age in cats). While diabetes mellitus is less common in young pets.

The treatment for diabetes mellitus can somehow be different for dogs and cats in regards to the type of insulin recommended. In dogs and cats, treatment requires twice a day injections of insulin, frequent recheck and blood work monitoring.
Diet is an important component of diabetes mellitus treatment because insulin needs are closely related to the type and amount of food needed by the pet. Your veterinarian will recommend a high-fiber or high-protein diet that is lower in glucose and digested very slowly. If your pet is overweight or obese, a weight management diet will be prescribed. As the animal loses weight, less insulin may be needed. In cats, dietary changes to a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, along with weight loss and in combination with short-term insulin therapy, may help resolve diabetes. When your pet is fed is also important: ideally, diabetic pets should be fed two meals a day, just before each insulin injection.
While diabetes is not a hundred percent preventable, you can help reduce the risk of your pet getting the disease by controlling their diet and maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise.
With supportive care, the prognosis for diabetes mellitus is fair to good, although it does require frequent visits to the vet to regulate the blood glucose and dedicated pet owners are required to give twice daily injections of insulin.

Written by ABVC Veterinary nurse Sylvain Benumeh