Diabetes Mellitus Overview

What’s diabetes mellitus?
Diabetes occurs in the pancreas, which serves two vital purposes in both dogs and cats: it makes the enzymes required for digestion, and produces hormone insulin. Hormone insulin is responsible for regulating glucose in the bloodstream and delivering it to the body’s cells. Diabetes mellitus occurs in cats and dogs when the pancreas fails to regulate glucose levels throughout the body.
Dog wrapped in blanket
What are the signs of diabetes mellitus?
Because diabetes mellitus most commonly occurs in older patients the signs are easily overlooked or dismissed as typical. They may include:

  • Polyuria (excessive urination)
  • Polydipsia (extreme thirst)
  • Changes in weight

Glucose acts as the primary energy source for body cells; therefore, when the cells are deprived of it they begin to break down body fat instead, causing weight loss. In turn, the dog or cat must eat more. Frequent urination is caused by too much glucose in other parts of the body which attracts water and must be flushed out through the bladder. Thus, animals will be thirsty more often.

How is diabetes mellitus diagnosed?
In the past glucose testing had been the standard for the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus; however, now veterinarians know that glucose testing by itself is not sufficient. Your veterinarian will likely begin with a full chemistry panel. Both blood glucose and urine glucose levels can indicate diabetes but because both are affected by stress (especially for cats), a fructosamine level will be recommended to confirm the diagnosis.

How is diabetes mellitus managed?
Diabetes mellitus is managed primarily in the home, although, emergency treatment will be done at the clinic. One of the first things you should do is set up a regular monitoring protocol with your veterinarian. By consistently monitoring your pet’s glucose and fructosamine levels you can ensure proper treatment dosages and an improved quality of life.

At home it will be crucial that you follow your veterinarian’s instructions which may include:

  • Insulin injections multiple times per day
  • A change of diet
  • Feeding your pet at the same times every day

It’s important that you work this treatment into your daily routine and make sure it’s kept up even if you need to be out of town. The good news is that neither insulin nor syringes are overly expensive, but there might be an initial cost to balance out your pet’s levels.

Your ongoing tasks will generally include the following:

  • Optimize your pet’s body weight
  • Minimize carbohydrate intake
  • Use portion control at all times

Diets will be different depending on whether you’re managing the symptoms of a dog or a cat. A cat, for example, would do better with canned foods over dry foods. Make sure you know what your pet should be eating before you leave the doctor’s office.

Prevention of diabetes mellitus/risk factors
In both dogs and cats risk factors for diabetes may include poor diet and obesity. Other concurrent diseases might also be a factor. Some breeds are at a higher risk of diabetes mellitus, however, these breeds may vary by country. In the US, these breeds include:

In the United Kingdom, these breeds include:

Regardless of what breed you have, regular checkups and routine blood tests are your best defense against diabetes mellitus.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Thursday, July 17, 2014