Dr. Ruth's Diabetes 101

Dr. Ruth MacPete shares this important information about Diabetes in Dogs and Cats!

Obese pug

November is National Pet Diabetes Month. In order to do my share and help spread the word, this month’s blog will be all about diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects pets as well as people. Even more alarming is the fact that the prevalence of diabetes has been increasing. To help combat this growing epidemic, I hope that everyone reading this will learn about diabetes so that you become familiar with the signs, symptoms, and treatment options and assume a more proactive role in the fight against diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder that occurs when the body is unable to control blood sugar levels. In one classification scheme, there are two types of diabetes, Type I and Type II:

Type I, also known as insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin. Insulin is a hormone released when blood sugar levels are high, such as after meals, and directs cells in the body to move sugar out of the blood stream and into cells for storage or energy.

Unlike Type I, in Type II diabetes, insulin is being produced but the body becomes less responsive to its effects, which is why it is also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Regardless of the cause, both forms of diabetes result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels that damage capillaries and lead to different complications like nerve damage, kidney failure, and even death.

So what causes diabetes? Diabetes mellitus is a multifactorial disease influenced by both inherited and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition seems to be an important risk factor, and in dogs, certain breeds, like Keeshonds and Samoyeds, are more likely to develop diabetes. Age is another important risk factor. Though it can affect animals of any age, it is more common in middle-aged and older animals. However, of all the risk factors, obesity is arguably the most important, especially since the prevalence of obesity is increasing. In the United States, it is estimated that 45% of dogs and 58% of cats are overweight; that is more than half of the cats in this country.

In the United Kingdom, dog breeds predisposed to diabetes mellitus include:

In the UK between 30-60% of pets are obese.

What should you be looking for? The classic symptoms of diabetes are increased thirst, increased appetite, and increased urination. In addition to these textbook symptoms pets with diabetes may become lethargic, lose weight, have a dull coat, and in dogs, develop cataracts. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of diabetes so you can promptly seek veterinary care if you notice any of these in your pets. 

Fortunately, diabetes is manageable. With the right medications, diet and weight loss, diabetes can usually be controlled. The goal of treatment is to prevent high blood sugar or hyperglycemia, provide stable blood sugar levels and avoid hypoglycemia. Insulin is the primary treatment for both dogs and cats. There are several different types of insulin available with different durations of action. In addition to medications, diet and weight loss are just as important when it comes to treating diabetes in pets. Recent nutritional studies show that switching to a low-carbohydrate and high-protein canned food diet is the most effective dietary routine for most diabetic cats. Speak with our veterinarian about what, if any, nutritional changes are necessary for your particular pet. Weight loss is also important because obesity is a common cause of insulin resistance. Fatty tissue releases factors that impair the effects of insulin. To promote weight loss, you should exercise your pets in addition to following your veterinarian’s dietary suggestions. Encourage active play and exercise for both dogs and cats.

As the pet parent of an older, overweight, neutered male cat, the topic of diabetes is always in the back of my mind. Fortunately, I know that the diagnosis of diabetes does not have to be a death sentence. When caught early and with proper treatment, diabetes can be controlled and the complications of the disease can be delayed or even avoided. If you think that your pet has diabetes or may be at risk, take them to your veterinarian for an exam and screening tests. Of course, the prevention is the best treatment for any disease. We may not be able to change genetics or stop aging, but we can do something about obesity. I know my cat still has some weight to lose, but we are on the right track. So join me and help your furry friend lower their chances of developing diabetes by fighting obesity with diet and exercise.

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.

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Reviewed on: 
Friday, August 28, 2015