Diabetes mellitus is one of the more common metabolic diseases we treat in dogs and cats. It is a complex disorder caused by deficiency of insulin, usually after the destruction of pancreatic islet cells that normally would produce insulin.
Diabetes mellitus typically occurs in older dogs and cats. In dogs, females are affected twice as frequently as males. The majority of diabetic cats are older neuter males. Certain breeds have an increased risk for diabetes. We see more of the disease in Poodles, Schnauzers, Cairn terriers, Bichons, and in the Spitz breeds. Cats have no breed predilection.
There are several conditions that increase our pet’s risk of becoming diabetic patients: obesity, recurring pancreatitis, diestrus in the older intact female dog, cushings disease, and therapy with glucocorticoid drugs (prednisone).
Dogs and cats affected with diabetes are predisposed to several other disorders. We see kidney disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), bacterial infections, cataracts and blindness (in dogs), and peripheral neuropathy causing weakness and an unusual plantigrade stance in cats all secondary to the diabetes disease.
There are several signs that your pet might have diabetes. Increased thirst (polydipsia), increased urination (polyuria), and weight loss are seen in just about all diabetics. At times some diabetic dogs and cats might be lethargic (just feel bad, inactive), have poor body condition, chronic skin conditions, and blindness due to cataracts (dogs). In cats we see a lack of grooming behavior resulting in a poor haircoat and a decreased jumping ability due to hind leg weakness- in addition to the above conditions.
Diagnosis of the disease is confirmed by blood tests showing elevated blood glucose levels. Other abnormal parameters can also be seen on the blood tests in addition to the elevated glucose level. An analysis of the urine will also show glucose in the urine. In normal dogs and cats, we will not usually see glucose in the urine.
Typically, treatment of Diabetes includes injections of insulin every 12 hours. We adjust the diet to prevent and/or to correct obesity. The pet must be fed twice a day just before the insulin injections. We feed before the injections to be sure the pet is eating. If the pet has a low glucose blood level, and is given additional insulin, a condition called hypoglycemia could develop. This is when the blood glucose level gets too low. The pet in this instance could get very weak, collapse, and possibly start to seizure. If this should happen, an oral glucose supplement is given. One would rub some honey, karo syrup, or other highly absorbable source of sugar onto the gums for a quick source of glucose to reverse the hypoglycemia. If this should happen, call our office immediately and bring in your pet for testing and treatment.
Proper diets for diabetic patients are important to help regulate the glucose. Dogs are usually fed a high fiber diet. Cats are fed a diet restricted in carbohydrates. Cats might also be fed a high fiber diet to help control the diabetic condition.
It is important to have a daily exercise routine for dogs. The amount of exercise of the pet and calorie content of their diet should be consistent to help regulate the blood glucose levels. Exercise helps move the glucose out of the bloodstream and into the cells for use in normal metabolism. If the dog has erratic exercise, it can be more difficult to regulate the diabetic condition.
Monitoring of the diabetic patient is important to keep the pet healthy. We initially monitor the glucose weekly until the clinical signs have resolved, and the glucose levels remains in an acceptable range for the 12 hours following the insulin injections.
After we achieve control of the glucose levels, and clinical signs of diabetes have resolved, we have the pet return to our hospital for rechecks every 3-6 months. During these visits, we will conduct a physical examination, weigh the patient, and test for proper blood glucose levels.
Diabetes can be a frustrating and debilitating disease, but with consistent care and medical treatment, we can gain control of the condition and enjoy our pets for years to come.
By: Allen Finley, DVM