Diabetes in Pets
By Dr. Melissa Gisleson, DVM
Diabetes affects both dogs and cats. It is a condition where for one reason or another, the body is unable to control blood sugar levels throughout the day. With people, Diabetes is often classified as Type I or Type II diabetes. Type I diabetes happens with the body (pancreas) in unable to produce to amount of insulin needed by the body to take in glucose (sugar). Type II diabetes occurs when the body is unable to respond as well as it once did to insulin, insulin resistance. Both Type I and Type II result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels. This can lead to damage of small blood vessels (capillaries) and cause complications with nerve damage and kidney disease. If left untreated, diabetes can be fatal. In our patients, it is often difficult to diagnose which Type of diabetes we are dealing with, but often cats will behave like Type I diabetes and dogs like Type II.
There are many factors that are taken into account with what may cause diabetes in pets, but there are definitely inherited and environmental factors. Inherited factors seem to play more of a role with diabetes in dogs, however, age and weight are also important factors. Obesity is a huge risk factor for both cats and dogs. Fatty tissue in the body can release factors that limit the effect that insulin has on cells.
Pets will often display similar symptoms with diabetes as humans. There is typically an increased thirst, increased appetite, and increased urination. Some patients will also become lethargic, lose weight, changes to their hair coat. Dogs will at some point develop cataracts.
Luckily, diabetes is manageable. Like humans, dogs and cats often need insulin injections. The goal of treatment will be to prevent high blood sugar with also preventing low blood sugar. This can be a very fine line, so close monitoring with your veterinarian is crucial after diagnosis and starting treatment. There are special prescription diets also available for diabetic patients that help with glucose management. Like humans, these diets are normally low-carbohydrate, high protein based.
Obesity is a factor in diabetes that, luckily, we can control and treat. It is estimated that roughly 45% of dogs and nearly 60% of cats in this country are overweight. Weight control is a key part of preventative care for our pets. If your pet is overweight, it is important to talk with your veterinarian in regards to developing a weight loss plan. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a better idea of what a healthy weight looks like, but also talk about possible underlying causes for obesity and create a safe weight loss plan. Weight loss should be calculated by your veterinarian depending on the health needs of each patient. It is important, especially, with cats to follow a specific weight loss plan. Cats whose bodies go into a starvation mode can mobilize fat throughout their body and that can lead to potentially fatal liver disease.
Like many disorders, prevention is key. If you are curious about your pet’s weight or are interested in having your veterinarian set up a weight loss plan for your pet, it is important to set up an appointment with your doctor.