Diabetes in dogs and cats is an illness caused when there is a deficiency of the pancreatic hormone insulin resulting in hyperglycemia and damage to various organs. Insulin is responsible for pushing glucose (sugar) into the body’s cells for energy. Without insulin, glucose is unable to enter the cells and the body is forced to use fat and muscle for energy instead. Glucose builds up in the bloodstream, resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Only red blood cells and brain tissue do not required insulin to utilize the sugar in the blood stream. The insulin is like the doorknob for the sugar to enter the door into the cells of the body tissues. It does not matter how much sugar is in the bloodstream, without the doorknob of insulin, it can’t be used by the cells for energy. This causes a “loop” effect of the cells signaling for more sugar and the body releasing more sugar. This continued increase of sugar cannot be used so more signals for more sugar are rereleased. The body is literally “starving amongst plenty”.
Chronic long-term hyperglycemia results in dysfunction and failure of various organs, including the heart and blood vessels, nerves, kidneys and eyes. The clinical term for diabetes, as most people know it, is diabetes mellitus. Diabetes in dogs and cats is similar to diabetes mellitus in humans. Doc Martin recommends diabetes screening for all dogs and cats as a preventative measure during your veterinary internal medicine visit.
Risk Factors for Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
On average, diabetes mellitus occurs in roughly 0.2% – 1.0% of cats and dogs. Risk factors for dogs and cats in developing diabetes mellitus include:
- An indoor or sedentary lifestyle and/or high carbohydrate diet
- Obesity. For example, obese cats are four times as likely to get diabetes than cats at a healthy weight
- Age. Diabetes is more common in middle-aged and older pets
- Genetics. Pets with a family history of diabetes are more likely to have it as well
- Chronic Pancreatitis. This is recurring inflammation of the pancreas, which is the organ that produces insulin
- Hyperthyroidism. This is a glandular disorder that increases metabolism, and is caused by an overproduction of thyroid hormone
Diabetes in Specific Dog Breeds
Certain dog breeds — dachshunds, poodles, and schnauzers, among others — are more likely to develop diabetes. Breed does not appear to have an effect on a cat’s likelihood of developing diabetes.
If left untreated, diabetes mellitus can progress to a rapidly life threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which requires hospitalization and aggressive fluid therapy.
Diabetes Type 1 and Type 2 in Dogs and Cats
In Type 1 Diabetes, your dog or cat’s body is not able to produce enough insulin. This can be due to genetic factors, or can be secondary to some other disease or condition. Dogs with diabetes almost exclusively have Type 1.
With Type 2 Diabetes, your pet’s body does not detect or respond to insulin appropriately. This is also referred to as insulin-resistance, and is more prevalent in less active and overweight pets. Cats are much more likely to have Type 2 diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
For both Diabetes Type 1 and Diabetes Type 2, the symptoms are often the same. Look for the following symptoms of diabetes in your pets:
- An increase in thirst (Polydipsia) and/or urination (Polyuria). These symptoms do not necessarily have to coincide, but often do
- Weight gain
- Chronic infections. Pets with diabetes are more prone to lingering infections
- Cloudy eyes and/or vision loss. If left untreated, diabetic pets can develop cataracts
- Excessive hunger (Polyphagia) coupled with weight loss. With diabetes, your pet’s body is unable to use glucose for energy and must use fat instead, causing weight loss
- Loss of energy
- Poor coat or skin condition
- Muscle wasting. While more common in cats, both dogs and cats may experience weakness of the hind legs.
- Chronic infections or non healing wounds
If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s important that you get your pet tested for diabetes. The longer your pet experiences these symptoms, the more secondary complications may arise that can have long term implications.
Diagnosing and Treating Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
Blood and urine tests are used to diagnose diabetes mellitus. These tests will be looking for consistently elevated blood sugar levels, and the presence of sugar and/or ketones (a byproduct of the body breaking down fat for energy) in your pet’s urine.
Treating Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
Diabetes mellitus is treatable, so the sooner it is discovered, the more comfortable both you and your pet will be. Treatment options for diabetes in dogs and cats vary depending on which type of diabetes your pet has.
- Type 1 diabetes typically requires insulin injections alongside a restrictive diet and exercise. This also requires chronic monitoring and adjustments in most patient.
- Occasionally type 2 diabetics benefit from oral glucophage medications as well.
- Early diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can often be well regulated with proper dietary control, exercise, and weight loss. If your pet’s type 2 diabetes is allowed to progress further, your pet may require insulin therapy in addition to diet and exercise.
- Even after beginning treatment, your pet should be monitored for continuing symptoms to ensure that their diabetes is properly controlled.
If you would like further information, or believe your pet may require diabetes screening at Plantation Pet Health Services, please call 972-731-0001 to schedule an appointment or complete an Online Appointment Request.