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Managing Diabetes in Aging Pets

As it’s Pet Diabetes Month, this week we’re exploring the ins and outs of managing diabetes in ageing pets, offering you the guidance you need to provide the best care possible.

Just like humans, pets can develop diabetes as they age. This chronic condition requires careful management to ensure your furry friend lives a happy and healthy life, read on to learn the types of diabetes and how to manage it in pets.

Understanding Diabetes in Pets

Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes, is a common condition in both dogs and cats. It affects their ability to regulate blood sugar levels, which can lead to a range of symptoms and health issues. The two most common forms of diabetes in pets are:

1. Type 1 Diabetes

In pets, type 1 diabetes is similar to the condition in humans. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. This leads to high blood sugar levels, which, if left untreated, can cause severe health problems. This type of diabetes is most commonly found in dogs and rarely in cats.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more common in cats and is often associated with obesity. In this form, the pancreas does produce insulin, but the body's cells become resistant to it. This means that even though insulin is present, it is less effective in lowering blood sugar levels. In cats with type 2 diabetes there is the possibility that with treatment, some patients can go into diabetic ‘remission’.

Recognising the Signs of Diabetes

Early diagnosis is crucial in managing diabetes in ageing pets. Be vigilant and look out for the following signs:

  • Excessive Thirst and Urination: Your pet may start drinking and urinating more than usual.

  • Increased Hunger: They might be eating more but still losing weight.

  • Lethargy: A lack of energy or enthusiasm could be a sign of diabetes.

  • Cloudy Eyes: Diabetes can cause cataracts in pets, leading to cloudy eyes, though this usually happens in the late stages of the disease

  • Vomiting and Dehydration: These symptoms can be especially concerning and require immediate attention as this can indicate life-threatening toxin levels in the blood.

If you notice any of these signs, it's essential to consult your veterinarian. They can perform blood and urine tests to diagnose diabetes.

The Role of Diet and Weight Management

A balanced diet is crucial for managing diabetes in pets. If your pet is overweight, weight management should be a priority. Consult your vet to determine the ideal weight for your pet and create a diet plan to help them achieve and maintain it.

For pets with diabetes, high-fiber, low-fat diets are often recommended. These diets can help regulate blood sugar levels. Feeding your pet at the same time every day is also essential, as it can help stabilise their blood sugar.

Because we need to keep the balance of calories in and calories out the same each day, you will also need to be mindful of any treats given to your pet, and ensure that you have discussed these with your Vet to ensure these are taken into account.

Avoid feeding your pet human food and consult your vet for specific dietary recommendations based on your pet's individual needs.

Medications and Insulin Therapy

Most diabetic pets require insulin therapy, which involves regular insulin injections. Your veterinarian will prescribe the right type of insulin and provide guidance on how to administer it. It may seem daunting at first, but with practice, you'll become more comfortable giving your pet their injections.

Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels is crucial, especially in the beginning. This allows you to adjust the insulin dosage as needed to keep your pet's blood sugar within a healthy range. Blood glucose levels will be measured by your vet, who will also make recommendations for changes in insulin dosage. Owners should not make changes to insulin doses without the recommendation of their vet.

Having to give your pet daily injections may sound daunting, but your veterinary team will help train you in how to do it easily and safely. The development of ‘pen’ type devices has made giving insulin even easier.

The Importance of Exercise

Regular exercise is vital for managing diabetes in ageing pets. It helps maintain a healthy weight and can improve insulin sensitivity. Engage your pet in age-appropriate exercises, such as daily walks for dogs or interactive play sessions for cats.

Consult your veterinarian before starting a new exercise routine to ensure it's safe and suitable for your pet's individual condition.

You should also take care to ensure that your pet receives roughly the same amount of exercise every day, to help keep blood glucose levels stable.

Regular Veterinary Check-ups

Diabetes requires ongoing care and monitoring. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are essential to track your pet's progress, adjust their treatment plan, and catch any potential complications early.

Monitoring for Complications

While diabetes can be managed effectively, it's essential to be aware of potential complications. These can include:

  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar levels can occur if your pet receives too much insulin or doesn't eat enough. It can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. Hypoglycaemic pets can be lethargic or look ‘drunk’, staggering around and appearing disorientated.

  • Cataracts: Many diabetic pets develop cataracts, which can lead to vision loss.

  • Urinary Tract Infections: Diabetic pets are more susceptible to urinary tract infections, so be vigilant for signs of discomfort or changes in urination habits.

Managing diabetes in ageing pets can be a challenging journey, but with the right care and support, your furry friend can lead a happy and healthy life. Remember to consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan, maintain a balanced diet, manage your pet's weight, administer insulin or medications as prescribed, ensure regular exercise, and keep a close eye on their overall health.

With your commitment and the guidance of a qualified veterinarian, you can provide your pet with the best possible quality of life, even in the face of diabetes.


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