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Living Well With Diabetes

Just like us, our furry friends can also suffer from diabetes. This article aims to educate you on what pets are at risk, symptoms to look out for, diagnosing diabetes, and treatment methods to live well with diabetes. 


Diabetes Mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body cannot process glucose normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by the insulin hormone. Diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin or does not use the insulin produced correctly. 


Cats and dogs can get both Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. 


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 is also known as insulin deficiency caused by the body not being able to produce insulin. In type 1 diabetes there is a destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This results in inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis. 


Type 2 Diabetes

Cats are at greater risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, however, obesity, diseases, old age, and medications can result in type 2 diabetes in dogs also. In type 2 diabetes the body's cells do not respond to the insulin produced. In some cases, Type 2 diabetes can be reversed through improvements in diet and exercise.


Diabetes is a potentially life-threatening illness, however, it can be successfully treated in most cases.


Who is at Risk?

As mentioned earlier, cats are more likely to suffer from Type 2 diabetes form of the disease. 


Cats at Risk

  • Middle-aged cats to older aged cats

  • Overweight cats - these are four times more likely to develop diabetes than cats at a healthy weight. 

  • Some pedigrees like Siamese are predisposed to diabetes

  • Those on medications such as glucocorticoid steroids (often used to treat feline asthma).


Dogs at Risk

  • Middle-aged to older dogs

  • Overweight dogs 

  • Certain breeds can be predisposed such as German Shepherds, Keeshonds, and Samoyeds

  • Dogs with Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism)

  • Intact (not spayed) female dogs 

  • Those on glucocorticoid (steroid) medications


However young cats and dogs can also get diabetes, but it is thought this is due to genetics. 


Symptoms to Look Out For

  • Increased thirst 

  • Frequent urination

  • Weight loss, even if there seems to be an increase in appetite

  • Can also have a decreased appetite

  • Their coat appears dull and unkept

  • Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)

  • Sleeping more than usual or just generally less active

  • Recurring infections or chronic infections 

  • You may notice a change in the smell of their breath as well


If you notice any of these signs then please make an appointment with your vet as this could indicate diabetes. These signs can also indicate other health problems. Early intervention is the best chance of keeping your animal happy and healthy for as long as possible. 


Diagnosing Diabetes

Diabetes can be diagnosed by a physical examination by a vet along with urine and blood tests. Your vet will lookout for high levels of sugar in the blood and urine as an indication of diabetes. A special blood test (fructosamine) may also be performed to look at blood sugar levels. All of these tests can be performed in our in-house laboratory. 


Living Well With Diabetes, Treatment Options

Diabetes is a condition that needs lifelong treatment and a lot of commitment, however with the correct management pets are still able to live happy and healthy lives with it. In the early stages, it can take time to get your pet stabilised, but once stabilised it can be easier to manage. 



Diabetes is usually treated with insulin which is administered as an injection under the skin. This can appear alarming, but don't worry, you will be taught how to give an insulin injection by your veterinarian or nurse.


There are different types of insulin and each dose is different for each pet, therefore it is important not to change the dose without veterinary instruction. To get to a stage where your pet is stable, their insulin dose may be altered over time based on monitoring and blood tests. 


Along with blood glucose monitoring, diet and exercise are also important. 



Certain foods are better for diabetic dogs as they release sugars more slowly. Your vet can recommend which diet they think is most suitable for your pet.



Exercise also plays a role in diabetes management. Exercise uses up blood sugars so diabetic dogs benefit from an exercise routine. 


There are many elements that can be monitored at home such as fluid intake, urination frequency, appetite, weight etc. Keeping a diary of these to show to your vet can be helpful.



Frequent check-ups with the vets can also help. This allows the vet to check the blood glucose levels by doing a blood glucose curve. This allows the vet to see the pet's blood glucose change throughout the day. 



If your pet has diabetes, it is important to also monitor for signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and diabetic ketoacidosis (not enough insulin in the body to control blood sugar levels). Having low blood sugar is an emergency and can be fatal. 


Your vet will discuss with you the signs to look out for and when to take action. 


If your pet is hypoglycaemic they need to be given sugar. You can rub something very sugary such as honey or jam onto their gums and contact your vet immediately. 

Just remember to make sure the jam has not got any xylitol in the ingredients as this is toxic to our furry friends. 


Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis is also a medical emergency and you should contact your vet immediately. 


Signs of This May Include: 

  • Increased thirst/drinking,

  • Lethargy

  • Weakness

  • Vomiting

  • Dehydration

  • Weight loss with muscle wasting. 


Most well-managed diabetic patients that respond to treatment can have a very good quality of life. With a strict routine, commitment, lifestyle changes, and regular vet checks they can live a happy life. 


Having a pet with diabetes can seem like a scary thing but can be easily managed with treatment such as food, exercise, insulin, and checkups. 


If you're concerned your pet has diabetes, contact us to have a chat about any worries, this isn’t something you need to figure out alone.

Dr Liz Munro, an end of life care veterinarian

Worried your pet may be struggling? Reach out to our team today.

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