Dr. Larissa Muñoz explains how diabetes develops in cats and dogs, how the condition is diagnosed, and what pet owners can do to help manage their pet’s diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus is a disease caused by the pancreas being unable to properly regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. The same concept as in humans, there are two types of diabetes, both resulting in failure to regulate glucose levels but with different mechanisms.

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In dogs, it is more common to see Type I (insulin-dependent) diabetes. Beta-cells in the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin, and with Type I diabetes these beta-cells are destroyed, therefore requiring daily insulin injections to stabilize glucose levels.

Type II (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes differs from where beta-cells are present, however, they do not produce an adequate amount of insulin to properly control glucose levels. Humans with this form of diabetes may be treated with an oral drug, but pets do not respond well to these oral medications and still require insulin injections.

Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes

There are four main clinical signs that may be seen in pets with suspected diabetes mellitus. These include increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, and weight loss. Diabetes mellitus may be definitively diagnosed by:

  • The presence of typical clinical signs as mentioned above.
  • Persistently high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia). Diabetes is the only common disease that will cause hyperglycemia.
  • Presence of glucose in the urine (glucosuria). Dogs with normal blood glucose levels will not have any glucose in their urine.

Treating Diabetes in Pets

Consistent treatment is crucial for long-term diabetes management. Since diabetes is not curable, treatment requires daily lifelong insulin injections. It is important to note that treatment for diabetes requires a major financial and personal commitment from the pet owner.

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Weekly glucose curves with your pet will be required until your veterinarian comes up with an insulin dose sufficient to regulate blood glucose levels. Costs of treatment can vary depending on how quickly your pet’s glucose becomes regulated, and if there are any underlying conditions contributing to the disease.

In addition to insulin, proper nutrition and exercise are necessary for the management of diabetes. Diets that are high in fiber better stabilize blood glucose levels in pets versus diets with high carbohydrate and low fiber contents. Your veterinarian will discuss specific diet recommendations for your pet if needed.

Improvement at Home

Once your pet’s diabetes becomes controlled with a proper insulin dose, you will see a notable improvement in clinical signs at home. The sooner that diabetes can be diagnosed and treated by your veterinarian, the better the chance your pet has to live a normal life.