Diabetes Awareness - Symptoms and How to Manage a Diabetic Pet

Diabetes is a common condition that can affect dogs and cats. It is a life-long illness, but if managed well then most pets can go on to have a good quality of life. However, if left untreated then life-threatening signs can develop, causing your pet unnecessary suffering. We will help you recognise the symptoms of diabetes in your pet and discuss how the disease can be managed.  

What is Diabetes?

In healthy animals, the pancreas is responsible for producing the hormone insulin, which removes glucose (sugar) from the blood and allows it to enter cells. Glucose provides our cells with the energy they require to function. However, for pets with diabetes, insulin is no longer able to perform this function and blood glucose levels will increase.  

What are the signs?

There are several common signs associated with diabetes.

●     Increased drinking

●     Increased urination

●     Increased appetite

●     Always appearing to be hungry

●     Weight loss

●     Lethargy (tiredness)

If you think your pet is showing any of these signs, then you should bring them in to see one of our vets.  

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How is diabetes diagnosed? 

Diabetes can usually be diagnosed by using the following tests,

●     Urine test – Shows glucose in the urine.

●     Blood test – Shows high levels of glucose in the blood

However, many pets can show mildly increased blood glucose levels when they are stressed, which can be common when pets visit the vets, especially cats. This means that sometimes diabetes can be difficult to diagnose and our vets might want to perform an additional blood test.

●     Fructosamine test – This looks at your pet’s blood glucose levels over the previous couple of weeks. If raised then it confirms your pet is suffering from diabetes.  

Treatment 

Insulin medication

Most pets will need insulin injections to keep their diabetes under control. This can sound scary to owners, especially if they do not feel confident about giving injections. However, our veterinary nursing team will take you through each step of giving the insulin medication and are always happy to answer any questions you might have. Owners are often surprised at how quickly their pet gets used to the injections.

There are different types of insulin, so our vets will discuss with you the best regime for your pet. Most treatment schedules usually require:

●     Insulin to be given 12 hours apart – This helps control your pet’s blood glucose levels throughout the day.

●     Each injection should be given at the time of your pet’s meal.

●     Insulin to be kept refrigerated.  

Most pets will require insulin injections for the rest of their life, but occasionally some pets, usually cats, can stop their treatment due to the diabetes resolving. This usually occurs because an underlying factor, such as obesity, that has contributed to the diabetes has been eliminated or controlled.

Diet management

In addition to giving insulin, your pet’s diet must be tightly managed as well.

●     Your pet should always be fed the same brand of food – this is because different foods have different energy levels, so it can upset your pet’s diabetes control if different foods are fed.

●     The same amount of food should be fed at each meal

●     No additional food or treats should be fed between meals – this can cause an uncontrolled increase in your pet’s blood glucose levels. If you have a cat who goes outdoors then you need to try and ensure that no other households are also feeding your pet.  

Exercise management

It is also important that your pets exercise is carefully monitored. This is particularly relevant for diabetic dogs.

●     Exercise levels should be kept consistent every day – this is because any unexpected increase in exercise can cause your pets blood glucose levels to drop dangerously low.

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How your pet will be monitored 

Our vets will closely monitor your pet throughout their life, especially when first diagnosed. This is so your pet is always on the correct dose of insulin, which might need to be altered in response to any changes to your pet’s condition.

There are a few different ways our vets may want to monitor your pet:

●     Blood glucose curve – Your pet will usually need to come and visit us for the day, so we can take repeated blood glucose readings to see how your pet is responding to their current insulin dose. We can often teach you to perform the blood glucose curve at home, if you feel happy to do this. This often gives a truer picture of your pet’s normal daily routine.

●     Indwelling glucose reader – this is an implant that sits under your pet’s skin and takes continuous blood glucose readings for two weeks.

●     Urine monitoring – our vets might ask you to regularly monitor your pet's urine for the presence of ketones. If present, then ketones can indicate the early stages of a severe condition called diabetic ketoacidosis and our vets will want to see your pet.

Complications

There are several complications that diabetic pets may develop.

●     Hypoglycaemia – This is a life-threatening condition where your pet’s blood sugar levels drop too low. It can be the result of your pet vomiting, being given too much insulin, not eating their usual quantity of food, or exercising more than normal. Once recognised, you should rub some honey or sugar solution on your pet's gums and phone us for advice.

●     Diabetic ketoacidosis – This is a serious condition in uncontrolled diabetics, and it occurs when your pet's body starts breaking down fat. As mentioned above, this condition is detected by the presence of ketones in your pet’s urine. It leads to collapse, shock and may even be fatal.

●     Cataracts – Diabetic dogs often develop cataracts, which may eventually lead to blindness. Usually, the cataracts can be corrected with specialist eye surgery.

●     Repeated infections – Diabetic animals can commonly develop repeated infections. Sometimes these infections will not show any signs, so our vets will regularly monitor your pet to detect any new infections. 

Prognosis

Most diabetic pets will have a good prognosis and go on to live normal lives, especially if their owners are diligent about their treatment and monitoring. However, for a few animals, diabetic control will be difficult and may impact on their quality of life. When your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, our veterinary team will go through the prognosis for your pet and discuss lifetime treatment and costs that may be required.

If you are concerned that your pet is showing signs of diabetes then you should contact our practice for advice. For diabetic pets, our knowledgeable team is always ready to answer any of your questions if you have any concerns about how your pet is coping.