When Your Pet Has Diabetes

Mary Green

While the story of Zeke’s life with diabetes may seem out of the ordinary, it’s hardly uncommon: An estimated one in every 200 cats and one in 400 to 500 dogs are diagnosed with diabetes.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, diabetes in dogs and cats can occur at any age, although most dogs are diagnosed with the disease at roughly 7 to 10 years of age. The number of female dogs diagnosed with diabetes is double that of male canines. Most cats with diabetes are older than 6 years of age.

As with humans, obesity in companion animals is a significant risk factor for development of the disease. Plus, as dogs and cats age, they may also develop other medical conditions that can contribute to diabetes or significantly affect their response to treatment. These include an overactive adrenal gland in dogs (hyperadrenocorticism), overactivity of the thyroid gland in cats (hyperthyroidism), pancreatitis, kidney disease, heart disease, urinary tract infections and skin infections. The long-term use of corticosteroid drugs to reduce inflammation is also a risk factor for diabetes.

Being aware of the early signs of the disease is the first important step in taking care of your pet. If you notice any of the following, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible:

  • Excessive water drinking and increased urination
  • Weight loss, even though there may be an increased appetite
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)
  • Chronic or recurring infections (including skin infections and urinary infections)

A diagnosis of diabetes in your pet is typically confirmed through consistent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (excess sugar in the urine), although your vet may run additional tests to rule out other medical conditions seen in older pets.

Once a diabetes diagnosis is confirmed, your pet will be prescribed an initial type and dose of insulin. Unfortunately, it cannot be given orally – it must be injected under the skin, but is well-tolerated in most pets. (And, yes, your veterinarian or veterinary technician will teach you how to give the injection). The insulin type and dosage may be adjusted periodically based on monitoring results, but is typically required throughout the pet’s lifetime. Treatment often includes special high-fiber diets for dogs and high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets for cats. Daily exercise is strongly recommended.

The key to managing your pet’s condition is to keep its blood sugar near normal levels to avoid too-high or too-low levels that can result in life-threatening complications. Fortunately for all involved, with regular exams, consistent treatment and proper monitoring, diabetic dogs and cats can live long, healthy lives.