If your dog or cat has recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or if you suspect your pet has diabetes, you may be wondering about what lies ahead and how the disease is treated. The good news is, diabetes is treatable and pets who have it can continue to lead long lives.
However, the challenge is continued management of the disease which involves a number of things—generally, insulin therapy given to your pet consistently every day, dietary modifications and lifestyle changes. You will have to take an active role and work closely with your vet to offer the on-going care your pet needs to stay healthy.
What Is Insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, which is a small organ located in your pet’s abdomen. It is made by the pancreatic “islet” cells (also known as “beta” cells), then is secreted into the blood where it travels throughout the body and helps regulate glucose (blood sugar).
A pet with diabetes either is not producing any or enough insulin, or for some other reason, is not able to use the insulin it has. Therefore, to stay healthy and regulate glucose properly, the pet must get insulin in some other way, usually by an injection. When this is done, the process is known as insulin therapy.
Establishing Insulin Therapy
Although insulin therapy sounds like a straightforward process where you give your pet daily injections, it generally takes a while to determine how best to treat your diabetic dog or cat. There are several reasons for this:
Each pet absorbs insulin differently. Not only is each pet different, but the following activation times will vary in each pet, too:
Onset: How soon the insulin starts to work in the blood.
Peak: The time period when the insulin is the most effective in lowering blood sugar.
Duration: How long insulin continues to lower blood sugar.
There are many different types of insulin available, and your pet may respond to one type better than the others. The goal with insulin therapy is to use an insulin that will regulate your pet’s blood sugar with once or twice daily injections. There are only two insulins approved for use in veterinary medicine: one is a porcine lente insulin which is primarily used in dogs; the other is a human recombinant protamine zinc insulin that has been approved for cats. (Another insulin that is primarily used in cats is glargine. Although glargine is used in cats, it is not currently FDA approved.)
Your pet’s insulin requirements will likely change over time. Note that the dose may need periodic adjustments, based upon recent blood glucose profiles performed by your vet.
How to Store, Handle and Administer Insulin
Once your pet is prescribed insulin and you have it in hand, there are three things to remember:
Storing: Insulin must always be refrigerated at a consistent temperature.
Handling: Unlike many medicines, insulin should not be shaken. Also do not change the type of insulin syringe you use unless your vet says you may do so.
Administering: Consistency is what is most important. Insulin injections must usually be given twice a day, every day at specific times.
About Administering: Your vet should show you how to administer an injection before you leave your vet’s office. However, at home, you should also establish good habits to make sure treatment is successful, such as having all materials within easy reach and putting the insulin back into the refrigerator immediately after use.
Nutrition, Exercise Round Out Treatment
Finally, keep in mind that treating diabetes is not just about giving an injection, then going about your day. You must also be sure to offer the type and amount of food your vet recommends, as well as feeding your dog or cat at consistent times (that also means no treats, or only treats given at consistent times and amounts each day). This is just as vital a component of treatment as the insulin injection, and of course home monitoring and vet rechecks are a must. Lastly, make sure your pet gets daily exercise, so it stays trim and its diabetes condition does not worsen.