Diabetes mellitus is a disease involving glucose (sugar) in the blood and insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the body to regulate blood glucose. Diabetes occurs when your pet’s body has too much blood glucose because he either doesn’t produce enough insulin or is insensitive to the available insulin in his body.
According to Dr. Ted Cohn of the University Hills Animal Hospital in Denver, Colorado, diabetes is one of the most common hormonal disorders in dogs and cats. The disease is most often seen in older, overweight female dogs and cats.
There are two types of diabetes. Type I diabetes results from a deficiency of insulin in the body due to an insufficient number of insulin-producing cells. Type I diabetes is the most serious form of the disease and most often develops in young pets. Type I diabetes is not preventable.
Type II diabetes is more common, resulting from a body’s resistance to the effects of insulin. Older, obese pets are more susceptible to type II diabetes because fat cells may become resistant to insulin. Weight control through diet and exercise may help prevent the onset of type II diabetes.
Veterinarians can provide nutritional and exercise counseling, and wellness testing to help prevent the onset of diabetes," says Dr. Cohn. Since obesity is an underlying factor in the disease, keeping your cat or dog trim and healthy may help prevent diabetes."
Common signs of diabetes in your pet include increased water consumption and frequency of urination. Weight loss despite a large appetite may also occur. Left uncontrolled, diabetes can become a life-threatening condition for your pet. Failure to treat diabetes results in elevated blood sugar levels leading to dehydration and body chemistry disorders that can eventually cause coma and death.
Take your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible if you notice any of these changes in his or her behavior or physical appearance. Your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical examination, including blood and urine tests to determine if your pet has diabetes.
Your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate course of treatment for your pet. Most diabetic pets require one or two daily injections of insulin to control blood glucose levels. Your veterinarian can train you in proper injection techniques to make the experience more comfortable for you and your pet. Treatment may also include:
- A combination of oral medication and a special veterinarian recommended diet. Dr. Cohn recommends a diet high in protein for diabetic cats and a high-fiber diet for diabetic dogs.
- Proper weight management consisting of diet and regular exercise.
- Spaying in female diabetic pets.
Treating a diabetic pet involves close monitoring. Some pet owners monitor their pet’s blood glucose levels themselves to keep tabs on their pet’s condition at home. Medication, diet and activity levels need to be supervised on a daily basis to determine if treatment is effective.
Insulin overdose may cause low blood glucose levels, resulting in disorientation, weakness or seizures. If you notice any of these signs in an otherwise responsive pet, offer the pet food. If the pet is unconscious, apply Karo syrup or honey to his or her gums. In either case, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Administering insulin injections
Daily insulin injections are the most effective means of treating diabetic pets. With proper instruction from your veterinarian, patience and practice, administering insulin to your pet does not have to be an unpleasant experience. Keep the following tips in mind:
- Relax. If you are nervous or fearful about giving the injection, your pet might pick up on your emotions and become nervous too. Take a deep breath and relax before administering the injection. Calm your pet down by gently massaging him before giving the injection.
- Warm the insulin before injecting it by holding the syringe filled with insulin between your fingers for a minute. Injecting cold insulin may cause discomfort in your pet. Never use hot water, microwave or any other heating device to warm the insulin.
- Reward your pet so that she associates the injections with a pleasant experience. Show your pet a treat before administering the injection and give the treat to her immediately after the injection.
- Teach sit and stay so that your dog will sit still during the injections. Practice "sit and stay" when you are not going to give an injection as well, and your pet will not immediately assume that sitting means that he is going to get a shot.
Living with a diabetic pet
Caring for a diabetic pet can be a fulfilling experience, and diabetic pets can provide just as much companionship and enjoyment as your other pets. According to Dr. Cohn, pet owners should not expect their diabetic pets to have a significantly shorter life span than healthy pets. The following suggestions may make caring for your pet more comfortable for both of you:
- Develop a good relationship with your veterinarian. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your pet’s condition and treatment plan.
- Have your pet wear a Diabetic identification tag in case he gets lost.
- Develop a routine for your pet and stick with it. A consistent routine will reduce mistakes and help you learn your pet’s normal behavior so you can spot signs that may indicate a hypoglycemic attack.
- Keep a daily journal, recording activity levels, insulin injections, diet and behavior.
- Never leave home without sugar in case your pet suffers from a hypoglycemic attack. Liquid sugar such as Karo syrup and honey work best, but raw sugar is also effective.
Diabetes does not have to be a life-threatening disease. While diabetes cannot be cured, with consistent treatment, patience and love, your diabetic pet can live a normal, happy, healthy life.