Lethargy, asking to go outside more or accidents in the house, a litter box that is full all the time or soaked, bumping into things or walking funny, drinking all the time… Noticing anything like this at home? Your pet could have diabetes.
Dogs and cats like people can develop diabetes, a condition where the sugar levels in the body are not regulating properly any more. While there is no cure for the condition, there are ways to manage the condition so that your pet can continue to live a happy, healthy and active life.
Diabetes mellitus, the medical name for “sugar diabetes,” is a condition that affects the concentration of glucose a type of sugar, in your pet’s blood. Diabetes results from a shortage of insulin or when the body has trouble using the insulin it has made properly by the pancreas.
Insulin affects the way your pet’s body uses food. When your pet eats, food is broken down into very small components that the body can use. One component, carbohydrate, is converted into several types of sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood. Once in the bloodstream, glucose travels to cells where it can be absorbed and used as a source of energy—if insulin is present. Without enough insulin, glucose can’t enter cells and builds up in the bloodstream. So your pet may act hungry all the time and eat constantly, but still be malnourished because its cells can’t absorb glucose. Sometimes their belly looks “fat or pot-bellied” while the rest of their muscles look too thin. With the buildup of glucose in the blood, there becomes a “need” to dilute this in the bloodstream, and hence, your pet starts to drink and urinate more.
Diabetes occurs in pets when their cells no longer respond normally to the amounts of insulin produced by the pancreas. Pets with diabetes usually need to have insulin injections, at least initially, as well as an appropriate diet. This is where dogs and cats start to differ. Most dogs will always need insulin supplementation. Their pancreas, for what ever reason, loses the ability to form this hormone that carries glucose into the cells, and generally never regains the capacity to form it again. This is very similar to human children that develop diabetes. Cats may act this way as well, but there are a good percentage of cats that act like adult-onset diabetes in humans. It is thought that overweight cats can have fat deposit into their pancreatic cells which make insulin, thus turning “off” their capacity to make the hormone. With these cats, while they start off with a need for insulin supplementation, as they become of healthier weight, are on a more specific diet to help their condition, their pancreatic cells may lose the fat and then regain the capacity to form insulin again, thus not needing supplementation. They are still considered diabetic, just not insulin dependent.
Diabetes is generally detected because you have a concern primarily with urination changes. You may also notice energy changes and just not interacting the way your pet usually had. You may note in a dog changes to the eyes, and in cats that they may start walking funny. Diabetes can result in your pet being more susceptible to infection, and may present like a urinary tract infection, or a cut that hasn’t seemed to heal properly. The P.AW.S. staff determines your pet has diabetes with blood and urine tests. Some pets become very sick and require hospitalization, while others are able to start therapy and lifestyle changes and achieve a maintenance level pretty easily. Visiting us regularly will help you to successfully manage the condition over time. Initially visits may be frequent, with hospitalization for glucose curves or checking fructosamine levels fairly routinely. With a chronic condition like diabetes, it is important to stay in close touch with us and let us help you in any way we can. Monitoring weight, diet and exercise are keys to success and things that we will closely monitor with you. There is a lot to learn with this condition, and no one way of treating. Each pet is unique in how they respond and what they require.
For more resources consult the Intervet site on pet diabetes.