Diagnosing Diabetes in Pets

Just like people, pets are being diagnosed with diabetes at an increased rate. It’s estimated that 1 in 300 adult dogs and 1 in 230 cats in the U.S. have diabetes. Fortunately, veterinary medicine is making huge strides in diabetes management. With proper management, pets diagnosed with this condition can live long, happy lives.


Overview of diabetes

Diabetes is a condition that affects the way glucose is converted to fuel within the body. Normally, glucose travels to cells throughout the body, where insulin, which is produced by the pancreas, helps convert that glucose into energy. If the pancreas is not functioning properly and there’s too little insulin, the glucose can’t enter the cells and instead builds up in the bloodstream. This causes blood glucose levels to rise (hyperglycemia). If the body makes too little insulin, stops producing it completely, or can’t utilize insulin properly, the body cannot convert glucose into fuel and the cells starve, which can lead to many other health problems and eventual death if not properly managed.


Risk factors for diabetes

Several factors can increase the risk of developing diabetes, including:

  • Age — Middle-age and older pets are at higher risk.
  • Gender — In dogs, unspayed females are twice as likely to develop diabetes. In cats, neutered males are more commonly affected.
  • Weight — Even if the pancreas is functioning properly and producing insulin, obesity can cause the cells to be resistant to insulin.
  • Diet — A poor-quality diet high in fat may contribute to pancreatitis, which is a risk factor for diabetes.
  • Breed — Any pet can develop diabetes, but certain dog breeds are more commonly represented:
    • Cocker spaniel
    • Doberman
    • Toy poodle
    • Miniature schnauzer
    • Samoyed
    • Keeshond
    • Dachshund
    • Golden retriever
    • German shepherd
    • Labrador retriever
    • Pomeranian
    • Terrier
  • Medications — Glucocorticoids have a negative effect on insulin production.

Any pet can develop diabetes at any time, even if they don’t fit the mold.


Signs and diagnosis of diabetes

Diabetes can be a silent disease, and you may not realize your pet has it until routine bloodwork is performed. If your pet does show signs, they may include:

  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Increased urination
  3. Increased appetite
  4. Weight loss
  5. Decreased activity
  6. Poor haircoat
  7. Cloudy eyes

Noticing any of these abnormalities may be your first clue that something is wrong, and a thorough physical exam, bloodwork, and a urinalysis can confirm it.

Management of diabetes

Managing diabetes requires a delicate balance. We strive to keep your pet’s glucose level between 80 and 120 mg/dl. Maintaining that ideal blood glucose mandates dedicated commitment. Just like with humans, diabetes in pets can be controlled with four key elements:

  1. Insulin injections — For most pets, daily insulin injections are required, sometimes twice daily. Dogs are insulin-dependent, so they require injections once or twice daily, depending on the insulin used and how their body utilizes it. While most cats are insulin-dependent, some are non-insulin dependent, allowing their condition to be managed by diet, weight loss, and oral hypoglycemic medication instead of insulin injections. If your pet is diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes, our team will show you how to test your pet’s blood glucose level and administer insulin injections at home.
  2. Diet — Choosing the proper diet can influence how effective insulin injections are for your pet. An appropriate diet may even allow your cat to avoid insulin injections completely. When selecting the correct diabetic diet, there are several prescription diets available. We can help you choose a brand that is high in protein and fiber and low in carbohydrates and fat. Consistent timing and measured meals also help to regulate a diabetic pet.
  3. Exercise — An exercise program may be necessary to help your overweight pet shed those extra pounds, but activity changes can affect a blood glucose level. If your pet’s activity level changes, her insulin requirements may change as well.
  4. Regular checkups — Routine veterinary checkups keep a handle on your pet’s disease progress, even if you are monitoring her glucose level at home. We can identify any changes in your pet’s condition and lifestyle and help you manage this disease successfully.

Complications that can occur while managing diabetes include:

  • Cataracts (almost every diabetic dog will develop cataracts within two years of a diagnosis)
  • Hardening of the arteries
  • Kidney disease
  • Retina disease
  • Nerve disease
  • Dental infections
  • Skin infections
  • Urinary infections
  • Hypoglycemia

Diabetes can be tricky to manage, especially when concurrent diseases lead to insulin resistance. Urinary tract infections, skin infections, dental disease, and a myriad of other conditions can complicate the regulation of a diabetic pet. Although there is no cure for diabetes, our team can work with you to help your pet live a long, healthy life with this disease.


Is your pet drinking and urinating more? Losing weight? Always hungry? Schedule a blood glucose check with our clinic. Call 662-253-0274.