Diabetes Self-Management Blog

We may not think about it much, but our pets can get diabetes. In fact, diabetes is pretty common in cats and dogs, and it’s on the rise in both of these species. Luckily, if you have a beloved cat or dog who has diabetes, you can help him lead a healthy life with this condition.

Diabetes in cats
Just like in humans, diabetes in cats is caused by a lack of insulin or by insulin’s inability to do its job. Cats can have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more common in cats, but eventually, pretty much all cats with Type 2 will need to go on insulin. About one in 1200 cats will develop diabetes, and the risk increases in cats who are older, overweight, or male.

Causes of diabetes in cats
Some cats are genetically predisposed to getting diabetes. Diabetes may also occur due to pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism, Cushing disease, and certain medicines.

Symptoms of diabetes in cats
Common signs and symptoms of diabetes in cats include:

• an increase or decrease in appetite
• weight loss
• excessive thirst or drinking a lot of water
• increased urination
• urinating outside of the litter box
• sweet-smelling breath
• oily fur with dandruff
• muscle wasting
• obesity
• lethargy

Diagnosing diabetes in cats
If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms in your kitty, take him to the veterinarian. The vet will take a history, do a physical exam, perform blood work, and do a urinalysis. If your cat has diabetes, he will have high levels of glucose in his blood and urine; he might also have urine ketones and elevated liver function tests.

Treating diabetes in cats
Diabetes treatment for people with diabetes varies, and the same holds true for cats. Left untreated, your cat can develop kidney disease or neurological damage. Some cats can be managed with dietary treatment (a lower-carb, higher-protein diet) alone. There are special cat food formulas that are designed for cats with diabetes. Some cats can take oral diabetes medicine, such as glipizide or acarbose. But most cats will need insulin.

The cat may need to be hospitalized when insulin is started. Insulin needs are based on the cat’s diet, so as much as possible, it’s important to try and have your cat eat consistent meals and eat about the same amount of food on a daily basis (sound familiar?). Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is very important; chubby cats may be cute, but the extra weight can increase diabetes risk and make existing diabetes harder to manage. Your vet may recommend checking your cat’s blood glucose and basing his insulin needs on these readings.

Diabetes in dogs
As with cats, dogs can develop Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, although Type 1 is more common. Dogs with Type 1 diabetes require insulin for survival. Untreated diabetes can lead to urinary tract infections, cataracts, coma, and death. Certain breeds of dogs are more prone to getting diabetes, such as Australian terriers, miniature and standard schnauzers, golden retrievers, dachshunds, and poodles. Also, older dogs have a higher risk of diabetes.

Causes of diabetes in dogs
Diabetes in dogs can be genetic or caused by pancreatitis, autoimmune disease, obesity, medicines, or protein deposits in the pancreas.

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs
Common signs and symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:

• an increase or decrease in appetite
• weight loss
• excessive thirst or drinking a lot of water
• frequent urination
• sweet-smelling breath
• lethargy
• urinary tract infections
• vomiting
• cataracts or blindness
• chronic skin infections

Diagnosing diabetes in dogs
Your vet will perform a physical exam, take note of your dog’s history of signs and symptoms, and order blood work and a urinalysis.

Treating diabetes in dogs
It’s possible for some dogs to manage their diabetes by diet and oral medicine. However, most dogs will need insulin injections (often twice daily) to survive. Insulin works best when the dog eats on a regular schedule to prevent swings in blood glucose levels. Care needs to be taken to limit treats and ensure enough physical activity to help keep his weight in check. You may need to check your dog’s blood glucose to ensure that he’s getting the right amount of insulin.

Diabetes needs to be managed in your cat or dog. Be prepared to spend time doing this; also, be prepared for the cost of medicine/insulin, blood glucose monitoring supplies, special food (if prescribed by the vet), and possibly more frequent trips to the vet. On the other hand, a healthy pet is a happy pet, and just like humans, pets can live long, healthy lives with diabetes. Talk with your veterinarian about how to properly care for a cat or dog with diabetes.

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