Have you observed an increase in the amount of times your pet is drinking and urinating? Is he also losing weight, despite a good appetite? These aren’t usually normal, age-related changes. If you notice these changes, it’s time to see your family veterinarian and find out whether or not your pet has diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Many people are familiar with diabetes in humans. The disease is similar in pets. Diabetes is essentially insufficient insulin production by the pancreas, and all of its symptoms are a result of that insufficiency. All food, even cat and dog kibble, is converted to glucose (aka sugar) and carried in the blood to feed all the cells in the body. Insulin is needed to push this sugar into all the cells in the body in order to provide energy. When there is not enough insulin in the body, blood sugar builds up in the blood stream (leading to the elevated blood glucose level for which we test) and the cells begin to “starve.” As glucose accumulates in the blood and the cells begin to starve, your pet will exhibit increased urine output (because sugar is spilling into the urine and bringing excess water with it), increased thirst (the body’s response to the increased urine production), increased susceptibility to infections, weight loss, and ultimately complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis, which can lead to death.
What do you do if you suspect your pet has diabetes?
First, schedule an appointment with your family veterinarian. In addition to weighing and observing the general condition of your pet, your vet will need to run bloodwork and check a urine sample. If your pet is diabetic, the results will show the classic findings of significantly elevated blood sugar as well as sugar in the urine.
What if the results are inconclusive?
If the results are inconclusive (which often happens in cats because their blood sugar level will increase due to the stress of a vet visit), your vet may choose to check your pet’s fructosamine level – an average blood sugar level over the past few weeks. Your vet may also recommend running a urine culture at the laboratory because sugar “spilling” into the urine makes a home for bacteria and can cause subclinical urinary tract infections.
When your vet is running diagnostics, he or she will also look for other diseases which may complicate the situation. For example, many dogs develop Cushing’s disease as they age. Cushing’s disease can make regulating diabetes much more difficult, so treatment will likely be recommended.
What do I do after my pet is diagnosed with diabetes?
If your family veterinarian diagnoses your pet with diabetes, your pet will be started on insulin. You and your vet will create a plan to manage your pet’s health. Initially, you can expect to see your vet frequently for monitoring as the correct dose of insulin is determined. Once you have an appropriate dose, monitoring is needed less often. Twice-daily injections of insulin will be required for the rest of your pet’s life, which is a significant investment of time and energy on your part. It is critical that you follow your vet’s directions in how to administer the insulin, how to handle and store it, and how much/how often to give it.
You also must pay attention to your pet’s condition. For example, if your pet isn’t eating or is vomiting, you should speak with your veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian will recommended changes to your pet’s diet, especially if they need to lose weight, since obesity is a risk factor for diabetes.
If you are concerned about your pet’s health or have more questions about diabetes in pets, consult with your family veterinarian. Don’t have a family veterinarian? Check out our list of locally owned clinics in the Twin Cities and western Wisconsin area.