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What Pet Owners Need To Know About Diabetes Mellitus

The Disease:
In Diabetes Mellitus, the pancreas does not make enough insulin.  Insulin carries glucose (sugar) from the blood stream into cells for energy.  Lacking insulin, glucose stays in the blood stream, causing high blood sugar, and the cells in the body can’t use glucose for energy.

Dogs and cats with diabetes mellitus will commonly show the following symptoms:

  • Really hungry and thirsty
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis:
If your pet is showing signs of diabetes, your veterinarian will want to run tests: blood work, urinalysis, urine culture, and fructosamine level. If your pet is diabetic, glucose will show up in his blood and urine, and the fructosamine level shows where your pet’s glucose has been over the past few weeks. A urine culture is a good idea because diabetic pets are more likely to develop urinary tract infections.

Treatment:
Dogs and cats with diabetes need insulin shots subcutaneously (under the skin) to manage their blood sugar. There are many different types of insulin. Your veterinarian chooses the best type of insulin for your pet.  Insulin is usually given twice a day – in the morning and at night.  Your pet’s diet will likely be switched to a prescription diabetic food so that his blood sugar can remain steady all day. Your pet must eat before receiving insulin. If the pet is not eating, contact your vet right away.

Long Term Care:
Some diabetic pets are very easy to manage on insulin. Other pets may be more tricky. Your vet will ask you to monitor appetite, urination and drinking habits, and you might find it helpful to keep a daily log. Once your pet’s insulin is where it should be, you should see the excessive thirst, hunger, and urination decrease.

A blood glucose curve is a test during which your pet’s blood sugar is checked every few hours all day long. Your vet will recommend this test, and fructosamine levels will be rechecked occasionally, too. By watching both the glucose curve and fructosamine levels, your veterinarian will be able to make sure your pet is getting the right amount of insulin.

If your pet doesn’t get the right amount of insulin, many problems can develop.  With a high blood sugar, dogs can go blind, and both dogs and cats can develop a life-threatening complication called Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). If your pet gets too much insulin or is getting insulin without eating well, his blood sugar can become too low. Symptoms of low blood sugar include sleepiness, dizziness, seeming confused or falling over, shaking, seizures, and coma. If your diabetic pet is ever showing these signs, see a veterinarian immediately, as low blood sugar can kill your pet.

Many pet owners feel frightened and don’t know what to do when they first learn their cat or dog is diabetic. However, after learning about the disease, getting the knack of insulin shots, and learning how to track blood sugar, many owners become confident and comfortable managing their diabetic pet. If you have any questions about pet diabetes, contact your family vet! If you have a pet in diabetic crisis and your vet is closed, feel free to call AERC. We’re open 24/7!

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