My pet drinks a lot and urinates a lot!
My dog is starving but losing weight!
My cat is flooding the litter box!
These are common complaints from people whose pets have developed diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus literally means “to siphon through sweet urine”. This refers to the sugar (glucose) that is excreted in the urine due to its high levels in the blood. Sugary urine causes more water to be put into the urine, thus the cycle of drinking more and urinating more
Blood sugar is tightly controlled by small releases of insulin throughout the day. The pancreas makes and releases insulin in response to changes in blood sugar that occur with eating and exercise. Insulin is like the spark plug in an engine that turns gasoline into usable energy. Normal blood sugar levels are maintained between 70 and 160 mg/dl. The untreated diabetic pet can have blood sugar numbers in the 300s, 400s and even 500s. The longer pets with diabetes are untreated the sicker they get – fat is broken down for energy creating toxic by-products (ketones) causing ketoacidosis and severe illness. Glucose builds up in blood while the cells are starving for energy!
Diabetes is not uncommon in middle-aged dogs and cats (1 in 400 dogs and 1 in 200 cats are likely to develop diabetes). Most dogs and cats that get diabetes are overweight and don’t get much exercise. There is also a genetic predisposition to diabetes in certain breeds of dogs and cats. Some medicine can predispose pets to diabetes (most notably steroids). Dogs that have had pancreatitis are more prone to developing diabetes.
Diabetes is not curable, but it is treatable. Diabetes in pets always requires insulin for treatment. A small amount of insulin is injected under the skin twice daily. Insulin is available as both human insulin and veterinary insulin. Your veterinarian will decide what is best for you and your pet. It’s hard to believe that the discovery of Insulin was not until 1921, at which times humans, and presumably, dogs and cats, were successfully treated for diabetes with the insulin from cow pancreas. Since then insulin has been manufactured. Additionally, we know that controlling fats and carbohydrates in the diet controls blood sugar. A special diet may be recommended for your diabetic dog or cat. Think twice before giving Fido that left over piece of steak on your plate or filling up Kitty’s bowl when she meows between meal times. Remember, once diabetes occurs in pets it requires insulin shots to treat – so we should all do our best to prevent this disease in our dogs and cats.
Common fears about giving insulin to treat a pet for diabetes are: hurting the pet, making a bad decision about giving the insulin, and not recognizing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Owners that give insulin shots to their pets are surprised how easy it is. You and your veterinarian will work together to decide the amount of insulin that is best for the pet. Blood glucose meters can be bought and are useful for at-home monitoring of the dog or cat’s blood sugar to know if it is too low or too high. Too much insulin will make the blood sugar drop (hypoglycemia). Too little insulin will keep the blood sugar high (hyperglycemia).
Diabetes in pets can absolutely be managed and the pet can live without troubling symptoms. The excessive urinating and drinking are controlled. Life expectancy is the same for diabetic animals well-managed with insulin as for non-diabetic animals. Most dogs and cats that are treated for diabetes with insulin do great!
Dr Kim Williams