Diabetes in humans is common – you likely know someone who manages the condition. But did you know that pets can also develop diabetes? As the number of overweight and obese pets rises each year, so too does the incidence of diabetes. It’s something that pet parents need to be aware of.
Diabetes in animals is much like diabetes in humans. It is a condition that affects how the body turns food into energy. It occurs when the body does not make enough insulin, stops producing insulin, or doesn’t use insulin properly.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps convert glucose (sugar) from food into energy. Insulin allows sugar in the blood to enter the cells, thereby giving the cells the energy they need to function. Insulin’s job is to help keep the blood sugar from getting too high or too low – either situation can cause serious health problems.
With diabetes, insulin is not being used or produced effectively, so the cells don’t get enough sugar to function properly. In response, the body begins to break down fat and muscle, which are then converted to sugar, which in turn causes the blood sugar to rise even higher. Prolonged high blood sugar levels cause organ damage and even death, if the pet isn’t treated.
Though diabetes affects less than 1% of dogs and cats, it’s important to be aware of the risks for this disease and know the common signs. Older dogs and cats are more susceptible for developing diabetes, as well as inactive and obese pets.
As your pet ages, it’s important to continue with regular veterinary wellness checks, but also to watch for signs of diabetes, such as:
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- increased appetite
- weight loss despite an increased appetite (your pet can’t convert the nutrients from food into sugar and instead, the body begins to burn fat and muscle for energy)
- weakness or lethargy (less activity)
- poor skin condition
- dull, thin coat
If your pet has any of these signs, you should visit veterinarian right away. While there is no cure for diabetes, your veterinarian can diagnose it and create a treatment and management plan for your pet.
As with people, diabetes is typically controlled with insulin injections, usually given once or twice a day, following a meal. Your veterinary healthcare team will discuss their recommended treatment for your pet and if needed, show you how to administer insulin injections. Most pet owners become comfortable with giving injections very quickly.
You will also need to manage feeding times, diet, and exercise – factors that are just as important as insulin injections. Your veterinarian will advise you of any diet changes that may help your pet. If your pet is overweight or obese, they will devise a plan to help your pet reach their ideal weight.
A diabetes diagnosis can be overwhelming, but once a pet’s diabetes is properly managed, the prognosis is good. If left undiagnosed or untreated, however, diabetes can lead to other, more serious health problems, including cataracts, blindness, urinary tract infections, enlarged liver, seizures, and ketoacidosis (a life-threatening complication).
Be aware of the signs of diabetes – the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated, and the better you and your pet will feel.