November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month. With the number of overweight and obese pets on the rise, so too is the incidence of diabetes. Recent studies have shown that the number of diabetes diagnoses over a nine-year period (from 2006 to 2015) increased by up to 80% in dogs and 18% in cats. Despite the great increase of diabetes diagnoses in dogs, diabetes is still three times more common in cats than in dogs.
Just what is diabetes? In pets, just as in humans, diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin, stops producing it, or doesn’t use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. It is responsible for allowing glucose (sugar) in the blood to enter cells, providing them with the energy to function. Insulin helps keep the body’s blood sugar from getting too high or too low. With diabetes, the effects are two-fold:
1) When cells do not have enough sugar (energy) to function properly, the body begins to break down the body tissues which are converted to sugar by the liver. This makes the problem worse, as the blood sugar continues to rise even higher.
2) A continued high blood sugar level causes damage to many organs, including the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, and nerves. Death can occur if the condition is not treated.
Though diabetes affects less than 1% of dogs and cats, with its incidence on the rise, it’s important to be aware of the risks for this disease and its signs.
Risk factors for developing diabetes include age (i.e., older dogs and cats are more susceptible), obesity, inactivity, and genetics. Also, certain dog breeds are at a higher risk for developing diabetes, including Australian Terriers, Beagles, Bichons Frises, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Fox Terriers, Keeshonds, Miniature Poodles, Pugs, Puli, Samoyeds, and Miniature Schnauzers. Unspayed female dogs and neutered male cats are also at a greater risk for developing diabetes.
Signs that your pet may have diabetes include:
- excessive thirst and drinking – take note if your pet drinks frequently and empties the water bowl more often than he used to.
- excessive urination or accidents in the house – increased urination (due to increased thirst) occurs because the body is trying to get rid of the excess glucose by sending it out through urine.
- weight loss despite an increased appetite – because your pet can’t efficiently covert the nutrients from its food into energy (sugar) need for cellular processes. Instead, the body starts to burn fat and muscle for energy.
- lethargy (less activity) – because your pet can’t convert nutrients form his food into energy, he tires easily and has little energy to play or go for long walks.
Fortunately, your veterinarian can diagnose, treat and help you to manage diabetes.
As with people, diabetes is often controlled with insulin injections, typically given once or twice a day immediately following a meal. Some pet owners are hesitant at first about giving their pet insulin injections, because they are afraid of hurting their pet or not being able to do it properly; however, your veterinary health care team will show you how to give injections.
Diet and feeding times are important in the management of diabetes. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet that is best suited for your pet. If your pet is overweight or obese, your veterinarian will develop a plan to help your pet reach his ideal weight. It is important to feed your pet at the same time each day and keep meal sizes the same.
Your veterinarian will also advise you about a consistent exercise program to help keep your pet’s glucose levels as normal as possible.
Taking your pet for regular veterinary checkups is an important part of diabetes management. Your veterinarian will recommend visits at regular intervals to monitor your pet’s condition.
A diagnosis of diabetes can be overwhelming, but keep in mind that it’s a treatable condition. The sooner it’s diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated, potentially avoiding serious health problems. If you notice any signs associated with diabetes, discuss them with your veterinarian.