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Symptoms of Diabetes in Pets and How to Treat It

Cat laying on blanket


Diabetes is a common chronic condition among dogs and cats. According to the MSD Veterinary Manual, roughly 1 in 300 dogs and cats will develop diabetes mellitus in their lifetime. Understanding your pet's risk and how to identify the signs of diabetes can lead to a more positive outcome.

What Is Diabetes in Pets?

Diabetes mellitus affects the pancreas, which is the organ responsible for producing insulin and enzymes necessary for digestion. Insulin's primary role is to regulate glucose levels in the blood, controlling how it reaches tissues throughout the body. If your pet has diabetes, their pancreas is struggling to regulate their blood sugar. 

There are two forms of this disease, Type I Diabetes and Type II Diabetes. The most common is Type I, which is when the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are almost entirely destroyed. Type I diabetes requires insulin injections.

Type II Diabetes results when the pancreas still maintains some insulin-producing cells. However, the overall amount of insulin is typically insufficient.

What Does Diabetes Do to Dogs and Cats?

If your dog or cat has diabetes, sugar builds up in their bloodstream at an excessive amount. However, the parts of your pet's body that need the sugar can't get it because of the disease.

Your pet's cells become starved, lacking the glucose they need to function correctly. In other words, they aren't getting enough fuel. Your pet's body will try to get the energy it needs elsewhere when this happens. 

These alternative energy sources are fats and proteins. In addition, the high sugar level in the bloodstream causes a whole other host of issues. Elevated sugar levels lead to organ damage, including the kidneys, heart, eyes, nerves, and more.

Is Your Pet at Risk of Developing Diabetes?

Diabetes can develop in any pet, just like it can in any person. However, similar to people, certain animals are more prone to developing diabetes than others. The most significant risk factor for developing diabetes is obesity. 

Also, as pets age, their likelihood of having more severe complications from diabetes can increase if they deal with certain other conditions. For example, hyperthyroidism in cats and Cushing's Disease in dogs can affect how these animals respond to their diabetes treatments. 

Other conditions affecting diabetes are kidney disease, pancreatitis, UTIs, and heart disease. If your pet uses corticosteroids long-term, these medications can also affect how they respond to various diabetes treatments.

Age often plays a prominent role in when pets get diabetes. Most dogs are diagnosed with diabetes between the ages of 7 and 10. Typically, cats are diagnosed when they are older than 6.

Certain dog breeds tend to be more prone to diabetes. These breeds include Australian Terriers, Standard Schnauzers, Samoyeds, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds, Fox Terriers, Keeshonds, and Bichon Frises. Other breeds that are more susceptible to developing diabetes are Finnish Spitz, Cairn Terriers, Huskies, and Miniature and Toy Poodles. Also, female dogs appear to get diabetes twice as much as males.

Husky laying in grass

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Pets?

Dogs and cats can exhibit several signs indicating diabetes. If you suspect your pet might have diabetes, it's essential to schedule a consultation with your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will perform several tests, including urine and blood tests that look for extra glucose, to determine a diabetes diagnosis. The earlier you identify diabetes, the more likely your pet will live a healthier life.

Here are the potential early signs of diabetes in pets:

  • Urinating more frequently (your pet might have more accidents in the house, or you'll notice you're scooping your cat's litter more often)
  • Increased thirst/drinking frequently (excessive drinking and urinating go hand-in-hand as your pet tries to get rid of the extra sugar in their body).  You'll likely notice you're filling your pet's water bowl much more than usual.
  • Losing weight despite eating their food normally
  • An increased appetite (because of the disease, your pet isn't getting what they need from their food, causing them to eat more)
  • Frequent infections, like increased UTIs or skin infections
  • Cloudy eyes

If diabetes is in a more advanced stage, the following signs may occur:

  • Vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Low energy
  • Lack of interest in most things

What Happens If You Ignore the Early Warning Signs of Diabetes?

Catching the early signs of diabetes is critical in maintaining a good quality of life for your pet. If you don't notice the signs or ignore them, it can have devastating consequences. 

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to severe complications and issues with your dog or cat's health. These issues include cataracts and blindness, frequent UTIs, an enlarged liver, kidney failure, seizures, and a life-threatening condition called Ketoacidosis.

How Do You Care for a Pet with Diabetes?

First and foremost, setting up a care plan with your vet is a must. You need to maintain good communication with your pet's doctor and alert them of any changes your pet experiences. 

Typical treatment of diabetes in dogs and cats involves a special diet, adequate exercise, and usually medication. Your pet's diet will most likely include high-quality protein, fiber, low-fat, and complex carbohydrates to help slow down glucose absorption. Your vet can recommend dog or cat foods that will work the best for your furry friend.

Regular exercise helps maintain your pet's glucose levels. Plus, exercise and a healthy diet help avoid obesity. It might seem tricky to ensure your cat gets enough exercise. But you can consider leash training your cat or ramping up your play sessions.

If your pet is female, your vet will also likely recommend spaying them if you haven't already done so. Spaying your pet helps prevent certain hormones from interfering with the insulin. 

Finally, your pet will likely need insulin shots every day. Your vet can work with you on how to administer the injection. There are oral medications available to help treat diabetes. However, these medications appear to work better with cats, and dogs typically need the injections.

Daily Monitoring of Diabetes in Pets Is Essential

Another critical factor in the success of your pet's diabetes treatment plan is daily monitoring. Staying on top of diet, exercise, and medications is non-negotiable. You should also monitor your pet's glucose levels daily. 

Your vet will recommend which monitoring system can work best for you and your pet. It's also important to watch for signs of a potential insulin overdose. These signs include tremors, appetite loss, and weakness.

Diabetes can vary from pet to pet, with cases ranging from mild to severe. Therefore, each pet's plan of care is different and highly personal. It's vital to keep up with vet visits, test regularly, and stay alert to any changes in your pet's behavior.

It can be unsettling to learn that your pet has diabetes, but you don't need to fear the worst. Implementing the proper treatment early can make all the difference in helping your pet live a long and happy life.

For more helpful tips on how to take the best care of your pets, make sure to check out the rest of our blog. At Neater Pets, we're always working toward giving you the information and resources you need to be an incredible pet parent.


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