Diabetes can be a scary word for many pet owners, but it doesn’t have to be. Dr. Rhonda Phillips, licensed veterinarian with over 20 years of experience, has helped many pet owners overcome their fear of this diagnosis, and enjoy many happy years with their pets.

Diabetes is a disease of both dogs and cats, males and females, and can affect any age, but mostly affects middle age to older animals.

Diabetes can be either insulin responsive or insulin non-responsive. Diabetes insipidus (DI) is non-insulin dependent and is very rare in dogs and cats. Diabetes mellitus (DM) type 1 is the most common type of diabetes in dogs and cats and is insulin-responsive. There is a type 2 diabetes mellitus that occurs in a smaller percentage of cats. This blog will focus on diabetes mellitus type 1, which is the most commonly treated type of diabetes we see in veterinary medicine.

Risk factors associated with developing DM type 1 include obesity, recurrent pancreatitis, older female dogs that have not been spayed, in pets with other metabolic diseases, or that are on certain, chronic medications such as corticosteroids or progestagens. Dog breeds that seem to be more affected include the Australian terrier, Bichon Frise, Cairn terrier, Fox terrier, Keeshond, miniature and standard poodle, Samoyed, miniature and standard schnauzer and Spitz. In cats, the Burmese seem to be more represented.

Signs associated with diabetes mellitus include increased thirst and urination, sudden and/ or significant weight loss in the presence of increased appetite, lethargy, development of cataracts leading to blindness, poor hair coat (cats especially), and weakness in the hind limbs with abnormal hind limb posture and loss of ability to jump (cats).

Diagnosis is based on history, clinical signs and the ability to show persistently elevated blood and urine glucose levels in a fasted animal. This involves collecting blood and urine samples from the patient. A complete blood count, blood chemistries, and a urinalysis is the initial database collected to get a diagnosis and to determine if other underlying problems are present such as a urinary tract infection or adrenal gland disease. This lab work also allows us to evaluate other organ systems that may be affected such as the kidneys, liver or pancreas. Once the patient is controlled, clinical monitoring is done every 3-6 months with a recheck of the patient’s history, symptoms and a fructosamine level (blood test) that evaluates the consistency of the blood glucose levels during this interim time period.

Once diagnosed, diabetes mellitus is treated by use of specific types of insulin for either a dog or cat. The insulin injection is initially dosed on a 12 hr interval and the pet monitored by the owner very closely for signs of low blood sugar such as severe lethargy, weakness, collapse, muscle twitching or seizures. Low blood sugar is treated by administering/rubbing a “sugary” substance such as honey on the gumline of the patient and discontinuing insulin until a veterinarian is consulted. Insulin must be administered based on the animal’s food intake, health, weight, and symptoms. Home monitoring devices are available and owners can learn to monitor blood sugar levels on their pets and report to the veterinarian for advice on adjusting insulin dosages. Follow up testing usually occurs weekly until symptoms have resolved and the blood glucose levels range between 100-300 for the 12 hrs after insulin administration. Nutrition and feeding intervals play a huge role in diabetic regulation. Diets specific for diabetic patients are recommended and diets to reduce weight in obese animals need to be instituted to bring animals to their lean weight. Consistent daily exercise is also helpful in controlling diabetes.

Dr. Rhonda Phillips, owner of Country Friends Veterinary Clinic, wants to remind owners that diabetes mellitus is a disease that can be controlled and can allow a pet to have a good quality of life. Diagnosis, monitoring and nursing care of the patient requires a deep commitment from the owner but can provide years of life to a family pet. Please contact us at Country Friends Veterinary Clinic if you have any questions or concerns about in-home monitoring devices, other forms of diabetes or if your pet is experiencing signs that could be consistent with diabetes.