Just as in humans, pets can be affected by diabetes. Diabetes in animals is similar to that in humans. It is extremely important as caregivers to our pets to recognize the signs of diabetes and provide the veterinary care and treatments they need.
Just like in human medicine, there are two types of diabetes mellitus that occur in pets: Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes mellitus occurs when the cells in the pancreas do not function properly or at all, and therefore do not produce insulin. The job of insulin is to regulate the level of glucose, or sugar, in the bloodstream and control the delivery of glucose to the body. Type I diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in dogs and is rare in cats. Type I diabetes requires life-long insulin therapy.
Type II diabetes mellitus occurs when some of the cells in pancreas function, but the amount of insulin is not enough, as well as a phenomenon called insulin resistance, where cells in the body do not let insulin affect them. Middle-aged to older pets that are overweight or obese are at a higher risk of developing Type II diabetes.
Certain breeds of dogs and cats are more predisposed to develop diabetes mellitus and female dogs and male cats are over-represented.
The most common signs of diabetes are:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss despite an increased appetite
- Cataracts, or whiteness of the lens of the eye (seen in dogs), often recognized first as blindness
- Weakness and lethargy
- Poor skin condition
- Dull, thin coat
If your pet has any of these signs, you should see your veterinarian right away.
About 1 in 200 cats and 1 in 300 dogs are affected. While there is no cure for diabetes, you can help manage the disease by following your veterinarian’s instructions. Depending on the type of diabetes that your pet has, management may include insulin injections as prescribed by your veterinarian, regulation of your pet’s diet, and incorporating an exercise routine.
Once a pet’s diabetes is properly managed, the prognosis is good, although regular trips to the veterinarian for monitoring is very important. However, if left undiagnosed and untreated, diabetes can lead to other, more serious health problems including cataracts, urinary tract infections, and life-threatening complications.
Because genetics plays an important role in Type I diabetes, there is little you can do to prevent this type of diabetes; however, following the tips below can help prevent Type II diabetes from developing in your pet and will help maintain your pet’s overall health:
- Take your pet for regular checkups with your veterinarian, including routine blood work
- Establish an exercise routine
- Maintain your pet at his/her ideal body weight
- Spay your female dog
- Feed your pet an appropriate diet
Be aware of the signs of diabetes because the sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated.