Diabetes in dogs and cats

Dana – Veterinary Technician

Similar to people, when dogs and cats eat, the food is broken down into more basic nutrients such as proteins and sugars. The sugar enters the bloodstream and is taken in by our pet’s cells for use as energy. When this process does not happen due to a disease called diabetes mellitus, the blood becomes saturated with sugar and the body suffers from symptoms of high blood sugar. High blood sugar in a dog or cat is a value higher than 400 mg/dl. Normal glucose is between 80-120 mg/dl but it is possible to have high blood glucose due to other factors such as stress or after eating a meal especially if that meal is high in calories. Often, diabetic pets have a blood glucose level more than 700 mg/dl. When the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to move the glucose into the cells or the cells no longer respond to the signal that the insulin is giving, the blood glucose levels rise. The excess sugar has to be removed from the body by the kidneys. This causes there to be glucose in the urine.

Some symptoms of diabetes in pets include excessive drinking and urinating, weight loss, increased appetite, cloudy eyes or cataracts, and chronic skin and urinary tract infections (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2019). Because the cells in your pet’s body are not receiving the glucose they need to make energy, the cells are basically starving. This can cause your pet to eat more and is often why they are overweight. Your veterinarian can test the level of glucose in both the blood and the urine if you suspect your pet may be diabetic.

What can be done to prevent diabetes in our pets? Just as in people, diet is important. Feeding your pet both a balanced diet and the correct portions is key to prevention. Some pets will develop diabetes despite a proper diet. Some breeds are predisposed to diabetes. Age and sex can also contribute. Female dogs and older pets are more likely to get diabetes.

How is diabetes treated in dogs and cats? Diabetes is treated the same way in our pets as it is in people. Some owners are able to manage their pet’s diabetes with diet changes and exercise regime. However, most pets will need daily injections of insulin and regular veterinary visits in addition to diet and exercise changes. With the proper care, diabetes in pets can be managed.