Diabetes is a disease that every pet owner has heard of, but seldom do they know its implications in the pet world until it is diagnosed in their own cat or dog. Diabetes mellitus is caused by either a deficiency in insulin secretion by the cells of the pancreas, or insulin resistance in other tissues of the body. Insulin is required by cells to uptake and use glucose (sugar) for energy. With the body unable to utilize glucose properly, its levels build in the bloodstream, resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Without glucose, the body’s cells become starved and are unable to function properly. Diabetes usually occurs in middle-aged cats and dogs. Age and obesity can predispose a pet to diabetes. Other factors such as long term use of corticosteroids can also increase the dangers of development as well.
Diagnosis of diabetes often occurs when the body is already exhibiting notable symptoms of the disease, such as increased thirst and appetite, increased urination, lethargy, and weight loss. In some cases, patients are also afflicted by other complicating conditions such as urinary tract infections, pancreatitis, and a neuropathy brought about by the disease. However, diagnosis can be made before symptoms become severe through the help of regular wellness bloodwork. Early detection of diabetes can make treatment and maintenance of the disease less complicated for both the pet owner and the veterinarian.
Diabetes is diagnosed when patients display persistently elevated glucose levels in conjunction with glucose in the urine. In some cases with borderline results, a blood fructosamine level can be evaluated, which allows the veterinarian to evaluate a pet’s average blood glucose control over the prior 2-3 week period. If the fructosamine level is high, diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed. Because diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s functioning as a whole, it is not unusual for there to be other abnormalities in the bloodwork. Diabetic patients who are recently diagnosed are often in a state of dehydration and as such may exhibit electrolyte imbalances as well as elevated kidney and liver values.
Treatment of diabetes is something that must be tailored to each individual patient. It is often initiated by performing an analysis called a glucose curve. This process involves hospitalization of the diagnosed patient so that insulin therapy can be initiated and monitored closely in order to determine a safe dose for the patient. Insulin therapy for pets has changed over the years and there is now insulin being manufactured specifically for the veterinary field. PZI was the first feline-specific insulin developed for use in cats. Shortly afterwards, Vetsulin was developed for use in dogs, but has recently been approved for use in cats as well. In addition to these veterinary specific insulins, there are also some human insulins that can prove helpful in the treatment of diabetic cats. The most useful to date is a long acting human insulin called Glargine.
Once insulin is chosen and treatment initiated, it is important for the pet owner to understand that diabetes may take several weeks to regulate. Even well-controlled diabetics may need periodic adjustments to their daily dosing. The introduction of diabetic veterinary diets may also prove helpful in the regulation of diabetes. Just as important is making sure diabetic patients are on a timed and regulated feeding schedule in conjunction with the administration of their insulin. When insulin is administered to a pet without a meal it can elicit a hypoglycemic response by the body. Hypoglycemia is defined as low blood glucose. Hypoglycemia can be severe and as such must be treated as a medical emergency. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include weakness, disorientation, acute collapse, and even seizures. Keeping Karo syrup, a high-sugar syrup, at home is helpful as it can quickly elevate glucose levels in a hypoglycemic diabetic patient. Should your diabetic pet experience a hypoglycemic episode, rub Karo syrup on your pet’s gums and call your veterinarian immediately.
When poorly managed or left unregulated, diabetes can develop into a life threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This condition is brought about by constant elevated blood glucose levels, which leads to a build-up of metabolic acids (ketones) in the blood. Symptoms of DKA include vomiting, anorexia, and lethargy. Patients in DKA require hospitalization and fluid therapy to flush the bloodstream of these excess levels as well as to combat dehydration. When stable the patient can then begin to re-establish a regulated state of diabetes.
Diabetes is a disease that requires commitment by the pet owner. Proper care and management can allow for diabetic pets to live a full life. Medical management and cost of care for pets diagnosed with diabetes is directly related to the management of their condition. Poor management of the disease will increase the likelihood of secondary complications. It is therefore not only crucial for pet owner to be committed to their pet’s health needs when diagnosed with a disease such as diabetes but to also take the steps necessary to prevent such conditions. This argument is strongest for the many pets today that are overweight and therefore suffering the threats of living an unhealthy lifestyle. Talk to our veterinarians today if you think your pet may be exhibiting signs of diabetes and discuss what steps you can take to prevent the risk of your pet from developing this condition.