November is so much more than Black Friday and turkey dinners. It’s also National Diabetes Month. While this designation was initially intended to raise awareness of the disease in humans, it’s also become the perfect time to discuss how the disease affects our fur babies. One out of every 200 cats and one out of every 300 dogs will be affected by diabetes mellitus in their lifetime and, in many cases, this disease can prove fatal. As obesity rates skyrocket, this number is likely to rise. Luckily, thanks to recent advancements in veterinary medicine, animals with diabetes are living longer, happier lives.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that affects the level of glucose, or sugar, in an animal’s blood. This usually happens when pancreas loses its ability to control insulin levels.
To make things a bit clearer, we need to think of our pet’s as a car that runs off a sugar called glucose. This “car” refills its tank by taking in food and breaking it down into its base parts. A hormone called insulin then helps the animal’s cells extract glucose from the leftovers. As animals that suffer from diabetes can’t produce enough insulin, they’re forced to spend their lives on empty. This allows sugar to build up in the blood and wreak havoc on our pets’ organs. While most types of diabetes can’t be cured, they can all be managed through a combination of insulin injections, diet, and exercise.
Types of Animal Diabetes
Diabetes is a multifaceted disease and can exhibit in a variety of ways. While there are other types, such as gestational diabetes, there are two types us pet owners should be concerned with. These are:
Type I: This type of diabetes begins at or shortly after our pet’s birth. It will accompany them throughout their lives and require long-term insulin therapy. Type I happens because the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to keep the body going. While relatively rare in cats, this disease is more common in Golden Retrievers, Schnauzers, Australian Shepherds, and Bichon Frises.
Type II: Usually occurring later in life, this type of diabetes occurs when something in the body, such as excess fat, lowers the effectiveness of the insulin produced. Unlike Type I, this version of the disorder can be cured. This transient type is more common in cats than in dogs.
The Seven Warning Signs of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
Though signs may vary depending on the age and health of our pets, there are seven telltale signs that Fido or Mittens might be suffering from diabetes. If we notice any of these, it’s time to take our pet in for a checkup:
More Frequent Urination: To get rid of all the excess glucose, the kidneys kick into overdrive. This often results in more trips to the bathroom.
Excessive Thirst: A pet with diabetes may spend a lot of time at the ole water bowl. This is because flushing out all that excess glucose drains fluids and increases the likelihood of dehydration.
Increased Appetite: Our fur baby’s body knows it’s not getting enough glucose. In an attempt to remedy this problem, it tells them that they need more food. Giving insulin injections right after meals can help soothe our animal’s appetite.
Unexplained Weight Loss: Because their body is unable to extract the proper nutrients from their food, animals with untreated diabetes will typically lose weight. Once the condition is stabilized, they will return to their pre-diabetes weight.
Cloudy Eyes: In an attempt to get the glucose out of the bloodstream, scientists hypothesize that our pets’ bodies start storing it in the eyes. This symptom is practically unheard of in cats, however.
Lackluster Coat: As a poor coat is not harmful to an animal’s health, the body may divert nutrients and sugars from the hair to more vital areas of the body. This can lead to fur that is brittle or rough. For us pet lovers with sphinxes or Chinese Crested, however, this symptom isn’t very useful.
Lethargy: A car without gas won’t get very far. The same is true for pets without adequate glucose. A sudden change in an animal’s energy level can be a sign of illness and should be treated as soon as possible.
Treating Diabetes in Our Pets
Treatments for diabetic animals tend to fall into three categories:
Dietary Changes: Changing what and when our pets eat can be a great way to fight diabetes. Many vets will recommend a diet that is high in meat-based protein and restricted in both fats and carbohydrates. Some studies have shown that adding fiber to a diabetic animal’s diet can help minimize blood sugar fluctuations. More important than any of that, however, is meal consistency. Diabetic animals should be fed at the same time every day to avoid blood sugar spikes.
Exercise: This is especially important for dogs and cats with Type II. Regular, moderate exercise can have a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels and, in some cases, can erase the need for insulin altogether.
Insulin Injections: Most diabetic pets will require daily shots of insulin under the skin. After issuing the diagnosis, most veterinarians will walk guardians through how to safely administer these injections. While it’s okay to be apprehensive about doing it, the process is rarely traumatic for the animal.
While diabetes can be fatal, there’s no reason it has to reduce our fur baby’s quality of life. If the condition is managed properly, many animals with diabetes can live long, productive lives. However, it’s up to us to put in the time and effort to keep them on a treatment plan. As the awareness of the disease grows, there may come a day where we can bid it adieu. Until then, we must share articles like this and do our part to spread awareness about animal diabetes.
Diabetes in Pets, AVMA
- Ten Signs Your Pet Has Diabetes, PetMD
- Diabetes in Dogs, American Kennel Club