ANIMAL BYTES: Treating Diabetes in Pets

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By STEPHANIE OBA, DVM
(First published in The Rafu Shimpo on November 24, 2010)

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November is Pet Diabetes Month. I’m writing to honor of this designation.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, the most well known form of diabetes, is an illness where the body cannot use glucose properly. Glucose is the main energy source for the body’s cells. In diabetes, the glucose is not able to be transported into cells. As a result, there is not enough energy for the cells to function normally. The body tissues become “starved” and cause the body to break down protein and fat for energy.

What are the signs in dogs and cats?

Many subtle signs may indicate diabetes. The sooner you diagnose diabetes, the better chances your pet has for a longer, higher quality life. If you notice any of the following signs, bring your pet into the veterinary office for testing:

Excessive thirst and urination (this can be seen as filling the water bowl more frequently or as larger clumps of urine in the litter box);

Weight loss, even with an increased appetite;

Decreased appetite;

For dogs: cataract formation (cloudy eyes);

Chronic or reoccurring infections, especially skin and urinary tract infections.

Can it be prevented?

Certain forms of diabetes are inherited. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to prevent it.  However, many forms in dogs and cats are secondary to obesity. The best prevention you can do for your pet is to keep it lean. There are a few drugs that can increase the risk of diabetes in pets if used long term, the most common are corticosteriods. There are also other diseases like pancreatitis that can increase the risk of developing diabetes later.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is generally a straightforward assessment of high blood sugar along with sugar in the urine. In advanced stages, there may also be ketones in the urine, signifying a more serious stage. Although this is usually straightforward, there may be other tests needed to rule out other medical conditions in older pets. It is not uncommon to have diabetes in conjunction with another disease.

How is it treated?

Pets are treated with insulin injections. This may seem scary at first, but the majority of my patients do very well with them. Your veterinary office will teach you how to give the injections at home. You’ll usually have to give injections twice a day, at as close to 12-hour intervals as possible. This often forces a lifestyle change for many of my clients.

There is no one-size-fits-all dosing protocol for insulin. You’ll become very familiar with your vet’s office, since there are numerous tests and follow-up visits required to adjust the insulin level.

Diet also plays an important role in the treatment of diabetes. Since many diabetics are also overweight or obese, weight loss is key. There are also diabetes-friendly prescription diets. You should consult your vet for the appropriate diet for your situation.

Successful treatment involves your ability to monitor pets at home and follow up with testing and exams. You can also purchase a special animal blood sugar meter and check blood sugar at home. Many clients like to do this and can email reports to their vet.

Are there side effects to treatment?

Unfortunately, balancing diabetes is very difficult. It’s like a teeter totter. If the body does not get enough insulin, diabetic ketoacidosis can result, causing severe illness and even death. If the body gets too much insulin, the resulting low blood sugar can cause coma and even death. So, we walk a fine line between too much and not enough medication. Signs of insulin over- or under-dosage look similar. If you notice that your pet is not quite right, check its blood sugar or have your vet check it.

The good news is that diabetes can be a well managed condition and your pet can live for years with your TLC.  For some cats, they may even go into remission and no longer require insulin injections.

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Stephanie Oba is a contributing writer and physician for animals in  Alhambra. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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