Pet diabetes affects many cats and dogs, and this month we celebrate National Pet Diabetes Month. If you wonder, why does my dog drink so much water (or your cat), you need to review this information.
I’ve compiled this information for you from my books because I believe a happier world starts with healthy, joyful pets. So I help scaredy-cat pet lovers wag up their confidence with genius at-home advice—that banishes embarrassment while improving pet relationships with award-winning pet care books like CAT FACTS and DOG FACTS.
Diabetes mellitus is a common disorder of the endocrine system in cats and dogs. The pancreas, a gland near the stomach and liver, produces the hormone insulin, which stimulates the movement of glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells of the body. Cat and dog diabetes can develop if something suppresses the action of existing insulin (Type II, non-insulin dependent). Diabetes in cats and dogs also happens when something interferes with the production of insulin (Type I, insulin dependent). Without insulin, the body can’t use the food pets eat. The disease develops slowly, with subtle signs that you may not notice until it becomes quite advanced.
Pet obesity increases the risk of diabetes for dogs and cats, because fat cells can become resistant to insulin. Older male cats and older female dogs appear to have a higher incidence of the disease. Although any dog can develop disease, some breeds have a higher incidence of diabetes, including Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Keeshonden, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers.
Why Does My Dog Drink So Much Water? Signs of Diabetes in Pets
A constellation of signs can point to diabetes in pets. The most common appear in both dogs and cats:
- Excessive drinking
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased urination
- Sticky urine
- Bathroom accidents
- Sudden blindness from cataracts (in dogs)
- Plantigrade stance, walks on rear “heels” (in cats)
When a pet’s body can’t use the food they eat, they lose weight, literally starve, and eat more to compensate. Since they can’t process glucose, the body excretes the sugar in the pet’s urine. The sugar in the urine pulls more water out of the system in a process called osmotic diuresis. The increase in urine production causes increased thirst, more drinking, and potty accidents, a vicious cycle that continues until pets receive treatment.
Diagnosing Pet Diabetes
Veterinarians base diabetes diagnosis on the signs of disease, along with an evaluation of the blood and urine. This can be tricky because stress can make the body “spill” excess glucose into his system–and cats especially ramp up stress during vet visits. For cats, a test that measures the serum fructosamine level may better determine the average blood glucose level over the past week since “stress-response” doesn’t affect this measurement. Sugar and sometimes acetone in the urine, along with a high blood sugar, diagnoses pet diabetes mellitus.
Dogs suffering from Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes improve when fed high-fiber diets. These diets reduce insulin requirements and also help overweight dogs lose weight. Most dogs with the condition, though, also require insulin injections.
Cats most frequently suffer from Type II diabetes. About 20 percent of cats also have a transient disease associated with pancreatitis. Diet sometimes with oral medication may help reduce their need for insulin injections. Oral medications such as Glipizide promote the secretion of insulin from the pancreas and may be helpful if you can’t give insulin injections. The stress of “pilling” often makes injections the better choice. Cats fed a high protein/low carbohydrate diet are ten times more likely to lose their dependency on insulin injections.
Kinds of Insulin
Commercial insulin comes from a variety of sources, most notably beef, pork, and synthetic human insulin, or combinations thereof. These products are categorized by promptness, duration, and intensity of action. Your veterinarian determines the mixture most appropriate for your dog or cat’s condition, and how often to give injections. Pet lovers learn to take blood samples (often an ear stick) to monitor the cat or dog at home and give injections accordingly. Most pets need twice daily injections, scheduled meals, and monitored exercise. Unauthorized snacks or “zoomies” that burn up energy can cause problems for the diabetic pet.
Too much insulin can cause insulin reaction, referred to as hypoglycemia. Symptoms include disorientation, weakness and hunger, lethargy, shaking, or head tilt. Without treatment, the pet’s symptoms progress to convulsions, coma, and then death. Giving your dog or cat a glucose source, such as Karo syrup or honey, should reverse signs within five to 15 minutes. Then see the veterinarian immediately. Too little insulin can cause coma, and may result from a variance in diet or exercise, or if the insulin has expired and isn’t effective. This is an emergency that your veterinarian must address.
You can’t cure diabetes, but can manage the disease. Pet lovers learn to monitor their cat or dog’s blood sugar levels and give insulin injections (tiny needles so pets don’t even feel it!), and support their furry companions. It’s what we do for our beloved family members. Learn more about caring for your cats and dogs in the books Cat Facts and Dog Facts.
Do you have a dog or cat with diabetes? How do you manage their condition? Please share your tips and experiences in the comments.
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!