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Diabetes Awareness

Diabetes is not uncommon, in people or in our pets. But would you know what signs to look out for that may indicate your pet has the disease? November is Diabetes Awareness Month which aims to highlight just that (albeit for people rather than animals, however there are many similarities between the two, so pet owners listen up)!

What exactly is diabetes?

Diabetes, or diabetes mellitus to give it it’s full title, is a disease that affects how sugars, namely glucose, are dealt with by the body. Glucose is required by all our cells in order to function and produce energy, and comes from the food we eat. Special cells within the pancreas produce the hormone insulin which facilitates the passage of glucose from the blood into the cells of the body. Diabetes is a disruption of this process.

You may have heard of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas doesn’t produce any, or enough insulin, so the glucose cannot enter the cells where it is needed. Type 2 diabetes is when insulin is produced but the body’s cells are unable to utilise it, often known as ‘insulin resistance’. Both conditions result in high levels of glucose within the blood which can have severe knock on effects on many other organs and can potentially be life threatening if not treated.

What about our pets?

In our pets, namely cats and dogs, we don’t tend to use the categorisation of Type 1 and Type 2, however we can see some differences in the disease between the species. Dogs will tend to get a type of diabetes similar to Type 1 with a distinct lack of insulin. Cats more commonly get a Type 2-like diabetes, often occurring secondarily to either being overweight or after certain other treatments such as steroids. The key distinction is that diabetes in cats can potentially be reversible but in dogs, it will be a lifelong condition.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

The main symptoms of diabetes are universal between the species. Typically we would see

  • weight loss
  • increased appetite
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination

If left unchecked, diabetes can also cause symptoms such as

  • weakness
  • cataracts
  • recurrent infections, for example in the urine or skin
  • vomiting
  • collapse
  • a plantigrade stance in cats (lowered hind legs)
  • seizures
  • coma
  • death

How do we test for diabetes?

Thankfully, the diagnosis of diabetes is usually straightforward. We may ask you to first bring in a fresh urine sample from your pet – this is to check for the presence of glucose in the urine, which most commonly occurs when the levels in the blood are too high. If glucose is present and your pet has symptoms that could fit with diabetes, the next step will be to take a blood sample. This is to look at the blood glucose levels and also the fructosamine levels which correlate with their ‘average’ blood glucose over the previous few weeks. Often a general blood screen is also carried out to check for any other abnormalities. If your pet has glucose in the urine, a high blood glucose and a high fructosamine, we would say they have diabetes.

So what now? How is diabetes treated?

The mainstay of treatment for diabetes in dogs and cats is by way of insulin injections. These are given under the skin, usually twice a day at around a meal time. At first, giving injections to your pet can seem daunting but we are here to help and will happily teach and guide you how to do it successfully. It could take some time to establish the correct dose of insulin and we may need to see your pet regularly in order to do so. This stabilisation period will usually involve taking repeated blood and urine samples, however once the correct dose is found, and they are responding to treatment, we won’t need to see them as often. We can even get you involved in some home testing if you’d like- and often tests done at home with a glucose meter are actually more accurate than those here at the practice! In some cases, dietary adjustment may also be required but if this is the case, we will advise you on how and what to feed your pet.

For cats, if the diabetes has occurred secondarily to other drug treatment or because they are overweight, then these factors will also need to be targeted.

Diabetes is a serious disease that can have serious consequences but once treatment is underway, our pets can live a full and happy life. To achieve this, it’s important to recognise the symptoms early and seek professional help. So if your dog is drinking you dry, or your cat is persistently peeing, make an appointment to see one of our vets and we can help to get them back on track.