November is National Diabetes Month so we thought we would bring you some information about the disease. Sadly, this is not an uncommon disease in our cats and dogs. Whilst it normally needs lifelong treatment, early detection usually leads to easier management of the condition.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease whereby the body cannot control the blood sugar or glucose levels. When a meal is eaten, insulin should be produced by the pancreas which is an organ in the abdomen involved in the process of digesting food. Insulin reduces the amount of glucose in the blood and drive this into the body’s cells. In diabetic patients not enough insulin is produced leading to high blood glucose levels.
Who is affected?
Dogs and cats can be affected by Diabetes, but it is more common in older and overweight animals. Other animals may be affected by the disease, but these are the most common species we see the disease in.
What are the main signs?
The main signs of Diabetes are increases in thirst and urinating. Diabetic pets may have an increased appetite but can show weight loss at the same time. Affected animals are normally lethargic and may show signs of weakness. Diabetes can also lead to cataract formation and affected animals may suddenly become blind.
How is it diagnosed?
Diabetes can be picked up by your vet usually with blood or urine tests. Both of these tests will pick up a higher than normal amount of glucose. Knowing the full history of the patient and carefully examining the animal are also important as there may be an underlying cause of the Diabetes or secondary conditions as a result of the high blood glucose levels. Fructosamine can be measured in the blood if there are any queries on whether the animal is diabetic, and this will indicate the blood glucose levels over the last 2-3 weeks.
Occasionally a disease called diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA can occur. This is very serious and can prove fatal if not treated quickly. This is caused when the blood glucose levels have become too high and the body has tried to reduce them by making ketones instead. Animals with DKA will need to be admitted to a veterinary practice for intravenous fluid therapy and medication to try and reverse these changes.
What are the treatment options?
Diabetes is normally managed with insulin injections which are given to the patient under the skin twice a day. Most of the time, owners will be trained up to give these and may also learn how to measure the blood glucose at home. Regular check ups with the veterinary team are important to ensure the correct dose of insulin is being given. Giving too much insulin can lead to a hypoglycaemic episode where the blood glucose becomes too low leading to signs of wobbliness or weakness. If this is suspected honey or jam can be rubbed onto the patient’s gums before getting the animal to the vets as soon as possible.
Management of the disease also relies on keeping a good routine, so the glucose balance is not affected by changes in exercise, diet or timing of injections. A high fibre, slow release diet can be useful as well as managing the patient’s weight. If the patient is not neutered this may help to achieve better control of the disease.
It is common in diabetic patients to have urine infections due to the increase glucose in the urine attracting bacteria. These need to be picked up and treated to avoid disturbance to the effect of the injected insulin. Likewise dental disease can affect the way that the insulin works so keeping the teeth as clean and healthy as possible will help the insulin to do it’s job and keep the glucose levels in a safe range.
Unfortunately, dogs are normally permanent diabetics once diagnosed, but cats occasionally go into remission and stop requiring treatment if the disease is quickly treated and other risk factors are reduced.
Is Diabetes life threatening?
Whilst Diabetes itself is not normally life threatening it will often lead to a reduction in life span especially if not well managed. DKA however will rapidly cause a deterioration and can be fatal so it is essential to manage the condition and avoid this secondary condition wherever possible.
We hope you have found this information useful. As our pets live longer and pet obesity continues to be a problem, Diabetes is still a relatively common condition. The good news is that it can be treated and managed but remember early intervention always helps. If you are suspicious that your pet may be diabetic contact your vet for a consultation.