Diabetes Mellitus is a serious disease that not only affects people, but dogs and cats too. There are two types: Type 1 is when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or no insulin at all; Type 2 is when the body does produce insulin, but it isn’t sufficient enough to regulate glucose, also known as blood sugar. Dogs typically have type 1 whereas cats have both type 1 and 2, meaning that depending on the type, they will be treated differently.
Signs are the same in both species. They tend to drink excessively, resulting in frequent urination. They have a ravenous appetite, but tend to lose weight. They are prone to urinary tract infections because the sugar in the urine is a good food source for bacteria.
Another sign that may be seen is called diabetic neuropathy, where the animal is walking on a majority of their lower rear legs up to the hock or ankle. If the disease goes too long without being diagnosed, a very serious condition known as ketoacidosis can develop, leading to vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, lethargy, and anorexia.
Diabetic Ketoacidosis: A Medical Emergency
Cells use glucose as a food source and insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas, is the key that allows glucose to enter the cells. When a dog or cat is diabetic, they don’t have enough insulin to unlock the cells and the glucose continues to build up in the bloodstream. Eventually this starts to pool over into the urine, allowing it to be detected on a urine strip. If cells cannot receive glucose, they begin to starve and will find other ways to obtain a food source. The body begins to break down fat, starches, and protein. The breakdown of fat leads to the formation of ketones by the liver, which in turn causes a dangerous and life-threatening level in the blood. This rising level of ketones in the blood makes the blood pH too low which is an emergency medical situation.
Once diagnosed with a blood and urine test, 80% of cats may go into remission while dogs remain diabetic for life. The treatment involves a low carbohydrate diet, structured feeding regimen, and starting the patient on insulin. Dogs receive insulin twice a day and the cat receives insulin once to twice a day. After about a week of insulin at home, the veterinarian will want to perform a glucose curve in the clinic. This consists of the animal staying at the clinic over the course of the day and receiving periodic blood draws to test the sugar levels on a glucometer. If the levels are still too high or now too low, the amount of insulin will be adjusted. Frequent curves may be performed over a long period of time to determine the correct dose of insulin necessary for the pet.
Written by: Lindsey G