Diabetes in your Vail Valley Pets

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Diabetes in your Vail Valley Pets

Diabetes in Pets


            Diabetes is a disease well recognized in humans, but did you know that our dogs and cats can also be prone to developing this disease? There are multiple kinds of diabetes—diabetes mellitus, which is related to the body’s ability to secrete and respond to insulin, and diabetes insipidus, which is related to the kidney’s ability to process fluids. Diabetes mellitus is the more common of the two, and what we will focus on in the following discussion.


Diabetes mellitus results most commonly in pets when the body is not producing enough insulin, which is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. Insulin is essentially a key that unlocks a figurative “door” in the body’s cells which allows glucose to enter the cells, be metabolized, and provide fuel for bodily functions. When insulin is not available, glucose cannot be let in and the body’s cells essentially starve because all the glucose obtained from the food your pet eats remains in the bloodstream instead of being metabolized. The most common symptoms you will notice when this occurs include increased thirst and increased urination because the extra glucose in the blood leaks into the urine and acts as a diuretic. You may also notice an increased appetite and weight loss. This is because the body’s cells are starving so it starts breaking down fat cells to try to feed itself—this is what contributes to the weight loss we observe and why your pet may seem insatiably hungry. This can also lead to a diabetic crisis which is termed diabetic ketoacidosis—the ketones that result from the breakdown of fat become the dominant fuel source for the body and leads to an overall lowering of the body’s normally neutral pH level (i.e. the body’s pH becomes acidic) which can cause your pet to become sick enough to require hospitalization.


In dogs, diabetes mellitus is usually permanent because the pancreas produces no insulin at all—they will need daily insulin injections for the rest of their lives. Cats, however, may need insulin injections initially but can sometimes go into remission because their pancreas is still able to produce some insulin, just not as much as a normal pancreas should. Your veterinarian can diagnose your pet with diabetes based on clinical history, blood and urine tests, and will likely perform what is called a glucose curve (glucose readings taken every 2 hours to form a graph of your animal’s glucose levels throughout the day). This will help determine the starting dose of insulin your pet needs to be on, and this dose will likely be adjusted several times after many subsequent blood readings and glucose curves to determine the maintenance dose that you will need to give at home (usually twice a day). It is important to note that you should never change the dose of insulin your pet receives without first consulting your veterinarian. Not enough insulin will result in more severe clinical signs of diabetes, but too much insulin could be a true emergency if your pet becomes hypoglycemic (lethargy, coma, seizures, etc).


As with people, diet and exercise are another important component of treating diabetes in pets. Ensuring that your dog or cat gets regular exercise will help maintain their weight, as obesity is a predisposing and complicating factor of diabetes. For cats, a low carbohydrate, high protein diet is recommended especially because this type of diet helps promote weight loss. For dogs, a high fiber diet is recommended because fiber can help sensitize the body to insulin making it more effective.


If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes it is imperative that they receive treatment as this is a life-threatening condition and can cause much pain and suffering for your pet if left untreated. When considering treatment, it is important to keep in mind that you will have to give multiple injections to your pet every day (whether with a syringe and needle or through an insulin pen), and will likely need to purchase a glucometer in order to take frequent blood sugar readings at home. Insulin treatment is often lifelong, especially in dogs, so it is also important to prepare for the cost of medication and the frequent veterinary visits that your pet will need to control this disease. If you think your pet may have symptoms of diabetes, please consult with your veterinarian to initiate the proper treatment for your pet as soon as possible

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