November is recognized as Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.
What exactly does a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus mean for your pet? Glucose (otherwise known as sugar) is an essential energy source for all of the body’s cells. Normally, it is absorbed from food by the intestines and travels through the blood to where it is needed. Insulin is a hormone secreted from the pancreas and is necessary for delivering and storing glucose in cells. With diabetes, cells aren’t able to utilize glucose as a fuel source and essentially starve. Instead, glucose builds up in the blood stream and has the potential to damage organs. Canines most commonly develop type one, or insulin deficient diabetes. The body does not make enough insulin, which means they require insulin replacement for life. Our feline friends most commonly get type two, or insulin resistant diabetes. The most common (and preventable) risk factor for diabetes is obesity. Obesity leads to increased appetite and lowers metabolism, which leads to insulin resistance. In type two diabetes, if it caught early before persistent increased glucose has lead to permanent damage, there is a chance for it to be reversed. So what can you do at home to provide the best outcome for your pet? Monitor their weight and body condition to make sure they are not overweight and keep an eye out for early signs of diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to many health conditions, including diabetic ketoacidosis (a potentially life threatening condition), neuropathies (usually presents as weakness in the back legs), cataracts, and reoccurring infections.
What are some of those early signs that you can monitor for? The most common symptoms of diabetes that you may notice at home are increased drinking, increased urination, increased appetite, and weight loss. If you see any of these changes in your pet at home, schedule a visit with your veterinarian. After listening to the history and doing a thorough examination, your veterinarian will most likely want to run some tests.The most classic lab work findings for diabetes are persistent hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glucose in the urine.
The mainstay of treatment for diabetes is insulin therapy. Owners of newly diagnosed diabetics usually worry about twice daily injections, but most animals tolerate the injections and most owners adjust quickly. Your veterinarian will help demonstrate the injections and make sure you are comfortable with them. Another important aspect that may be overlooked is diet. In cats, high protein, low carbohydrate diet is important for a few reasons. The benefits include: removing post-prandial hyperglycemia, providing muscle mass that is important for normal insulin function that diabetics are prone to losing, and improving fat metabolism. In dogs, the most important aspect of diet is consistency and a mixed high fiber, good quality diet is recommended. Finding the right regimen may take some patience and time due to many different factors. There are a few different blood tests including blood glucose curves (measuring the blood glucose throughout a day) and fructosamine (looking at an average of blood glucose over a few week period) that are used to help regulate diabetics and find the right insulin dose for your pet.
Finding out that your pet has diabetes mellitus may sound intimidating at first, but together with the help of an involved veterinarian and your commitment, it is a disease that can be managed successfully and create a happy, healthy life for your fur baby for many years to come.
Stephanie Driscoll, DVM