1. Online Vets
  2. Wellness

Diabetes in pets

Dr. Jo Myers

7 min read

Diabetes in pets - Vetster

Pets get diabetes?

Yes. In fact, the incidence of diabetes in both dogs and cats has been dramatically increasing in recent years. The prevalence of diabetes mellitus in dogs is nearly 1 case per 500 dogs and more than three times higher than that for cats with 1 case per 150 cats.

Even though more people are knowledgeable about diabetes in humans, pet parents need to learn to recognize the signs of diabetes in their pets and — perhaps more importantly — how to prevent it.

Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) affects dogs and cats in essentially the same way as it affects people. There are the same two forms: Type 1 and Type 2. With Type 1 diabetes, the body loses the ability to produce insulin. Insulin is still produced with Type 2 diabetes, but the body has become resistant to it. Dogs usually develop Type 1 diabetes, while Type 2 is more common in cats.

When a pet eats food, insulin is necessary for converting the sugars (carbohydrates) in that food into energy. Without insulin to make carbohydrates available, the cells are forced to meet all their energy needs from only fats and proteins. This can work for a while, but it isn’t sustainable. The situation is complicated by the fact that all those unusable sugars accumulate in the bloodstream and wreak havoc. We’ll talk about the symptoms this causes later.

Who is likely to develop diabetes mellitus?

For cats, diabetes is more likely to occur in middle-aged overweight male cats. The sex predisposition is so strong in cats that approximately 3⁄4 of diabetic cats are male. Some purebred cats, like Burmese, Tonkinese, and Norwegian forest cats may experience a higher incidence of diabetes. Overall, however, obesity is the most significant contributing cause.

Diabetes mellitus in dogs is also more common for middle-aged pets, but it affects females approximately three times more often than males. Diet can play a role in canine diabetes, but genetics appear to have a more significant impact. Scandinavian breeds and northern dogs as well as the miniature Schnauzer, Poodle, Cairn Terrier, Bichon Frise, Tibetan Terrier, pug, Yorkshire Terrier, Labrador Retriever, and Australian Terrier are all predisposed to diabetes. Other reports show the German Shepherd, Boxer, Golden Retriever, American Pit Bull Terrier, and Collie are less likely to become diabetic.

What are the symptoms of diabetes in pets?

Both cats and dogs experience a gradual onset of symptoms. These may progress unnoticed for weeks or even months, depending on how severe they are and how closely the pet is monitored. Many pet parents realize something is up when they notice the water bowl is always empty. Classic symptoms of diabetes mellitus include:

• Excessive thirst and urination

• Increased appetite

• Weight loss

As the disease progresses, weight loss can become much more rapid and severe. After enough time passes, the pet will start to act ill and show appetite loss and lethargy. Some pet parents with particularly sensitive noses may pick up on the smell of ketones from their pet. This smells like fingernail polish remover (acetone) and is expelled in the breath.

How is diabetes diagnosed in pets?

You may suspect that your pet has diabetes if you notice the clinical signs described above, but your vet will do a thorough physical examination, basic blood tests, and a urinalysis to confirm the diagnosis. It’s important to get a complete understanding of the pet’s overall health status, because successful diabetes management can be complicated by underlying health problems. Even something as common as periodontal disease can interfere with treating diabetes. Additionally, pets with diabetes are predisposed to developing other health issues like urinary tract infections, so it’s important to identify any other problems and treat them.

How is it treated?

In general, dogs and cats suffering from diabetes mellitus will require insulin injections for the rest of their lives. Even though the thought of giving twice-daily insulin shots can be overwhelming at first ,it can take as little as an extra five or ten minutes per day as long as everything is going well and you’ve got a routine established.

The first several weeks with a newly-diagnosed diabetic pet are the most difficult. This is a process called “regulation”. This is a tough period to get through because the pet is usually significantly ill by this time and may also be dealing with other health issues. Additionally, it's impossible to predict exactly how much insulin an individual pet will need, so it takes a little time to work that out. More intensive monitoring is necessary during this time and it’s not unusual for complications to arise. Good communication with your veterinarian will ease this process.

Establishing a good routine with diet and exercise is important for managing diabetes successfully. Your vet may want you to change how you’re feeding your pet, or even what you feed them. Weight loss is usually part of the plan, regardless. Excessive weight is such a huge factor in contributing to diabetes that in some cases, cats with diabetes will experience a “remission” and no longer require insulin injections if they lose enough weight.

An Ounce of Prevention...

You and your pets can work together to try to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle for everyone! Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and it’s something a canine companion will love to do with you. Try playing Chase-The-Laser-Dot with your cat as a welcome break from work, you’ll both feel better. Use food as fuel for your bodies and keep portion sizes appropriate. Establish routines for rest, work, and activity and do the things you love to do together. Not only will this help prevent metabolic disease like diabetes, it’ll also go a long way towards increasing your overall happiness.

Resources:

AVMA

AAHA

Pet Diabetes Month

Written by Dr. Jo Myers
DVM
Dr. Jo Myers is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has spent more than 25 years helping pet owners enjoy happy and satisfying lives with their furry and feathered companions.
Book a virtual appointment with Dr. Jo Myers on Vetster.

Time for a check-up?

Start a video chat with a licensed veterinary professional right now on Vetster!

Book an online vet

Online veterinarian and virtual pet care services available on-demand.

Available now on Apple and Play stores.

Vet on phone