Pet Diabetes: Is Your Pet at Risk?

I remember the first few times I diagnosed diabetes (also known as diabetes mellitus) in someone’s pet, I was met with a shocked, “Pets can get diabetes?” The same phenomenon happened with cancer, heart failure and a host of other diseases. I rarely get that quizzical look anymore, which I think is testament to the success of public information campaigns like Pet Diabetes Month, which is going on right now. Pet owners are better informed and more knowledgeable than ever before, and we have the Internet to thank for that, as well as the efforts of veterinarians worldwide!

The answer, or course, is a resounding yes…pets can get diabetes. And they get it for the same reasons that people do. I won’t go into too much medical detail, but I will give you the two types of diabetes, signs to watch out for, and what you can do, below.

Type I diabetes occurs when cells of the immune system destroy the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin allows sugar into cells to serve as fuel, so no insulin equals no fuel. Since sugar can’t get into cells, it builds up to toxic levels in the blood and causes many of the signs and complications that we see in diabetic pets (and people):

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Cataracts
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

This type of diabetes is usually treated with insulin injections (twice daily in most pets), but diet, exercise and medications can sometimes be used to make control of blood sugar easier. You can even check your pet’s blood sugar at home!

Vet care for diabetics can get expensive and be quite the hassle. Regulating a diabetic pet leaves some owners frustrated and sad, and only about 75% of diabetic pets will achieve good control of their blood sugar.

With good care and regular veterinary visits, diabetic pets can live for a very long time – and in some cases, the diabetic state can reverse itself and pets are ‘cured’ of diabetes, although that’s more common with the next type…

Type II diabetes has become the scourge of modern life in people, and it is affecting our pets as well.  This is the disease that rides on the heels of obesity, and here’s why: When your pancreas has to churn out insulin 24-7 to combat all the McFast Food and Krunchity Kreme Donuts we ingest, it gets sick of working and, almost literally, burns out. You run out of the cells that make insulin, and we’re back to high sugar in the blood stream. The signs are the same as for Type I, just add 20 pounds: drinking like a fish, peeing all over, lethargy and sometimes weight loss. Diet and exercise become even more important with this form of the disease, but still, some pets will need insulin or other steps. Many diabetic pets will develop cataracts, and the last time I checked the price tag on that procedure, it was about $4k.

If you have an older pet, or an overweight pet who is drinking more than they used to, make an appointment to see your family veterinarian as soon as you can. The sooner treatment is started, the sooner things will improve and the better the chances of a long and happy, disease-free life.

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-Photo Credit: From flickr by PDSA

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