Commonly Asked Questions Regarding Diabetes and Pets

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease caused either by the lack of insulin produced by the body or by the body’s inability to use the insulin correctly that is made by the body. (Insulin: a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps the cells absorb glucose from the blood stream.) With the body not using insulin correctly it allows for glucose to build up in the bloodstream. (Glucose: a simple sugar that comes from food that is used by the body as a major source of energy.)

In a healthy pet, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestines. Once in the bloodstream the glucose travels throughout the body delivering energy. Insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas, is required for the cells to absorb the glucose. The amount of insulin secreted is based on the amount of glucose present in the bloodstream. In a healthy pet the right amount of insulin is released and the glucose is absorbed by the cells and used as energy. In pets with diabetes the right amount of insulin is not released (sometime none at all) and the glucose is not absorbed and not used as energy. Instead it builds up in the bloodstream.

Diabetes in pets is very similar to diabetes in humans. In fact, most of the time the medication used, the equipment used and the monitoring system used are the same as a human diabetic.

What are the risk factors for diabetes? 

  • Age (middle-age to older pets)
  • Genetics
  • Being overweight/ being obese (50% of pets today)
  • Physical inactivity
  • Indoor lifestyles (cats)
  • Other insulin-resistant disorders such as chronic pancreatitis or hyperthyroidism (cats)
  • Breed

What are the warning signs of diabetes to watch for?

  •  Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive hunger while losing weight
  • Lethargy
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Thinning, dry and dull hair
  • Stops grooming (cats)

How will diabetes affect my pet’s life and life expectancy?

Pets with poorly controlled diabetes can develop other health problems over time.

  • For dogs: Cataracts and blindness are a common complication. Long periods of high blood glucose levels cause the lens of the eyes to turn opaque and eventually lead to blindness.
  • For cats: Weakness of the hind legs is a common complication. Long periods of high blood glucose levels lead to nerve damage causing muscle weakness and wasting.

With effective treatment, monitoring and control of high blood glucose levels diabetic pets can lead a normal life with a good quality of life.

How does my veterinarian test for diabetes?

It is necessary that they always start with a good physical examination. A complete history from you as the owner is extremely important. Tell the veterinarian any and all signs that you are seeing. After the veterinarian performs the physical examination they will discuss with you their findings, thoughts, needed diagnostic testing and treatment.

Education, prevention and early detection are important keys in keeping pets healthy. If you have any questions or concerns about your pet and diabetes please contact us.
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