November is National Pet Diabetes Month, so we wanted to provide you with the facts about diabetes and how it can affect your pet. Diabetes mellitus or sugar diabetes is a common problem in older cats and dogs. Diabetes is caused by poor blood sugar control, as a result of inadequate insulin production by the pancreas. Unlike people, animals rarely respond to a change of diet alone, and pets almost always need daily insulin injections to make them well again.
Who Gets Diabetes?
Middle aged to older cats and dogs are at greatest risk, and this condition is unusual in young animals. Certain factors increase your pet’s chances of developing sugar diabetes, and these include being an overweight pet or an unneutered bitch.
Your diabetic animal gives certain clues that all is not well. For example, you top up the water bowl more frequently (a diabetic needs to drink more water to replace fluid lost in their urine). This means they urinate more often, and a sure-fire sign is if your well-trained pet starts having urinary accidents. Just be aware that increased thirst happens for reasons other than diabetes, but without fail this is a sign your pet should be checked out by a vet.
A pet with diabetes often has a good appetite; in fact they may be unusually hungry and steal food. This is because they need to replace the calories lost as sugar in their urine. But, despite her big appetite the pet loses weight and their coat becomes dry and dull. If these early signs are not spotted and diabetes goes untreated, this has a big impact on your pet’s future health.
It only takes a simple dipstick test to detect sugar in your pet’s urine.
If the result is positive, your vet may want to run blood tests to check out her organ function and gauge how well-established the diabetes is.
The good news is that diabetics usually respond well to daily insulin injections. If the thought of giving injections worries you, rest assured that your vet is used to teaching people just like you and will give you plenty of support. To make life even easier, there are insulin pens for pets that take some of the fiddle out of drawing up the insulin.
As well as regular insulin injections, a good diet plays an important role in stabilizing your diabetic pet. A high-fiber, low sugar diet is ideal because it promotes slow energy release, which evens out peaks and troughs in blood sugar levels.
An important part of effective treatment is monitoring the insulin dose. This involves checking blood glucose levels, and testing urine to see it is free from ketones (toxins that build up if blood sugar levels remain high for too long.) The blood tests can either be done at the vet clinic or if you feel confident at home, it’s not as difficult as you might think. You can check urine at home with special dipsticks, and this is super easy to learn.
The Dangers of Untreated Diabetes
Left untreated, diabetes has unpleasant consequences. Your pet will develop cataracts and eventually lose her sight, and whilst many pets cope well with blindness it does impact on their confidence and mobility. Another problem is the pet’s immune system is weaker and recurring bladder infections are common, which need regular courses of antibiotics
In the longer term, the pet loses weight and develops complications such as sickness, diarrhea, and dehydration. Their quality of life may deteriorate to the point that eventually, it may be necessary to prevent suffering and put her best interest first, by considering euthanasia.
Low blood glucose most commonly occurs when the pet doesn’t eat but receives her daily injection, leading to a relative insulin overdose. The symptoms of this are confusion, staggering, uncontrollable twitching, stupor, and coma. As a first aid measure give oral sugar solution but veterinary treatment is essential.
Persistently high blood glucose leads to natural toxins, called ketones, poisoning the brain and causing symptoms that vary from general malaise through to coma. If you find ketones in your pet’s urine, phone your vet right away.
Diabetes Treatment Costs
Diabetes is a treatable condition, but it involves considerable ongoing expense. Treatment requires life-long medication and costs include the purchase of insulin, needles, syringes, and dipsticks, as well as paying for the safe disposal of needles and syringes.
It can take weeks or months to find the correct insulin dose, and during this time regular blood glucose curves at the vet clinic are another financial commitment. You need to consider unplanned expenses such as antibiotics for urinary infections, and indeed emergency treatment should your pet have a diabetic crisis. Diabetes is an expensive disease to manage correctly. Having pet insurance in place makes all the difference between first-class treatment and cutting corners–or worse still, no treatment at all.
No insurance company provides cover for a condition that existed before the policy was taken out, so plan ahead and insure your pet whilst she is well. When considering insurance protection, remember diabetic animals can live for many years, and diabetes is just one example of why life-long cover is an excellent idea.
And finally, an overweight pet is far more likely to get diabetes than a slim one. A great tip for keeping your pet healthy is to watch their waistline. Likewise, the hormones associated with fertility in females cause havoc with her blood sugar levels, and spaying may be all that is needed to decrease your female dog’s risk of developing diabetes.