Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a disease of glucose metabolism. It occurs most commonly in dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Glucose is required by every cell in the body for energy, and insulin is the hormone that allows the glucose to move from the blood into the cell so it can be used. Insulin is produced in the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when animals develop either an absolute deficiency of insulin (Type 1 DM) or a resistance to the action of insulin (Type 2 DM). Excessive glucose in the blood also poisons the pancreatic insulin-secreting cells, worsening the disease.
Nearly all animals that have developed DM have a history of being overweight or obese, with a sudden unintentional weight loss despite an often healthy or even ravenous appetite. Animals will drink copious amounts of water and urinate a lot as the glucose they are losing in their urine forces water through the kidneys with it causing excessive urination. This glucose-rich urine also predisposes them to urinary tract infections. Some owners present with the complaint of lethargy in their pets.
Diabetes in dogs
In dogs, DM is almost always Type 1 meaning animals are insulin-dependent for the remainder of their life, requiring twice-daily injections and strict feeding regimes to keep their glucose under control. Dogs will also almost always develop diabetic cataracts within 6 months of diagnosis which renders their sight poor (though surgery can be performed to remove these if the DM is well controlled). These cataracts can lead to an increased risk of lens rupture, which in turn can cause inflammation within the eye and lens luxation, or glaucoma formation. Guinea pigs are similar to dogs.
Diabetes in cats
In cats DM is pretty much Type 2, meaning with quick diagnosis, and steady and healthy weight loss there is a good chance your cat will go into remission (though he may not stay in remission and become diabetic again). Cats almost never develop diabetic cataracts. Cats also require insulin, usually twice daily and a different feeding regime to dogs.
For owners, diabetes means a solid commitment – often lifelong – to their pet in that they must be present to feed and give insulin at regular intervals throughout the day, or be able to find carers who are willing and able to do so in their absence. Any situation that increases glucose metabolism or increases insulin resistance such as excessive exercise, stress, or infection, or concurrent disease can throw good diabetic control out the window necessitating tweaking of insulin dosing. Regular blood and urine monitoring, both in clinic and at home are a must to ensure we are always aware of how the animal is travelling.
Diabetes treatment for pets
For animals, it means a life of injections and blood tests and monitoring, and strict routine. Addition of any of the confounding situations mentioned above could mean another trip to the vet to establish a new regime in order to re-institute stabilisation of the disease. If your animal is a dog it will almost certainly mean blindness from cataracts and an increased risk of eye-threatening complications. For cats remission can be a blessing, though often the only sign of remission is going hypo, and more often than not cats will redevelop diabetes again.
And for those animals that never get diagnosed? Chronic untreated diabetes leads to a condition called ketoacidosis. This is where the body produces an alternate form of energy in the form of ketones. However this is unsustainable in the long term, and leads to acidosis of the blood, seizures and coma as the brain fails in the absence of glucose. So if your pet develops diabetes it must be treated or your pet will move to a ketoacidotic state and die.
Diabetes prevention for pets
An easier way? Ensure your pet remains at a healthy weight, cut out the human snacks and excessive treats that lead to weight gain. Get out and give your pet some exercise to burn some calories. Whilst some breeds are at a higher risk of developing certain hormonal diseases you can minimise risk in any animal by keeping them at a healthy weight, and feeding them a good quality healthy diet.
If you need any advice or assistance please get in touch!