Diabetes mellitus is a relatively common problem in dogs and cats; it occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that helps the body turn food into energy. Insulin is what regulates blood sugar levels.
Dogs most commonly acquire type 1 diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system permanently destroys the cells that release insulin. All animals with type 1 diabetes require life-long insulin injections. Why dogs develop type 1 diabetes is still unclear.
Cats usually acquire type 2 diabetes, in which the body is resistant to insulin or may not be producing enough. The major predisposing condition for diabetes in cats is obesity. Other possible culprits include medications (such as chronic steroids) or hormonal diseases. Not every type 2 diabetic requires insulin, and with proper diet and weight loss some cats can even go into remission.
No matter the type or cause of diabetes, the symptoms are the same. Increased thirst and frequency of urination is a hallmark and many owners also notice lethargy, weight loss, increased or decreased appetite, and muscle loss. If diabetes goes unregulated it will likely result in a diabetic crisis, known as diabetic ketoacidosis (or DKA). DKA is a serious, life-threatening condition. Animals in this diabetic crisis exhibit all the regular symptoms of diabetes but are usually vomiting and profoundly weak.
Proper regulation of the body’s blood sugar is vital. In dogs, excess sugars can build up in the eye causing cataracts. In both dogs and cats sugar in the urine predisposes them to urinary tract infections. Without proper insulin regulation, almost every organ in the body is affected, from the liver to the skin.
Although giving twice-daily insulin injections is generally easy, and well tolerated by the pets, caring for a diabetic is complicated, and requires a committed owner. Many animals are very sick when first diagnosed and need to be hospitalized for several days. It is also a good idea to search for other complicating conditions, such as a urinary tract infection or pancreatitis that could complicate recovery. Once the blood sugar levels have stabilized, regular evaluations of the blood sugar performed over 12 hours (known as a blood glucose curve) are recommended to ensure no changes to the dose are required over time. Thanks to modern medicine, the diabetic pet can have a great quality of life and live longer than ever before.
Posted Thursday, October 23, 2014