Just like humans, our pets can also be affected by diabetes mellitus. This is a disease which affects the body’s ability to control glucose (sugar) levels in the bloodstream. Without treatment it can be very serious, even fatal, but thankfully with proper diagnosis and treatment it can be very successfully managed.
There are two types of diabetes, but diabetes mellitus is the one most commonly seen in dogs and cats. The other type, diabetes insipidus, is very rarely seen in pets. With diabetes mellitus, there is either a lack of insulin (a hormone normally produced by the pancreas), or the body’s cells become resistant to insulin. In either case, glucose can’t be absorbed into the body.
This has two effects – firstly the body becomes starved of the sugars it normally converts into energy, so it starts to break down fat and protein in the body instead. Secondly, the unused sugars build up in the bloodstream until the kidneys can no longer cope, and this spills over into the urine. This takes a lot of fluid, so the body can quickly become dehydrated.
These two problems result in the most common signs of diabetes: weight-loss despite a ravenous appetite, increased thirst and excessive urination. Other signs can include urinary infections, cataracts and muscle wastage. If left untreated it can result in vomiting, depression, kidney failure, blindness, coma and can eventually be fatal.
Any owner noticing these signs in their pet should make an appointment with their vet. This is important as these problems can be caused by a number of medical conditions, so it is important to get a correct diagnosis. Diabetes is usually confirmed by testing for glucose levels in the urine and blood.
If your pet is diagnosed with diabetes your vet will discuss the various treatment options with you. These may involve daily insulin injections, carefully controlling and monitoring your pet’s diet and giving your pet regular, appropriate exercise. Some owners are nervous about the thought of administering insulin injections to their pet, but with training and support from their vet and vet nurse, most quickly become confident at doing this.
It is much better to try to prevent diabetes than have to treat it for the rest of your pet’s life. Being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of developing diabetes mellitus – for example, an overweight cat is three times more likely to develop diabetes, so keeping your pet’s weight healthy is essential for reducing the risk of this disease.
Recognising the signs of diabetes and getting your pet health-checked by your vet if you suspect a problem is essential, and keeping your pet at a healthy weight is a vital part of prevention. Managing a pet’s diabetes may seem a little daunting at first, but with regular check-ups and advice from your vet, this illness can be very successfully controlled, allowing your pet to maintain a good quality of life. For more information on pet health, visit www.pdsa.org.uk/pethealth.