How to Manage Diabetes in Pets
November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. We hope you never have a pet who develops the disease, but feel everyone should be aware of the signs of diabetes and available treatments, and how to properly manage diabetes in pets.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body cannot maintain appropriate blood glucose levels or utilize glucose as a cellular energy source. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas.
As food passes through the intestines during digestion, sugars are one of the nutrients absorbed from the food. These sugars are transported into the cells lining the intestines and are converted into simple sugars, including glucose. Simple sugars are then absorbed into the bloodstream and delivered to the body’s tissues and cells. Insulin is required for the transfer of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. If there is not enough insulin, or the body is unable to use insulin, glucose accumulates in high levels in the blood – a condition called hyperglycemia. When the blood glucose reaches a certain level, glucose overflows into the urine (glycosuria) and draws large volumes of water with it. This is why diabetic pets drink more water and urinate more frequently, and in larger amounts, than healthy pets.
In diabetics, regardless of the source or amount of sugar in the blood, there is not enough glucose transported into the body’s cells. As a result, there is not enough energy for the cells to function normally, and the tissues become “starved”. This state of metabolic “starvation” causes the body to breakdown fat and muscle tissue, which is then converted by the liver to ketones. Ketones do not rely on insulin the way glucose does to be used as an energy source. Unfortunately, using ketones as a primary energy source is not without consequence. This breakdown of body tissues results in the weight loss seen in diabetic patients.
What pets are at risk?
Diabetes in dogs and cats can occur at any age. Diabetes occurs in unspayed female dogs twice as often as male dogs. Certain breeds of dog may be predisposed to diabetes, this includes Poodles, Bichons Frises, Pugs, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Pulis, Samoyeds, Keeshonds, Australian Terriers, Fox Terriers, Cairn Terriers, and Beagles. Obesity is a significant risk factor for development of diabetes in any breed.
What are the signs of diabetes in pets?
Noticing the early signs of diabetes is crucial. If you notice any of the following signs, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian. The earlier the diagnosis, the better chance your pet will have a longer and healthier life.
- Excessive water drinking and increased urination
- Weight loss, even though there may be an increased appetite
- Decreased or increased appetite
- Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)
- Chronic or recurring infections (including skin infections and urinary infections)
How is diabetes diagnosed and treated?
Diabetes may be suspected based on the signs a pet is showing, but the diagnosis is confirmed by your veterinarian by finding consistent hyperglycemia and glycosuria. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian will prescribe an initial dose and type of insulin for your pet. Insulin cannot be given orally – it must be given by injection under the skin. It is not a one-size-fits-all treatment, your veterinarian will periodically need to adjust your pet’s treatment regimen based on the results of monitoring.
How Do You Give a Subcutaneous Injection?
- Make Sure Your Pet is Calm
- Gather Supplies — including a helper to restrain if needed
- Load the syringe with the appropriate dose of insulin- you will read the lines on the side of the syringe and fill to the prescribed number of units.
• Store insulin in the fridge.
• Roll the insulin bottle, do not shake it, prior to loading the syringe
- Find an area of loose skin- this is normally in the middle of the back between the shoulder blades
- Gently pinch the skin between your thumb and forefinger. Pull the loose skin gently upward and look for a small indentation of skin between your fingers.
- Pick up the syringe with your other hand and insert the sterile needle directly into the indentation. Keep the needle parallel to the surface of the skin on the back. If you angle the needle too much, you may enter a muscle, go through the skin to the opposite side, or stick your own finger.
- Once the needle has been inserted, pull back on the plunger only. If you see blood, remove the needle and try a different location. If there is no blood, push the plunger forward to empty the syringe.
- When the syringe is empty, remove the needle, backing out along the same path that was used to enter the skin.
- Release the pet after giving him/her a big hug for being a good patient!
- Be sure to dispose of used needles and syringes properly.
**** Insulin must not be given to an animal that has not eaten. Contact your veterinarian if your pet will not eat but needs a dose of insulin.****
Caring for diabetic pets
Dogs and cats with diabetes usually require lifelong treatment with prescription diets, daily exercise and daily insulin injections. The key to managing diabetic pets is to keep your pet’s blood sugar near normal levels and avoid too-high or too-low levels that can be life-threatening.
It is very important to maintain the proper insulin and feeding schedules recommended for your pet. It is also very important your pet maintains a normal appetite while on insulin therapy. If your pet is not eating and a dose of insulin is given, hypoglycemia may occur. Hypoglycemia is the term used for low blood sugar and may become a medical emergency. Pets diagnosed with diabetes will require hospital visits for serial blood draws, glucose curves, used to monitor progress and help determine if your pet is on the correct dose of insulin.
If you suspect your pet may be showing signs of diabetes, contact your Longwood veterinarian immediately. Diabetes is not a death sentence. While control is time consuming and does not come without emotional or financial considerations, your pet can continue to lead a happy and healthy life.