Diabetes mellitus is a chronic endocrine disorder that occurs in dogs and cats. It is characterized by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and results when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to meet the animal's requirements.
Insulin is a hormone which is needed to transport glucose (blood sugar) as well as certain amino acids and minerals through the blood to energy-producing cells. When a lack of insulin occurs, glucose cannot move into the cells and the glucose level in the blood rises to abnormally high levels.
Signs of Diabetes
An animal with diabetes mellitus will exhibit some or all of the following symptoms: weakness, increased thirst, frequent urination, rapid weight loss, depression and abdominal pain. An animal may also show signs of either increased hunger or lack of appetite. In some animals, the sudden development of blindness due to cataract formation may indicate diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats is caused by damage to the pancreas. Predisposing factors are: obesity, genetic predisposition, poor diet, hormonal abnormalities, stress and drugs. The sex of the animal can also be a predisposing factor. In dogs, females are affected twice as often as males and in cats, diabetes is more prevalent in males.
Your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination of your pet and ask you questions about your pet's health history. Next, it will be necessary for your pet to fast for a short period of time so that its blood sugar level can be tested and a urine check can be done. Often your pet is hospitalized for one or two days to help insure the accuracy of this test. Diabetes is often complicated by urinary tract infections, other hormone disorders, infections, or a build-up of chemical compounds called ketones in the body. Provided these or no other complications are present, the fasting blood sugar and urinalysis tests will help determine whether or not your pet is diabetic. If there are complications, more testing may be necessary.
Treatment requires a commitment of time and management from you, the owner. There is no cure for diabetes mellitus, but, as with humans, it can be controlled with insulin injections, diet, and exercise management. With such therapy, your pet can lead a happy, comfortable life.
Once your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, its specific insulin requirements need to be determined. As each pet's insulin needs are unique and often vary from day to day, your pet may need to be hospitalized for 2-4 days in order to determine its specific needs. This is accomplished by your veterinarian giving the pet an insulin injection and testing the blood sugar levels at regular intervals throughout the day. These results are used to determine your pet's initial insulin requirements. Your veterinarian may indicate these on a Glucose Curve Chart. Because your pet's insulin needs may change once it returns home, due to changes in diet, exercise and certain environmental stresses, periodic reevaluation over the next two weeks is recommended until satisfactory control is achieved. Once control is achieved, further evaluations should be completed every 2-4 months.
You must provide your pet daily injections of insulin for the rest of its life. Oral medication is rarely effective for diabetic animals. It is also important that the insulin injections are given at the same time each day.
The injection is given just under the skin and is not painful to your pet. Your veterinarian will show you how to administer the injection.
The Insulin Dose
The type of insulin and the daily dose are tailored to meet the needs of each animal. Some animals require one daily, some twice daily treatments. Some may require one type of insulin, medications may also be prescribed, depending on concurrent complications.
When regulating a diabetic animal's blood glucose level, the goal is to keep it between 80 and 150 mg/dl. The recommended dose of insulin determined while your pet was in the veterinary clinic may need adjustment once your pet is home. This is because the food and exercise your pet receives at home may be different.
To adjust the dose, your veterinarian will continue to test and regulate your pet two ways. Your veterinarian will occasionally request you bring your dog or cat into the clinic for the day to test for blood and urine glucose levels. Also, you may be asked to monitor your pet's urine at home.
Although diabetes mellitus can be controlled with insulin and diet, diabetic animals are more susceptible to other health problems. Diabetes mellitus can cause an increased incidence of infections (especially bladder infections), slowed healing, cataracts, gastrointestinal dysfunction, kidney disease, heart disease, pancreatitis and nervous system disorders.
You should not breed a diabetic female animal because it is extremely difficult to control diabetes during pregnancy, and may cause a life-threatening situation.
The cost of caring for a diabetic pet is an important consideration. Of course, the cost will vary somewhat depending on any additional health problems that may occur and the size of your animal. To estimate your costs, it's best to break down the treatment stages:
- Initial diagnostic work-up
Your veterinarian will discuss the costs involved for each stage.
Beyond the monetary cost, there is a time commitment required of owners of a diabetic pet. Such a commitment may not seem easy, but can be very rewarding for both pet and owner.
Your commitment adds to the quality of your pet's life and is paid back in years of healthy companionship.
Questions you may have concerning your pet's health are welcomed by the hospital staff.
- Written by Dr. Lea Stogdale of the WinRose Animal Hospital -
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