Diabetes is a relatively common disease that affects 1 in every 300 pets. That’s why, at Urgent Pet Care Omaha, we want to ensure that pet owners have the information and resources to recognize and manage diabetes in their pets. A diabetes diagnosis isn’t a death sentence—with commitment and consistency, a pet can live for many years after being diagnosed with diabetes. The following information will help you understand the disease and to care for your diabetic pet. 

Recognizing diabetes in pets

Although diabetes can affect any pet at any time, some are at increased risk for the disease, including these pet populations:

  • Middle-aged dogs and cats
  • Female dogs
  • Male cats
  • Obese dogs and cats
  • Dog breeds such as miniature poodles, dachshunds, schnauzers, Cairn terriers, and beagles
  • Cat breeds such as Burmese, Russian blue, Norwegian forest, Abyssinian, and Tonkinese

The most common diabetes signs in dogs and cats are increased thirst and urination. Diabetes cases commonly involve lack of insulin, the body’s hormone that counteracts sugar in the bloodstream. Without insulin, the blood sugar rises above normal levels. The sugary blood makes the pet more thirsty, which causes more frequent urination. The glucose is excreted in the urine, and the sugary urine also increases the likelihood of urinary tract infection. 

Diagnosing diabetes in pets

Many illnesses can cause increased thirst and urination, so blood and urine testing is required to diagnose diabetes. High blood sugar, combined with glucose in the urine, strongly suggests diabetes, but additional testing may be necessary to differentiate diabetes from other diseases such as Cushing’s, where high blood sugar is caused by an excess of stress hormones. 

If diabetes is suspected in your pet, your veterinarian may recommend a blood glucose curve, a procedure that involves testing your pet’s blood sugar every few hours over one day to help determine the amount of insulin your pet is lacking and may need to be replaced.

One additional blood test, called a fructosamine test, may also be required for a definitive diabetes diagnosis. This test measures your pet’s average blood-sugar level over the previous two weeks, and helps your veterinarian to determine whether your pet is truly diabetic, or stressed from the hospital visit.

Managing diabetic pets

Fortunately, diabetes can be somewhat easily managed. Because the disease results when the pet no longer produces insulin, management involves replacing the hormone with manufactured insulin, which is delivered twice per day by injection under your pet’s skin, between the shoulder blades, where there are few nerve endings. The needle used to deliver the insulin is extra fine so, along with its placement near the shoulder blades, the injections seldom bother pets. 

Diabetic animals also require a specially formulated prescription food, fed twice a day, that contains the specific amount of carbohydrates necessary for elevating blood sugar. Each meal is followed by an insulin injection to combat the blood-sugar rise. Because extra snacks can also cause abnormally high blood sugar, diabetic pets must be kept on a strict diet to avoid dangerous complications.

The dangerous side of diabetes in pets

The high blood sugar (i.e., hyperglycemia) may also cause unfortunate side effects in diabetic pets. The disease may affect the immune system and make diabetic pets more susceptible to bacterial or fungal infections, and cause cataract development in dogs.

Also, a pet whose blood sugar stays too high for too long may develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), which can be life-threatening. DKA signs include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Depressed mentation
  • Coma

A pet with DKA requires emergency veterinary care and hospitalization to monitor and correct dehydration, blood sugar, and electrolyte abnormalities.

Another dangerous complication can occur when a pet’s blood sugar becomes too low (i.e., hypoglycemia). This can occur when the pet is given more insulin than is necessary based on the amount of food eaten. To avoid this, wait until your pet has eaten her entire meal before administering her insulin. Hypoglycemia is an emergency. Bring your pet to the veterinarian immediately if you notice the following signs:

  • Extreme lethargy
  • Muscle twitches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trembling
  • Incoordination 
  • Unusual behavior
  • Blindness
  • Unconsciousness

While diabetic pets can be managed for many years with few side effects, the disease may become an emergency situation. In this case, your pet needs immediate veterinary care, and if you cannot reach your family veterinarian, Urgent Pet Care’s veterinary team is always available for you and your beloved pet.