Jason Parker

Understanding and Helping Animals With Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month. In July of 2017, the Centers for Disease Control released a report which found more than 100 million Americans were suffering from diabetes, or prediabetes.

While many people are well-versed on basic knowledge of diabetes, pet parents are often surprised to learn pets can suffer from diabetes as well. Since awareness is the best defense in fighting pet diabetes, animal care professionals have jumped on the bandwagon, and declared November Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.

Since 2011, diabetes diagnoses have increased by 32 percent in dogs and 16 percent in cats. While canine diabetes is usually diagnosed in middle aged and senior dogs, it has also been seen in dogs as young as four years of age.

It is commonly diagnosed in Poodles, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Beagles, Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, and West Highland White Terriers. These findings, however, may reflect a certain bias based on breed popularity, rather than a genetic predisposition to the disease.

That said, pedigree analysis has identified a genetic predisposition in Samoyeds and Keeshonds. Burmese cats seem to be genetically predisposed to diabetes as well. Male cats are diagnosed with diabetes more frequently than their female counterparts.

The most common risk factors for diabetes in our pets are poor nutrition, lack of exercise, long-term corticosteroid use, and obesity. With pet obesity affecting nearly 54 percent of American dogs and 59 percent of our cats, the recent spike in diabetes diagnoses should come as no surprise.

Pets with diabetes may start sleeping more than usual, and appear lethargic throughout the day. Marked increases in water intake, food intake, and urination are red flags as well. Despite a seemingly insatiable appetite, diabetic pets may experience sudden weight loss. Diabetic dogs may have cloudy eyes, while diabetic cats may exhibit hind limb weakness or dry, thinning hair.

Some pets show few, if any clinical signs, but show early markers for diabetes in routine wellness blood screens. Let untreated, diabetes can lead to life-threatening medical problems, so if you notice any of the above symptoms, she will need to see her veterinarian as soon as possible.

Sadly, there is no cure for either canine or feline diabetes. The good news, however, is that the disease can be managed, and proper management can ensure many more years with our furry friends. Depending on each pet’s individual needs, your veterinarian may recommend weight loss or a change in diet.

If diabetes is caught before the onset of clinical signs, these changes could be all that is needed. Should your pet require insulin injections, don’t despair. While the thought of daily injections and glucose monitoring can be overwhelming at first, most pet parents report their pets tolerate the injections nicely.

The needles are small, and after a few tutorials by veterinary team members, caretakers generally agree it’s not as bad as it sounds. In fact, newer insulin products for cats have proven effective in regulating difficult cases, and can send newly diagnosed cases into remission after short term use. 

Like many conditions that affect our pets, prevention is often the best medicine. In the case of diabetes, obesity prevention is your pet’s best chance of keeping the disease at bay. Ask your veterinarian for his or her honest opinion of your pet’s Body Condition Score.

Develop a plan to keep your pet active and lean, and plan on running wellness blood work at least once every twelve months. Those decisions alone can give our companions the long and happy lives they so richly deserve.

Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic

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