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Diabetes in Pets - Know the Signs

November is National Pet Diabetes Month, and the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association (WVMA) wants you to know the signs of diabetes in dogs and cats.

Diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin in the body. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which is needed to transport glucose, blood sugar, from the blood stream to the body's cells for energy.
Both dogs and cats can get diabetes, but the types are often different. Dogs generally get Type 1 diabetes, similar to insulin dependent diabetes in humans. This is thought to be caused by immune mediated destruction of the cells that produce insulin for the body.

Type 2 diabetes, or non-insulin dependent diabetes, is more common in cats. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes in cats because it can lead to insulin resistance. For cats, there is potential for the diabetes to resolve if the pancreas improves its insulin-secreting ability. Insulin injections are needed to treat most diabetic cats but for some the situation is mild enough for oral medication.

Proper glucose control and diet can resolve diabetes in some cats, but rarely happens in dogs.

"Other factors leading to diabetes include physical inactivity, steroid administration, increasing age and being male," says Dr. Ann Sosalla, owner and veterinarian at Companion Animal Health in Fond du Lac, Wis.

If you think your pet is showing signs of diabetes have them examined by your local WVMA veterinarian right away.

"The symptoms of diabetes can be similar to other diseases, such as kidney failure, hyperthyroidism in cats, and diabetic neuropathy," says Dr. Sosalla. "Diabetic dogs and cats have increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, and weight loss despite a good appetite."
Once at the veterinary office and after a complete physical exam, tests may be performed to confirm the diagnosis or to rule out diabetes.

- Complete urinalysis - evaluation of the urine for glucose, proteins, ketones, and blood cells. A urinary tract infection is a common complication of uncontrolled diabetes. Ketones in the urine may also indicate diabetic ketoacidosis which is a life threatening complication.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC) – this evaluates the red and white blood cells and platelets, known as the clotting cells.
- Biochemistry profile – this analyzes a blood sample for kidney function, liver enzyme levels, protein levels, electrolytes and other factors that may point toward other diseases or complications.
- Thyroid screening – used to rule out hyperthyroidism in cats.
- Feline Pancreatic Lipase Immunoreactivity (fPLI) – this may be used because pancreatitis in cats can be associated with diabetes.
- Fructosamine assay – used in cats to aid in the monitoring and control of diabetes. Sick cats often have elevated blood glucose levels due to stress, which can make interpretation of hyperglycemia difficult. This test reflects the average blood glucose level over the past 3 weeks.
- Urine culture – due the high rate of urinary tract infection (UTI) in uncontrolled diabetes, an untreated UTI can make it difficult to control diabetes.

For dogs and cats diagnosed with diabetes, there are several ways to help them live a long, happy and healthy life, says Dr. Sosalla.

- Insulin – administer as directed by your veterinarian.
- Monitoring – continue visiting your veterinarian at recommended intervals. In newly diagnosed diabetics, blood glucose levels need to be monitored frequently until the diabetes is under control or until blood glucose is at an acceptable level. Your veterinarian may recommend that you measure your pet's blood and/or urine at home, or veterinary staff may do it in the veterinary clinic.
- Be familiar with signs of low blood sugar, which can occur with insulin treatment – these signs include lethargy, poor appetite, muscle twitches, and tremors. In severe cases, seizures may occur. If your pet shows any of these signs, contact your veterinarian immediately, as this is a true medical emergency.
- Feeding – it is best to feed your pet two meals per day, at the same time as insulin administration. For cats, canned diets are preferred over dry food due to their lower levels of carbohydrates, ease of portion control, lower caloric density and increased water content. A high protein and low carbohydrate diet is recommended.
- Weight loss – an ideal body weight will help in stabilizing blood glucose levels.
- Management of concurrent disease – concurrent diseases such as other hormonal diseases, periodontal infection, liver, kidney or heart disease and chronic infections can contribute to insulin resistance and make diabetes management more difficult.

If uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to urinary tract infection, poor immune function, high blood pressure, internal organ disease and possibly ketoacidosis. In addition, dogs can develop cataracts from diabetes, says Dr. Sosalla.

The best prevention for diabetes is a regular veterinary wellness exam. Annual or bi-annual visits, depending on your pet's individual case, will help to monitor and maintain your pet's health as they age.

If you have any questions about diabetes in dogs or cats, contact your local WVMA veterinarian. To find a veterinarian near you, go to

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