Diabetes Mellitus is a disorder in the regulation of blood sugar. It is caused by dysfunction of the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin. Insulin is required to get carbohydrates (sugar) from the blood stream into the cells, where it supplies energy for normal metabolism. Diabetes is fairly common in older pets, especially cats.
How is it diagnosed?
Most patients with diabetes present with increased thirst and weight loss. These symptoms are often insidious in cats and more dramatic in dogs. The diagnosis is made with bloodwork, which shows increased blood glucose; always over 300mg/dl and most commonly over 400mg/dl. Pets with diabetes will also have glucose in their urine and may have changes in their liver values.
Is it curable?
Diabetes in cats is often similar to Type II or Adult Onset Diabetes in people, and can often be “cured”, or at leas reversed to a subclinical state by weight loss and dietary changes.
In most dogs, diabetes is more like to Type I or Juvenile Diabetes in people. Most diabetic dogs require lifelong insulin injections.
Is Diabetes Painful?
In most cases, we do not think diabetes is painful. Occasionally pets may develop diabetic neuropathy. Since this condition can be painful in people, we assume the same for dogs and cats.
In addition, it is important to remember that many diabetic dogs and cats have other conditions, such as arthritis, that are painful. Pain and the chronic stress conditions that it creates can undermine the successful treatment of diabetes, and therefore must be addressed.
What treatment options are available? Most dogs and nearly all cats are initially treated with insulin injections. Most pets require injections twice daily, though some cats may do well with once daily treatments.
If otherwise healthy and eating well, many new diabetics are treated as outpatients. Insulin dosages are calculated, injections are demonstrated and the pets are treated at home.
Blood glucose curves (several samples over 12 – 24 hours) are important to monitor how the pet is metabolizing the insulin, and to be sure the blood glucose is not going too high or too low during the day. After initial regulations, blood sugar may be monitored in the veterinary clinic or at home. Urine glucose levels or a blood test called fructosamine may also be used in monitoring.
Oral diabetes medications have limited use in veterinary medicine, though some dogs will do well with this treatment option.
As mentioned above, nutritional management is important in diabetes. Weight management and exercise also play important roles.
What should I expect? Life expectancy for diabetic cats and dogs can range from months to years. Many pets regulate easily, go on to live many years, with excellent quality of life. Other pets are difficult to regulate, have frequent complications such as urinary tract and skin infections. Like people, pets can die if their blood sugar gets dangerously high or low.
A common complication in diabetic cats and dogs are cataracts that can cause blindness. Blindness occurs in approximately 25% or diabetic cats and 50% of diabetic dogs. Many cats and small dogs adjust to being blind and can still have a good quality of life. Large dogs typically are more impaired if blind.
Sage Veterinary Services is equipped to help you with your diabetic pet, especially if you are interested in home regulation.