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Diabetes in Pets
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism due
to inadequate production or changes in the body's response to insulin,
a hormone made by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar levels.
The body needs insulin to use sugar, fat and protein from food for
energy. Diabetic dogs and cats have abnormally high levels of glucose
in the blood and urine, which can cause clinical signs of excessive
urination and thirst, increased food consumption and weight loss.
Treatment of DM requires individualised veterinary management with
frequent reassessment and adaptation of the treatment
Diabetes mellitus most commonly occurs in middle age to older dogs and
cats, but occasionally occurs in young animals. In both dogs and cats
Diabetes Mellitus is often caused by destruction or abnormal function of
the pancreas, an organ that is located in the abdomen, close to the small
intestine. Certain conditions can predispose a dog or cat to developing
diabetes. Animals (particularly cats) that are overweight or those with
inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) are considered more likely to
develop diabetes. Genetics is also considered to be a risk factor and
certain breeds of dogs (reports include Miniature Poodles, Dachshunds,
Schnauzers, Cairn Terriers, Beagles, Samoyeds) and Burmese cats are
recognised as being more susceptible to developing Diabetes Mellitus,
however, any breed can be affected.
Animals with DM may have a variety of signs depending on the extent of
their blood glucose levels and related diseases (e.g pancreatitis). Dogs
and cats that are in the early stage of developing DM often appear
healthy, have a stable weight and are usually identified only when
routine blood and urine tests are performed for other reasons. The onset
of clinical signs due to diabetes can be quite subtle.
Disease progression and complications: why treatment is important
Untreated diabetic pets are more likely to develop infections and are at
increased risk of bladder, kidney, or skin infections. Diabetic dogs, and
more rarely cats, can develop cataracts in the eyes and owners might
notice that their pet's eyes have a cloudy or bluish appearance.
Cataracts are caused by the accumulation of water in the lens and can
lead to blindness. Less common signs of diabetes are weakness or abnormal
gait due to nerves or muscles not working properly.
Diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus
Your veterinarian can investigate and a diagnosis of diabetes is made by
finding a large increase in blood sugar and a significant amount of sugar
in the urine.
Treatment, lifestyle and management
Long term success depends on the understanding and commitment of the
owner and close cooperation with supervising veterinarians is strongly
recommended to develop a management program tailored for each individual
animal. Treatment usually involves a combination of weight reduction
program, diet, medication (insulin) and lifestyle changes and management.
It is often recommended that intact females should be neutered. Treatment
for dogs and cats showing clinical signs of Diabetes Mellitus is the
(usually) daily administration of insulin.
The main goal of therapy is to manage the signs of Diabetes Mellitus that
occur due to the elevated blood sugar levels and maintaining levels of
glucose in the blood to as close to normal levels will help minimise the
severity of clinical signs and prevent the complications of poorly
Feeding the diabetic dog or cat
Adjustments in diet and feeding practices should be directed at
correcting or preventing obesity, maintaining consistency in the timing
and calorie content of the meals and providing a diet that helps minimise
the (normal) increase in blood glucose concentration that occurs normally
after a meal. In dogs, diets that have increased levels of fibre and
complex carbohydrates are preferred as they are recognised to be
beneficial for management of obesity and improving control of blood
glucose levels in diabetic animals.
A number of PFIAA member companies provide specialist veterinary diets
developed to assist in the management of diabetes and obesity. Your
veterinarian may advise you to feed such specially formulated veterinary
diet pet foods as an important part of managing these conditions in cats
In diabetic pets, diet management and weight reduction alone may not
adequately control the disease, so initial therapy with insulin is often
required. Exercise is recognised to be important in maintaining blood
glucose control in the diabetic dog by helping to promote weight loss and
assisting in reducing the insulin resistance induced by obesity.
Obesity is a common finding in diabetic cats and obesity can result in a
reversible insulin resistance that may resolve as the obesity is
corrected, so weight loss is an important part of managing the diabetic
cat. In cats, dietary management seeks to restrict carbohydrates, either
by decreasing intake or slowing the absorption of carbohydrates by
inclusion of elevated levels of dietary fibre. Recent evidence has
supported the use of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Effective
management of diabetic dogs and cats requires the commitment of the owner
and veterinary management team.
Diabetes is a dynamic disease and successful management requires frequent
communication with the veterinary team. With appropriate commitment,
monitoring and management, Diabetes Mellitus can be well managed in many
pets. If you believe that your pet might have diabetes, the PFIAA
recommends that you seek veterinary advice about diabetes and the role of
specialised diets for the management of the diabetic pet.
This article is of general information only:
This information is provided by the PFIAA as general information only.
For advice and information concerning treatment and feeding your
individual pet, we recommend that you seek the advice of your