Pet Diabetes by Dr Sam Haynes
Diabetes mellitus or pet diabetes is a condition that affects both dogs and cats and is caused by one of two things;
- A lack of production of insulin
- Insulin resistance.
Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that allows the body to absorb sugar into the cells for energy production. It is also involved in protein and fat regulation as well as that of potassium and magnesium.
How is pet diabetes diagnosed?
Diagnosing diabetes can be a little tricky – patients can be presented as either normal or unwell. There is usually a history of increased thirstand weight loss although as it is gradual sometimes the owners have not noticed the changes until the animal is put on the scales and the weight is compared to previous visits.
Laboratory tests will indicate hyperglycaemia that is generally higher than twice normal levels.
The increased thirst is caused by the increase in sugar in the urine, dragging excess water with it, as well as the blood metabolic derangements. With the body unable to absorb sugar into the cells, protein stores and muscle are broken down, resulting in weight loss. Keto-acid build-up from abnormal fat breakdown can result in an acid (low pH) state in the blood, resulting in panting, vomiting and lethargy. Patients are often dehydrated. If the patient has become ketotic, i.e. they have critical acid build-up in the blood, they may be very unwell.
How is pet diabetes treated?
Treatment initially varies depended on how unwell your pet is when they are presented. If your cat or dog is well, we can usually start insulin therapy immediately to regulate metabolism. If your pet is unwell, dehydrated or has secondary infections, we may need to rehydrate first with intravenous fluids.
We start insulin at a standard dose rate then take glucose tests through the day to make sure we are achieving the desired levels. We will also make dietary changes to reduce the carbohydrate component of the diet and to increase the relative amount of protein.
Once stable and on acceptable levels of insulin, the patient is usually discharged from hospital. You will have a discharge appointment with our vets to teach you how to give insulin via injection. Most people are nervous the first couple of times they inject their pet but then they find it easy. You will usually be asked to come back in for a recheck in one to two weeks so we can check the blood glucose levels to make sure your pet is still in the right range. Based on these results we may reduce or increase the amount of insulin being given.
You should never make any changes to the insulin levels yourself without contacting our vets first.