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Pet Diabetes Month, Learn the Signs of Disease

Pet Diabetes Month

Diabetes is an epidemic among people, but the disease is also a significant problem among dogs and cats. To help raise awareness of this health problem, November has been designated as Pet Diabetes Month, and every pet parent should be aware of the signs and symptoms of this potentially dangerous disease.

Does Fido or Fluffy have diabetes?

Estimates vary, but it is believed about 2 percent of cats and about 1 in every 160 dogs develops diabetes. Many pet parents are not aware that their four-legged companions can develop the disease or even what the signs and symptoms of diabetes are among pets.

One of the first things to know is that like diabetes in humans, diabetes in pets has no cure, but it can be managed successfully so your cat or dog can life a full and happy life. However, it's necessary to recognize if your dog or cat has diabetes so you can take the necessary steps to ensure they get the treatment they need to live an active, full life.

If your dog or cat has any of these signs or symptoms, contact your veterinarian as soon as possible.

  • Drinks more water than usual
  • Urinates more frequently, has accidents outside the litter box (cats) or needs to go outside more often
  • Always acts hungry but does not gain weight or maintains weight
  • Is lethargic or sleeps more
  • Has cloudy eyes (in dogs). Cataracts are very common in dogs who have diabetes
  • Has dry, dull, or thinning hair (in cats)

When you bring your cat or dog to your veterinarian, he or she will ask you about any signs and symptoms you have noticed, how long they have been occurring, and which medications or supplements your pet is taking. The vet will also check your pet's general health to determine if there are any infections or other conditions present.

Although diabetes can affect both cats and dogs, they do not experience the disease in exactly the same way. In fact, a veterinarian checks for diabetes in slightly different ways for dogs than for cats.

Diabetes in cats
When evaluating cats for diabetes, a urine sample will be tested for the presence of glucose (sugar), ketones (breakdown products of fat), and urinary tract infections. If glucose is found in the urine, a blood test is then done to identify the cat's blood glucose and fructosamine concentrations.

Fructosamine is formed from the breakdown of proteins and glucose, and the fructosamine level is elevated when the blood glucose concentration has been higher than normal.

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Cats are diagnosed with diabetes when persistently high concentrations of glucose are found in both the urine and blood. Diabetes in cats can be either insulin-dependent or non-insulin dependent.

Treatment of diabetes in cats involves careful attention to diet and, when necessary, the use of oral antidiabetic drugs or insulin. Pet parents who have cats that require insulin can easily learn to give the injections at home and how to monitor their cat's blood glucose levels.

Cats with non-insulin dependent diabetes sometimes can be managed with a change in diet and no need for drugs. However, any cat who has diabetes needs to be monitored closely, especially if she refuses to eat, which can have serious, even deadly consequences.

Cats may develop complications of diabetes, such as kidney problems and neuropathy (nerve problems), which may affect the cat's gait or ability to walk correctly on his back legs. Eye problems are much less likely to occur in cats than in dogs with diabetes.

Diabetes in dogs
Dogs are more likely to develop diabetes than are cats, and they also are more apt to have another disease along with diabetes, including Cushing's disease, urinary tract infections, acute pancreatitis, and hypothyroidism (low-functioning thyroid).

To diagnose diabetes in dogs, veterinarians first test a urine sample for the presence of glucose and ketones. If glucose levels are high, a blood sample is taken to measure blood glucose concentration. A diagnosis of diabetes is made only when glucose is present in the urine and at a persistently high concentration in blood.

Diabetes in dogs can be managed with a combination of a nutritious diet, regular exercise, and insulin. Pet parents can easily learn to give the insulin injections at home and be shown how to monitor their dog's blood sugar levels.

A common complication of diabetes in dogs is cataracts. Up to 80 percent of dogs who have diabetes develop cataracts, which can be removed surgically.

The take-home message
Diabetes is not just a human disease: your four-legged companions can develop the disease as well. Pet Diabetes Month is a good time to become aware of this disease, to take notice of any signs or symptoms of diabetes your cat or dog may be displaying, and to make a veterinary appointment as soon as possible if you observe indications of the disease.
American Animal Hospital Association/HealthyPet.com

Image: Tim Schaefer