Diabetes in dogs and cats

November 18, 2020

What causes diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease where the pancreas no longer produces sufficient amounts of insulin. Insulin is required to make the sugar in the bloodstream (from food) move into the cells of the body, where it is used for energy.

If there is no insulin being produced, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and reaches very high levels. High levels of sugar or glucose in the blood cause an overflow of the glucose into the urine, which makes animals with diabetes very prone to urinary tract infections. It also causes the body to break down fat for energy (because glucose is unavailable to the body cells for energy). Breakdown of fat for energy results in ketone bodies, which can make the animal feel sick.

What are the signs of diabetes?

Early signs of diabetes include:

  • Drinking more water
  • Urinating more
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss. 

As the disease progresses animals often start to feel very unwell- at this stage they become lethargic, go off their food and may show signs such as vomiting or collapse. Cataracts can also be seen in dogs.

Diabetes can usually be easily diagnosed via simple blood tests. Some dogs with diabetes also have concurrent diseases such as pancreatitis or urinary tract infections that may need other diagnostic tests such as ultrasound or urinalysis.

How can diabetes be treated?

If an animal is diagnosed with diabetes and is also sick, they will need to stay on intravenous fluids until they start eating normally again. During this time, we will start to treat diabetes by giving insulin injections.

Long term treatment for diabetes usually requires twice daily insulin injections. This can be a daunting process for many owners but we find that almost all animals tolerate these injections very well and owners become experts in giving injections very quickly. Usually we start an animal on a low dose of insulin and monitor the blood glucose levels. Insulin levels are adjusted as required until blood glucose levels are in the ideal range. Over this period we see diabetic pets at the vet quite often, usually every 2 weeks until controlled.

Most animals need to stay on twice daily insulin injections for the rest of their lives but a small percentage of cats have diabetes caused by insulin resistance rather than a true lack of insulin. In these cases their diabetes can sometimes be reversible and the injections can be stopped.

How to feed diabetic pets?

It is important that a diabetic pet is fed the same food each day, as we are aiming to keep the blood glucose as stable as possible, without large peaks and troughs.

We recommend a low fat/low GI food. Specific food for diabetes is recommended. It is also ideal that the animal is fed twice a day approximately 12 hours apart.

Do diabetic pets need to be seen by the vet very often?

Once a diabetic animal is stabilised in terms of insulin dosage and dietary requirements we need to see them much less often – usually only every few months when they are well controlled. Many diabetic animals go on to live long and happy lives.

Contact our vets at the Matraville Veterinary Practice for more information.

Got a question?

We’re here to help you with any urgent enquiries or assistance you might need. Need a little extra help, or not sure if you should bring your pet in for a check-up? Give our team a call and we’ll happily answer your questions.