November is National Diabetes Month and we want pet owners to be aware of the growing incidence of diabetes in dogs and cats. Untreated, diabetes can be fatal to pets.
Your veterinarian will check for signs of diabetes at their annual wellness exam but, in-between visits, look for these possible signs of diabetes:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Inappropriate urination
- Muscle loss (most commonly over the back), despite an overweight body condition
- Increased hunger
- Increased “whiteness” of the lens of the eye due to cataracts
- Poor skin condition (like excessive dandruff or an oily hair coat)
So what exactly is diabetes?
With diabetes, the body doesn’t have enough insulin (or the insulin is not effective), which is the hormone necessary to push sugar (“glucose”) into the cells of the body. As a result, the cells of the body are starved, and the body is stimulated to produce more and more glucose as a result. However, without insulin in the body (or being delivered by injection), the sugar can’t get into the cells.
The excess sugar that is produced by the body results in the clinical signs of excessive thirst and urination. Untreated, the body develops diabetic complications called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), where it breaks down fat in an attempt to feed the starving cells. These fat breakdown products (e.g., ketones) poison the body, resulting in vomiting, dehydration, inappetance, electrolyte abnormalities, and even too much “acid” production in the body. DKA can be life threatening, and typically requires intensive supportive care (which can be expensive to treat, as it typically requires 24/7 care).
Which Pets Are At Risk For Diabetes?
Risk factors for diabetes in dogs and cats include advanced age, genetic predisposition, breed, and obesity. That last factor — pet obesity — is a big problem here in the US, with over half of dogs and nearly 60 percent of cats falling in the overweight or obese category.
As a result, the number of pets diagnosed with diabetes has skyrocketed in recent years. In the past three decades, the prevalence of diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats has grown from between one in 1,000 pets to one in 500 pets. Almost three times as many dogs suffer from diabetes today as they did only three decades ago.
Managing Your Pets Diabetes
While there is no cure for pet diabetes, there are ways to successfully manage the disease.
Cats diagnosed with feline diabetes typically have a normal life expectancy. As long as their humans help them maintain a proper diet, a healthy lifestyle, and check their blood glucose levels as directed by their veterinarians, cats with diabetes usually live just as long as cats without.
And while diabetic dogs once faced a much shorter life expectancy than their healthy counterparts, living on average only two to five years after their diabetes diagnosis, things are turning around for canines living with this disease. As long as a responsible pet parent closely manages the dog’s blood glucose concentration, and as long as that diabetic dog does not develop any other health complications, dogs with canine diabetes can often expect to live just as long as dogs without the condition.
The best way to prevent diabetes is to keep you pet at a healthy body weight. If in doubt about this, ask your vet about your pet’s body condition at her next visit. Also, be aware of the common clinical signs of diabetes listed above. If you notice any of these problems with your pet, go ahead and schedule a checkup now. It is much better to catch it early than to wait and let them develop a ketoacidotic crisis.