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National Diabetes Month

Did you know that November is National Diabetes Month? The aim is to warn people about the dangers of uncontrolled diabetes, and explain how to spot the warning signs. Both dogs and cats can develop diabetes, although it is more common in cats - about 1 cat in every 200 will develop diabetes at some point, compared to roughly 1 in 400 dogs.

Informative image: diabetes dog

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, is a disorder that affects an animal’s ability to regulate their own blood sugar levels. In a healthy animal, when blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases the hormone insulin which tells the body cells to absorb the sugar, which they them use for energy. Once the sugar levels fall, the pancreas stops producing insulin and instead releases glucagon, which triggers the release of glucose from the liver.

In diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin (in both dogs and cats). Alternatively, the body tissues may not respond normally to the amount of insulin being made (this is seen occasionally in obese cats). This results in rising blood sugar levels but, despite the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, the body cannot use it. This means that the animal goes into “starvation mode”, burning fat for energy - causing weight loss despite increased hunger. In addition, as the level of sugar in the blood rises, it causes increased thirst and urination.

Why is it serious?

Animals with untreated diabetes will eventually suffer serious and usually life-threatening consequences. 

If the blood sugar level rises high enough, it can lead to something called a hyperosmotic coma, where the animal’s brain shuts down, they lapse into a coma and die.

More commonly, the long-term effects of the “starvation mode” result in diabetic ketoacidosis, where the blood turns acidic. This causes severe dehydration, vomiting, collapse and blood-salt imbalances; it is a genuine emergency and is rapidly fatal if untreated.

Can it be treated?

Yes - in most cases, diabetes can be controlled with insulin injections, to “top up” the insulin the pancreas should be making. The injections allow the dog or cat to live a normal life again, and are usually given twice daily. However, they must  usually continue on the medication for life. There are some cases where cats go into “remission” and no longer require insulin, but this is uncommon, and does not occur in dogs.

Informative image: diabetes cat

Are there any complications of treatment?

If the dose of insulin given is too high, the animal’s blood sugar will drop too far, resulting in hypoglycaemia, or “a hypo”. This results in abnormal behaviour, seizures, and may even be fatal as their brain is starved. In an emergency, it can be corrected by giving a dose of glucose gel or honey on the gums. A similar effect may also occur if the normal dose is given but they don’t eat, or there is too long a gap between the injection and a meal, so it is very important to have a very regular routine for food and (in the case of dogs) exercise.

It is also useful to use a specialist diabetic diet that is specially designed for slow release of nutrients - this will help to reduce high peaks and low troughs in their blood sugar level.

What symptoms should I watch out for?

The typical signs of early diabetes include:

Increased urination.

Increased thirst.

Increased appetite.

As it goes on for longer, you may also see:

Weight loss.

More minor infections (e.g. cystitis or skin infections) that don’t clear up as you would normally expect.

Cataracts (whiteness in the lens of the eyes).

If my pet seems to be showing these signs, what should I do?

Bring them in for a FREE urine test. If your dog or cat has diabetes, it is likely that they will have abnormally high levels of sugar in their urine. If the test is positive, we will arrange for you to see a vet who will carry out more sensitive tests to confirm the diagnosis; they can then start your pet on the treatment that they need.

If you think your pet may have any of the signs of any of these conditions call us IMMEDIATELY for advice.