Pets and Diabetes
For many of us our pets are family, and they are just as important to us as our human children or companions. Our pets are also prone to the same diseases as we are, including chronic diseases like diabetes.
When our pets become ill with these diseases, it is just as important for us to take care of them the way we would take care of ourselves. In addition to medications and medical treatments, it also includes making lifestyle changes to manage the disease and improve their quality of life and keep them as healthy as possible.
Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
Diabetes in dogs and cats is essentially the same disease that occurs in humans. Just like humans and dogs and cats have an organ called the pancreas which serves many functions in the body including making a hormone called insulin. When your pet eats the food it digests gets broken down into its component parts: fat, protein, vitamins and minerals, and sugar. Insulin helps your pet’s body use the sugar from its food for energy. With diabetes your pet is either unable to make insulin, unable to make enough insulin, or its body cannot respond to the insulin, all of which causes sugar to build up in the bloodstream.
Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Pets
The three major diabetes symptoms are excessive hunger, excessive thirst, and excessive urination. Other signs include vomiting, lethargy, weight loss, anxiety and irritability, and a sickly sweet smell on your pet’s breath.
You might also notice inappropriate urination, which is why it's important to report any changes in urination to the veterinarian instead of assuming that it is a behavioral problem.
The standard treatment for diabetes in cats and dogs is insulin, injected once or more per day; however, some pets might respond well to the drug glipizide. Your veterinarian might also prescribe your pet a special diet to help manage blood sugar.
Diet, exercise, and body weight are considered factors in pet diabetes. You can help your pet maintain a healthy diet, and a healthy weight, by only feeding it food formulated for pets. You should avoid feeding it “People food,” or foods that are not formulated for its breed – such as giving cat food to dogs.
Genetics and age are also a factor, so it is important that your pet have regular yearly checkups, and that the veterinarian starts screening for age-related diseases and physical changes as your pet ages.
Caring for Pets with Diabetes
When caring for your diabetic pet, it is absolutely important that you follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan to the letter. If not controlled properly, diabetes can lead to other health issues including ketoacidosis, cataracts, chronic pancreatitis, kidney failure, and nerve damage, which can lower your pet’s quality of life and shorten its lifespan.
After the initial diagnosis, your veterinarian may prescribe insulin. He will also have you purchase a blood glucose meter, test strips, and lancets, in addition to the alcohol swabs and syringes that you use to administer the insulin. You can find some of these supplies at a human pharmacy, or you can order pet diabetes medications and supplies from a retailer that specializes in veterinary medical products.
It’s important that you administer the medication at approximately the same time each day, and that you take regular blood sugar readings to ensure that they treatments are keeping your pet’s blood sugar within the normal ranges. The normal blood sugar range for dogs is between 80 and 150 mg/dl. The normal blood sugar range for cats is between 70 and 170 mg/dl.
You should not administer medication without checking your pet’s blood sugar levels; without blood sugar information, you could overmedicate your pet, which can cause hypoglycemia.
After the initial diagnosis, your vet might also require you to bring your pet into his office once a week, or more, for blood and urine testing. The purpose of these visits is to ensure that your pet’s blood sugar is under control before you take over your pet’s care. You can also use these sessions to learn more about the proper method for administering insulin, and for taking blood sugar readings at home.
After the first few months, you shouldn’t need the vet to monitor your pet, but you might have to go in once or twice a year for testing and follow-up care. If your pet’s condition worsens throughout the year, then you should consult the veterinarian immediately for additional screening.
If you go on vacation, or have to travel for business, you will need to take your pet with you, or find someone who can take care of your pet in your absence, including taking blood sugar reading and administering medication. If you don’t have any one to take care of your pet, then you should talk to your veterinarian. Some vet offices offer boarding or kennel services for pets that need medical attention while their human companions are away. If your vet does not have such facilities, he might be able to refer you to someone who does.