Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that impedes the body’s ability to process sugars at the cellular level, and it can have damaging and far-reaching effects on the muscular, neurologic, and circulatory systems. As in humans, diabetes often goes undetected in pets until more serious symptoms manifest, and so it has been dubbed “the silent killer.”
Diabetes is estimated to affect between 0.2% and 1.0% of companion animals nationally. November is designated National Pet Diabetes Month as a way to raise awareness of the disorder, promote vigilance and early detection, and to help pet owners recognize the symptoms of diabetes in dogs and cats early.
Here we’ll look at the risk factors for diabetes in dogs and cats, review common signs of the disease, and discuss the basic treatment options for pets diagnosed with diabetes.
Diabetes Risk Factors for Dogs and Cats
Diabetes in dogs. Diabetes onset typically affects dogs that are middle-aged or older. Genetics are one pre-determining factor, and certain breeds are at greater risk for the disorder. These include Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Dobermann Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Pomeranians, Terriers, and Toy Poodles. Un-spayed females and dogs with a history of obesity are at increases risk for developing diabetes.
Diabetes in cats. In cats, as in dogs, older age is a risk factor fore diabetes. Neutered males show a higher incidence of the disorder, as do cats that are obese or inactive. Other conditions that can cause insulin reduction or resistance—such as chronic pancreatitis or hyperthyroidism—can also place cats at an increased risk for diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
The prognosis for pets with diabetes improves with early detection. Twice-yearly wellness exams for your cat or dog can help your veterinarian detect chronic illnesses early, but it’s also important to recognize the most common symptoms of diabetes. These include excessive thirst (polydipsia) and excessive urination (polyuria), which may result in frequent “accidents” around the house or outside the litter pan. Increased hunger and food consumption accompanied by weight loss is another symptom of the disorder. Lethargy, cataracts (in dogs), and poor grooming or “oily” fur (in cats) are also common.
If you notice these symptoms in your pet, see your vet as soon as possible to rule out other possible causes. A simple urine test can detect glucose shedding in your pet’s urine—a sign that sugars are not being processed properly in the cells. If results are positive, a blood glucose test can determine the severity of the condition.
Because untreated diabetes can lead to blindness (in dogs), loss of neuromuscular function in the hind limbs (in cats), and other debilitating conditions, early diagnosis is essential to helping your pet live a longer, healthier life.
Management of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats
There is no cure for diabetes; however, with proper monitoring and management, your pet can enjoy a health, active life and a normal life expectancy. Management approaches most commonly include a modified diet, low in carbohydrates and high in protein, and daily insulin injections.
Your vet can recommend the proper foods for your pet and can train you to administer the insulin injections. If you haven’t administered injectable medications before, it may sound a little scary at first, but the procedure is rather simple and with a veterinarian’s guidance and a little practice, most pet owners master it easily.
We hope these tips will help you recognize the early signs of diabetes in pets and encourage you to seek treatment for your animal. Remember, your vet is your best ally, and will work with you to help your pet stay healthier longer.
Editor’s Note: Is your pet at risk for diabetes? Assess your cat or dog’s risk for diabetes with this quiz.
Cecily Kellogg is a pet lover who definitely has crazy cat lady leanings. Her pets are all shelter rescues, including the dog, who is scared of the cats. She spent eight years working as a Veterinary Technician before becoming a writer. Today she writes all over the web, including here at Figo.
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