Our pets can get diabetes, too

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Many of us have, or know someone who has, diabetes.  We may be familiar with the use of insulin injections to manage the condition, or with symptoms that the disease may not be well regulated. Diabetes also occurs in dogs and cats. Since they can’t speak to us to tell us how they are feeling, it is important for us to recognize symptoms of the disease so that we can treat it before it causes further problems.

Diabetes mellitus is a common disorder in dogs and cats. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough of the hormone insulin. Insulin is responsible for allowing cells to take in glucose, or blood sugar, which is the body’s primary source of energy. Without insulin, there is an excess of glucose in the bloodstream, but the body is not able to use it for energy. Diabetes is therefore referred to as “starving in the face of plenty.”

This excess of glucose affects the entire body. Glucose gets discarded from the body through urine, causing increased thirst and urination. Levels of sugar in the brain control appetite. Since the brain cells are not able to take in glucose, the brain becomes deprived of sugar and the pet feels constantly hungry. Water may accumulate in the lens of the eye, leading to cataracts and eventual blindness. Diabetes may also lead to bladder, kidney, and skin infections.

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Diabetic Ketoacidosis, or DKA, is a serious complication that can result from unregulated or severe diabetes mellitus. DKA occurs when the body goes into a starvation-like state. Since the body is not able to use glucose for energy, it resorts to breaking down large amounts of fat for energy, resulting in substances called ketone bodies. This massive mobilization and burning of fat is very different from the fat breakdown that occurs in healthy weight loss. The burning of ketone bodies causes life-threatening pH and electrolyte imbalances. Clinical signs include listlessness and vomiting. DKA must be treated by a veterinarian on an emergency basis, and usually involves hospitalization with intensive care.

It is important to contact your veterinarian if your pet is drinking or urinating excessively, losing weight, or seems overly hungry. Your veterinarian will run blood and urine tests to look for signs of diabetes, and for other diseases that may cause similar symptoms. If your pet is diabetic, he or she will most likely be started on insulin injections. Although the prospect of administering shots to your own pet may seem intimidating, most pets and their owners quickly adjust to the new routine. Many different types of insulin are available, and your veterinarian will choose the one that is most likely to benefit your pet. It is important to use the insulin that your vet recommends at the prescribed dosage, since over- or under- dosage of insulin may result in serious complications.

Diabetes is a serious condition that requires veterinary care, but once it is diagnosed and treated, most affected pets can live long, happy lives.

Dr. Kelly Sulik owns and operates Animobile Mobile Veterinary Services in Tryon, N.C. She can be reached at animobiledvm@gmail.com.