Diabetes in Dogs & Cats: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment of Canine & Feline Diabetes
Diabetes, both Type 1 and Type 2 are the most common endocrine diseases affecting pet dogs and cats today. It usually affects middle-aged and senior pets, however, it can be diagnosed in young pets too. 1 in 300 dogs and 1 in 230 cats are diagnosed with Diabetes. Since 2006, there has been a 79.7% increase in cases of Canine Diabetes as per the Banfield State of Pet Health Report.
Diabetes is a complex lifestyle disease that hampers your pet’s well-being drastically. This, and how common it is, makes it important to diagnose the disease in its early stages. An understanding of the symptoms of diabetes and regular vet visits can help do the same.
In this article, we decode Diabetes in Dogs and Cats, its types, causes, symptoms, and treatment.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is an endocrine disease caused by a defect or malfunction in the body’s sugar metabolism leading to blood sugar levels that are higher than normal (Hyperglycemia). Hence, in order to understand Diabetes, it is essential to understand Sugar Metabolism first.
Basics of Sugar Metabolism
The food we, or in this case, our pets consume goes into their body to be broken down by the stomach and intestines into three basic components: Proteins, Fats, and Sugars. These components then get absorbed into the bloodstream and are carried to the liver.
Sugar or Glucose is the body’s main fuel or energy source. It is also the only fuel the brain uses to function. Glucose can be obtained through food, and some is naturally produced in the body. A spike or drop in Glucose can affect the functioning of the brain and body.
High levels of blood sugar are toxic to multiple organs of the body, nerves and blood vessels. In the case of low blood sugar, on the other hand, the body starts breaking down fats. Fats aren’t as efficient a fuel as glucose and make the blood too acidic, leading to illness. The presence of Ketones in the urine helps identify low blood sugar.
When the Glucose levels in the blood rise, Insulin is released by the pancreas. Insulin helps in the regulation of sugar levels in the body. It acts as the gatekeeper in the process of glucose entering the cells and being used as the prime source of energy.
The graph above shows how the Glucose level in the body rises after eating. The levels lower again in about 2 hours after Insulin takes effect. Showing Insulin’s main function; maintaining blood sugar at 80 to 100 mg/ml.
In pets with Diabetes, the blood sugar spike after meals is very steep as compared to non-diabetic pets. The levels also stay high longer in diabetic pets. Such irregularities can also be observed in pre-diabetic pets.
The bodies of dogs and cats try to keep the blood sugar level under 130 mg/ml. When this level rises beyond 180 mg/ml (renal threshold), Glucose spills into the urine. In the urine, Glucose attracts water hence diluting it. This results in the classic diabetes symptom of frequent urination. This water attraction also leads to water loss in the pets’ body leading to excessive thirst.
Types of Diabetes
There are two types of Diabetes observed in pets:
- Diabetes Mellitus or Type 1 Diabetes is common among dogs. It is caused by a failure in Insulin production in the Pancreas. When Insulin isn’t produced in the body Glucose builds up in the blood but cannot be converted into energy for the cells. Dogs that have Cushing’s’ Disease, or Pancreatitis are predisposed to Diabetes Mellitus. Pets with Type 1 Diabetes require Insulin administration. They may also develop cataract or Urinary Tract Infections. Unfortunately, Type 1 Diabetes is not reversible.
- Diabetes Insipidus or Type 2 Diabetes affects more cats than dogs. It occurs when the pancreas produces sufficient insulin but the body’s cells do not respond to it (insulin-resistant). Obesity and certain medications can cause Type 2 Diabetes. With certain lifestyle changes in the pet’s diet and exercise, Diabetes Insipidus can be reversed.
Causes of Diabetes
Diabetes can be caused by one or multiple triggers – some specific, some vague. The following could also be considered risk factors that lead to diabetes. So if your pet hasn’t be diagnosed with diabetes yet, but any of the below applies to them, you must start being more vigilant.
Lifestyle & Diet
Obesity is the onset of the doom you’ve bought over your pet’s health; including Diabetes. Pets that are overfed and underexercised retain positive unused energy that leads to weight gain. Obese dogs and cats are prone to Type 2 Diabetes.
If your pet has been feeding on only commercial packaged processed pet foods (kibble) for all their life, Diabetes shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kibble is stuffed with excessive carbohydrates that your pet’s body does not need. It leads to Diabetes, among other health issues in your pets adult and old days.
GMO food items like Soy or Corn contain toxins that can damage your pet’s body over long periods of consumption. 95% of Corn and Soy are genetically engineered. Your pet is consuming these toxins for every meal if you feed them kibble.
Diabetes is a malfunction in Insulin production or absorption. Insulin in the body is made in the Pancreas, directly linking pancreatic issues to Insulin production and hence Diabetes. Inflammation of the Pancreas or Pancreatitis is a common pancreatic issue in pets that leads to alteration in Insulin production. Its causes, however, link back to the pet’s lifestyle, obesity and inappropriate dietary habits.
Pancreatic Cancer is rare in pets; but if your pet suffers from it, they could also be diabetic. Pancreatic Cancer begins with symptoms just like Pancreatitis. There are three main types of cancer of the pancreas; pancreatic adenocarcinomas, gastrinomas, and insulinomas. As the name suggests, insulinoma affects insulin production the most. Pets suffering from Insulinomas produce excessively high amounts of insulin leading to a drop in blood sugar levels leading to Hypoglycemia. More on that below.
Autoimmunity is a state where the body destroys its own cells. When the insulin-producing Beta cells in the Pancreas are destroyed, insulin production is affecting leading to Diabetes. Most cases of Diabetes in Pets are thought to be stemming from Autoimmune Issues. Autoimmunity can have multiple triggers.
Certain Chemicals & Hormones in the body and their synthetic administration can antagonize Insulin. Like Cortisone, shots of which are used in the treatment for arthritis, but as a side-effect can result in higher blood glucose levels and a weaker immune system. Your vet will ideally refrain from giving Cortisone shots to your arthritic pet if they are also diabetic. Even sex hormones like Estrogen & Progesterone affect Insulin levels in the body. Medication for Cushing’s Disease and even Cystic Ovaries can hence cause diabetes in pets. Your vet may even ask you to sterilize your intact pet if they are diagnosed with diabetes.
Vaccinosis or over-vaccination can lead to a build-up of insulin antagonizing hormones in the body. It is very important to vaccinate your pet only as much as they need. Educate yourself about how long the effect of a vaccine lasts in your pet’s body. Some vaccines given in puppy/ kittenhood do not need administration for the rest of your pet’s life.
Just like humans, our pets too can be genetically predisposed to Diabetes. Some breeds are more likely to be diabetic than others, it could also be hereditary. This, however, does not guarantee that your dog will be diabetic. It is only a disclaimer for you to be more cautious and vigilant with their upbringing and care. Among dog breeds common to Indian households, Pugs, Beagles, Poodles, Dachshunds, and Golden Retrievers are prone to Diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Treating or controlling Diabetes in your dog or cat in its initial stages is extremely important in order to minimize the long term damage caused to their organs. Symptoms of diabetes can be identified if you observe your pet well. Other than this, annual veterinary check-ups should not be missed.
Early Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes
Increased Hunger & Weight Loss: Since your pet’s body is not converting glucose to usable energy, they may feel excessively hungry. On the other hand, their body will start burning fat reserves to provide for the energy requirement leading to weight loss.
Heavy Thirst & Frequent Urination: As mentioned above, when glucose overflows into the urine it bonds with water dehydrating your pet. This makes them thirstier. But since the body cannot retain the water, they may need to urinate often and even have ‘accidents’ at home.
Advanced Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes
If you have somehow managed to overlook these symptoms in your pet and haven’t started treatment for a while, the symptoms may become more advanced.
Weakness & Wobbly Gait: High Blood Sugar affects the conduction of electricity in the peripheral nerves. This and a lack of energy can lead to weakness and a wobbly gait (abnormality in walking).
Vomiting & Diarrhea: As the blood sugar levels stay at a sustained high and your pet’s body burns fats for fuel, their blood will eventually turn acidic. When this happens, your cat or dog will start feeling sick. Expect loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea and extreme dehydration. If left untreated up to this point, your pet could die.
Effects of Diabetes
Cataracts: The lens in the eyes are kept clear through an active process that prevents any water from entering the lens fibers. But when the sugar level of the fluid in the eyes is high, it seeps into the lens and attracts water to it. This water turns crystalline white, known as a Cataract. Cataracts are opaque and do not allow any light to hit the eye’s retina, thus leading to partial or complete blindness. Fortunately, cataracts in most pets can be surgically removed.
Enlarged Liver: Diabetic pets may suffer from fat accumulation inside the liver. This can lead to inflammation and even enlargement of the liver itself. Glycogen accumulation in the liver occurs in 80% of all diabetic dogs (Source) making an enlarged liver a common result of Diabetes.
UTIs: Glucosuria (glucose in the urine) due to diabetes in dogs and cats increases the risks of contracting UTIs.
Kidney Failure: When left undiagnosed for a long period of time, diabetes can lead to chronic kidney failure in dogs and cats. Since diabetes is mostly diagnosed in middle-aged to older dogs and cats, the wear and tear of the kidney tissues over time, coupled with the stress due to excessive Glucosuria urine can lead to a chronic renal (kidney) failure.
Ketoacidosis: In cases of advanced Diabetes, a complication called Diabetes Ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs. It stems from Cell Starvation that occurs due to a lack of insulin as cell food. The burning of fat reserves from the body generates Ketones for its energy needs, however, Ketones are toxic. DKA can go from usual diabetes symptoms accompanied by urinary clumps, dry and flaky skin and coat, and sweet breath to jaundice, seizures, coma and even death.
Coma: Coma or Comatose is when your dog or cat is unresponsive with regular breath and heartbeat. It is a medical emergency that is commonly resultant of undiagnosed Diabetes.
Death: Diabetes needs diagnosis and treatment. If that does not happen, the eventual loss of appetite, diarrhea, and dehydration could lead to your pet’s death.
Treatment of Diabetes
The blood sugar levels in non-diabetic pets are within the range of 80 to 130 mg/ml. The goal of Diabetes treatment is to try to maintain the abnormally high levels anywhere between 100 to 200 mg/ml for most of the day. Diabetes treatment and control is a long-term process. Especially if your pet has been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, they will undergo treatment for the rest of their life.
Initial treatment for dogs and cats with Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes is the same. The goal remains to manage the pet’s weight along with an appropriate diet and exercise. If your vet is intact this may also be the right time to get them sterilized.
The initial months need to be spent on establishing a set schedule for your pet’s day. From food, to exercise, to sleep. In cases of Type 1 Diabetes, your vet may spend this time determining the right amount of and frequency of Insulin your pet needs to be administered.
Diet for Diabetic Dogs & Cats
The age-old saying ‘you become what you eat’ stands true for our pets too. Pet food through the ages has been a very lightly taken aspect of pet-keeping. Most of us blindly feed our pets, the dog or cat food packaged and marketed most convincingly, paying very little heed to what actually goes into the food. A lot of diseases we see coming up in pets today are all because of this ignorance through the years.
Loading Carbohydrates in an unconvincing and totally unnecessary amount is a common phenomenon across commercial dog food and cat food brands today. These excessive carbs as a part of your pet’s daily diet lead to unhealthy weight gain and obesity over time. Which eventually sets the ground for development of Diabetes.
The initial steps your veterinarian will suggest when you begin your pet’s treatment will involve changes to their diet. The ideal diet for diabetic dogs and cats is one that is low on carbohydrates, as low as 7% or even less for cats. Making the diet high in fiber too can slow the rise of blood sugar levels in your pet’s body.
While choosing diabetic pet food, keep away from feeding your pet any more processed commercial food. Look into an all-natural, additive-free diet option like DawgieBowl that can customize meals for your pet’s specific needs. You could even cook for your pet at home with your vet and nutritionist’s advisory.
Maintaining a routine for your pet is key in controlling diabetes and its effects on your pet. Feed your pet two measured, healthy meals a day at determined times. Set timings for their exercise too. Have clean, safe drinking water available 24x7.
Hypoglycemia occurs when the blood sugar levels drop to 50 mg/ml or lower. Its symptoms include weakness, disorientation, unusual vocalizations, excessive sleeping, or even seizures. If your pet shows the above symptoms, they are hypoglycemic. Hypoglycemia could occur after you’ve administered a high or more than prescribed dose of Insulin, or your pet hadn’t eaten before you gave them the Insulin shot.
When this does occur, apply some Sweet Corn Syrup to your pet’s gums, tongue and mouth. The syrup enters the body through the mucous membrane in your pet’s mouth and starts working on raising the blood sugar levels immediately. Once your pet is responsive, feed them some soft food.
Contact your veterinarian before you give your pet the next insulin shot. Tell them of the incident. You could be giving your pet an incorrect dosage of insulin that needs alternation.
If your pet isn’t responsive until 10 minutes after you’ve applied the Sweet Corn Syrup, rush to your veterinarian immediately.
As daunting as Diabetes sounds, it is not a death sentence for your dog or cat. With the right care and treatment, Type 2 Diabetes can be reversed, and Type 1 be controlled. Through this time be patient with your pet and give them all the attention you can. It will be stressful, it will demand more from you than you are used to. But at the end of the day, anything done for your pet is rewarding in multitudes.
FOR INFORMATION ONLY – NOT VETERINARY CARE
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