Pete Wedderburn
29th January 2020 - 4 min read

Diabetes is caused by a deficiency of a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. If the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the blood glucose level becomes hugely elevated.

Diabetes Diagnosis

The diagnosis of diabetes is often very straightforward. Many pets present with an increased thirst, often accompanied by weight loss. Simple lab tests are all that’s needed. Diabetic dogs have a high concentration of glucose in their urine, and the blood tests typically show that the level of glucose in their blood is over five times the normal level.

Diabetes In Cats

Diabetes is increasingly common in Irish pets. There is a link between obesity and the onset of diabetes in animals, and as vets see more fat pets, we also see more cases of diabetes. In particular, there is an increasing incidence of diabetes in cats, because of the higher numbers of “fat cats” that are seen compared to twenty years ago. 

fat tabby white cat

Effects Of Diabetes

The high level of glucose has multiple effects throughout the body. The most visible consequence of the owner of a pet is the huge thirst. In diabetes, the level of glucose is so high in the blood that the kidneys are unable to stop it from leaking into the urine. As the glucose level in the urine rises, high volumes of water are also drawn into the urine, and so the animal starts to produce much, much more urine than before.

If diabetes is not identified and treated at this early stage, animals start to develop other signs of illness. They lose weight, and become weak, with the risk of collapse and coma because of the high levels of toxins that accumulate in the body.

Diabetes Treatment

If a pet is brought to the vet at an early stage, effective treatment can be given, but this does involve something that many pet owners find challenging, daily injections of insulin. This is never as difficult as people imagine but it is still a complex treatment that requires a serious commitment from owners.

  • A set routine is needed, with the pet having injections at the same time every day.
  • Feeding also has to be more regulated than in the past, with measured amounts of food being given at precise times of the day.
  • Special diets for diabetic pets are available, although some pets do well on the standard diet that they have always eaten.
  • Diabetic dogs also need to have their exercise monitored in a careful way, doing a similar amount on a daily basis, rather than going for a three-hour walk at the weekend, and then doing nothing all week.

The idea is to try to establish a regular pattern of glucose going into the body (in food) and glucose being used up by the body (in exercise). 

dog on forest walk

Insulin Dose

When diabetes has first been diagnosed, it can take a few weeks to establish the dose of insulin that is needed. A low dose is given initially, and this is gradually increased until the right level has been established. There is always a serious risk of giving too much insulin, which would have the effect of pushing the blood glucose down too low, something is known as a “hypoglycaemic episode”, or a “hypo”.

When a pet is having a “hypo” the become:

  1. Slow,
  2. Sleepy
  3. Staggery

They’ll need to be given an immediate dose of glucose syrup orally if this happens. It also makes sense to get them to the vet as soon as possible, because an uncontrolled “hypo” is potentially fatal. 

Some pets are hospitalised at the vet clinic during the initial phase of stabilisation of diabetes, with pets visiting regularly for blood glucose tests to monitor the response to treatment. 

Once the correct dose of insulin has been established, the pet and owner settle into a new routine. Regular visits to the vet are needed.  A special blood test called “fructosamine”  is a useful way of monitoring the long term effectiveness of insulin treatment.

If a pet has not been neutered, then this needs to be done. The fluctuating hormones in the bloodstream during a season have serious effects on the blood glucose.

Consequences Of High Blood Glucose

Diabetic animals usually do very well on treatment, but the disease can cause ongoing complications, especially if it is not well controlled. There are many consequences of high blood glucose which may not be obvious to owners, including adverse effects on the liver and the muscles, with animals losing weight if the diabetes is not properly corrected. 

Even when dogs are well stabilised, blindness caused by cataracts is common. Other problems can also develop, such as liver or kidney disease.

Minimising The Risk Of Diabetes

For most pet owners, diabetes is only a condition that they will read about rather than experience directly, but it makes sense for everyone to take steps to minimise the risk to their own pet.  

  • Firstly,  make sure that your pet does not become obese.
  • Secondly, get your pet insured, so that if you are unlucky enough to become the owner of a diabetic pet, the insurance company will cover the extensive costs of treatment of the main disease, as well as complications such as cataracts.