November is National Diabetes Month, and along with veterinarians across the nation, we're focusing on this disease that claims the lives of many thousands of pets every year.
Unfortunately Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is becoming more and more common among both dogs and cats. Left untreated, this condition is fatal. However with proper treatment and careful management, pets who suffer from this disease can continue to live normal, healthy lives.
Understanding Diabetes Mellitus
The body requires sugar (glucose) to be delivered to the cells in order to survive. The hormone used to carry glucose throughout the body is insulin. When there is not enough insulin or something is interfering with it, glucose isn't delivered to the cells. The lack of glucose causes the cells to slowly starve and die, while an excess of sugar elsewhere causes excessive thirst and urination as the body attempts to flush the sugar out of the system. Complications of diabetes include Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA), which occurs when the body attempts to break down fat in order to feed the starving cells. The fat breakdown produces ketones which poison the body, causing vomiting, dehydration, lack of appetite, electrolyte imbalances, and more. DKA is a life-threatening condition requiring immediate emergency hospitalization of your pet followed by intensive 24/7 monitoring and treatment.
There are two types of diabetes in dogs and cats: Type I DM and Type II DM. Type I DM occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin. Type I is a life-long condition - once your pet becomes diabetic, he or she will be diabetic for life. Type I is normally seen in dogs, usually beginning between 7-9 years of age, and requires twice-daily insulin injections to manage the condition.
Type II DM is normally seen in cats, and occurs when the pancreas either doesn't produce enough insulin, or something is interfering with its delivery to the cells. DM in cats can be transient. In other words, a cat that is diabetic today may be fine in a few months. We normally see the onset of diabetes in cats somewhere between 8-13 years of age.
The prevalence of diabetes varies by breed. In cats, Siamese are especially vulnerable. In dogs, the Samoyed, Keeshond, Miniature Pinscher, Cairn terrier, Schnauzer, Australian terrier, Dachshund, Poodle, Beagle, and Bichon Frise contract diabetes at a higher rate than other breeds. In addition, female dogs seem to be more likely to develop DM, while in cats males are more at risk.
Treatment options vary between species and breeds. Dogs who are diabetic require twice-daily injections of insulin for the rest of their life. For cats, oral medications are often effective at managing the condition.
Visible signs of diabetes often include:
- Excessive thirst
- Excessive urination
- Weight Loss
- Constant hunger
- Poor skin conditions like excessive dandruff or an oily coat
If you notice any of these conditions, or suspect your pet may be at risk for diabetes, please bring them into the clinic for a diabetes consultation. Pre-diabetic pets can have their outcomes affected by weight loss, changes in diet, or short term insulin therapy.
Untreated, diabetes is a painful, debilitating, and eventually fatal condition for your pet. However early diagnosis and treatment, combined with responsible long-term management can provide excellent quality of life for pets dealing with this condition.