Diabetes in Pets (Diabetes Mellitus)

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes in pets (Diabetes Mellitus) is a common disorder that affects animals similarly to the way it affects humans. It is caused by a lack of insulin in the body, or the body’s inability to respond to insulin. Insulin is produced in the pancreas and allows the body’s cells to utilise glucose from the blood for energy. When an animal does not have enough insulin, glucose levels in the blood increase. Without insulin, the body is forced to use energy sources other than glucose. This leads to a build-up of toxins in the blood.

How is Diabetes in pets diagnosed?

Diagnosis of diabetes in pets is usually straightforward. A simple blood test will reveal the increased levels of glucose. However, urine tests and further blood tests can help determine the severity of the effects of diabetes on the body. Diabetic pets will require a further diagnosis to determine how severe their case is.

Clinical signs of Diabetes in pets can include the following:

  • increased thirst and increased urination
  • increased appetite with variable weight changes (often increase in early stages)
  • depression
  • lethargy
  • vomiting
  • sweet, ‘acetone’ breath
  • dehydration
  • cataracts in the eyes

How is Diabetes in pets treated?

Treatments for diabetes depend on the severity of the disease. Most pets with diabetes will require insulin injections once or twice daily. Once an animal is diagnosed as a diabetic, more tests to determine how the diabetes is affecting the body are necessary.

‘Simple’ diabetics who are eating well will often start insulin injections straight away and spend only a short time in the hospital for monitoring. The patient can then go home and you can administer regular insulin injections as determined by your vet. Often, dietary changes are necessary, and diabetics need to be fed at times suitable for their insulin levels. Diabetic pets will also need to revisit the veterinary clinic for regular blood glucose monitoring. This is important as insulin requirements can change over time.

Pets with more severe diabetes will require different treatments and monitoring. These pets usually require a longer period of hospitalisation, and intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. It can take a long time to stabilise particularly sick diabetics, and some do not respond well to treatment. Owners must be aware of the time, costs and possible treatment failure before treatment is started.

With regular monitoring and treatment, good control of blood glucose levels is possible in most cases. This reduces the risk of long-term side effects like cataracts. It is also important to rule out concurrent diseases that may affect glucose control. Most pets with diabetes will need to have their blood glucose checked every few months.  This involves a day in the hospital with several blood tests throughout the day, as blood glucose levels fluctuate.

If you have any further questions regarding diabetes or any other health problem, please contact your local Greencross Vets. Overall, with the right treatment, most diabetics can look forward to a happy, healthy life.