November is Pet Diabetes Month.
When I adopted my first diabetic cat and talked to his previous owner, she said that she didn’t know cats could get diabetes. It might seem hard for you to believe someone would actually think that, but she’s not the only person who does. While most people know someone who has diabetes, they’ve never heard of a pet with diabetes and it never crosses their mind that it can be a possibility. But pets can and while dogs and cats are the most commonly pets diagnosed, other pets like ferrets, rabbits and birds can also become diabetic.
What is diabetes in pets?
Diabetes is a disease where the body can’t regulate the glucose level in the blood. Humans and other mammals develop diabetes due to problems related to insulin the hormone that helps the body use glucose. There are 2 types of diabetes- Type 1 where the cells don’t produce enough insulin and Type 2 where the body either doesn’t respond to insulin or doesn’t produce enough insulin. The result of either type is an elevated glucose level.
Birds on the other hand get diabetes from the overproduction of glucagon. Glucogon tells the liver to release glucose when it is needed, but in diabetic birds it’s released even when it’s not needed causing the blood glucose level to go to high.
There is no 1 cause of diabetes. Obesity is felt to contribute greatly to a pet developing it, but it can also be due to genetics, an autoimmune response, medication or pancreatic disease.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in pets and how is it diagnosed?
The most common signs of diabetes are excessive drinking and urinating and an increased appetite. These can be symptoms of other diseases so your vet will do a workup that includes blood work and a urinalysis to determine if your pet has diabetes. In a diabetic pet the blood work will show an elevated blood glucose and the urinalysis will show glucose in the urine.
How is diabetes managed in diabetic pets?
There are few things that need to be done to help keep your pet’s diabetes under control.
Diet- In general a diet low in carbohydrates is best. Cats and ferrets have been found to do best on a low carb high protein diet. Animals like rabbits and guinea pigs’ diet should include hay, fresh vegetables a good quality pellet and no high carbohydrate treats. Even though birds have a different cause to their diabetes, a low carb diet is important in controlling their diabetes also. Dogs are the one exception. For dogs, a diet that is contains a complex carbohydrate and fiber has been found to help slow the absorption of the insulin and regulate the blood glucose. The proper diet can make a huge difference in being able to regulate your pet
Insulin- For most animals injectable insulin is needed to control the blood glucose levels. There’s a variety of insulin and not all work well in all species so your vet will chose the one that should work best for your pet. Pets are started on a dose and then their blood glucose is monitored and adjustment made to the dosage of insulin. This monitoring and adjustment will need to be done through out your pet’s life.
Many people are familiar with the oral diabetic medicine that many Type 2 Human diabetics take. There have been studies that show it helps in some cats and in birds, but most pets will need the injections.
Can a pet be cured of diabetes?
Diabetes is a life time disease. It will always have to be managed and monitored and most pets will require insulin throughout their life. However, with a change to a high protein low carb wet diet there are many cats who are able to be diet controlled and not need insulin for most of their life. My cat Poughkeepsie was lucky enough to become diet controlled. He arrived at my house at the age of 11 having been on dry food all his life and insulin for at least 5 of those years. After so long on insulin it was a change to canned food that brought his glucose levels to normal. I still monitor his blood glucose because a change in his health could cause him to need insulin again, but so far so good.
Having a pet diagnosed with diabetes can be very scary, but it is manageable. Knowing about the disease and working with your vet can help alleviate a lot of the fear. Being around other people who have found themselves in their pets in the same situation can also be a big help. Next week I’ll share some pet diabetes resources where you can learn more and find groups online to get support.