Some information was recently published about the most common ailments affecting our pets. Towards the top of that list is diabetes mellitus. Diabetes affects both dogs and cats but is seen three times more frequently in cats. It occurs either when a pet’s pancreas produces insufficient amounts of insulin or their body cannot respond to that insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that opens the gate which allows glucose into the body’s cells. Those cells use glucose for energy. When a pet is diabetic, the glucose cannot get into the cells so it stays in the bloodstream. When it is at high enough levels, the kidneys try to excrete the extra glucose in the urine. That glucose pulls water with it and creates more urine. Because of this, animals with diabetes drink and urinate more than normal. They also often are hungrier than normal because the cells are starving for food and they send a signal to the brain demanding to be fed. Unfortunately, all that succeeds in doing is increasing the blood sugar levels even more. Eventually, the cells turn to other sources of energy, but these create toxic byproducts called ketones. It is then that these pets start feeling sick. They stop eating and can start vomiting and then become weak. They will die if not given intensive care, so we obviously want to catch diabetes before it gets to that point.
Although the effect of diabetes is the same in dogs and cats, the predisposing factors and treatment is somewhat different. The vast majority of cats which become diabetic are middle-aged to older and are overweight. They also are often being fed dry cat food. The advantage of dry food is that it is convenient and cats can pick at it throughout the day, which they enjoy doing. However, dry food is also very high in carbohydrates. A cat’s digestive system is more adapted to high protein and low carbs since they are carnivores. They tend to gain weight and store extra glucose on this kind of diet. When we diagnose a cat with diabetes, he is started on a high-protein canned diet and administered insulin twice daily. The owners are taught how to give the injections at home- something that is much more stressful for them than it is for the cat. Most cats tolerate the injections quite well, especially since they receive them around mealtime. Frequent blood-glucose checks help determine the right amount of insulin required and these cats can do very well. The good news with cats is that up to half of them will go into remission and no longer require insulin if they stick to the special diet. We now realize that cats are more like human type 2 diabetics, who are often maintained with diet and exercise. We’d do exercise in cats, but have you ever tried that? If the cat doesn’t want to run around, he won’t and you can’t make him.
Dogs are a little different in that they virtually always require life-long insulin treatment. We use special diets in them also, but it is a high-fiber diet and can be fed dry or canned. Obesity does not seem to be a predisposing factor, but certain breeds are inclined to become diabetic, including Labradors and poodles. Dogs are also prone to developing cataracts when they are diabetic while cats are not.
Interestingly, many other animals can get diabetes including birds, horses and ferrets, so it is a disease of many warm-blooded creatures.
If you notice your pet drinking and urinating more, wanting more food, or losing weight, he should be examined and possibly have a bloodwork panel done to determine if he has diabetes or some other ailment.