Living with a Diabetic Pet
Thanks to treatment improvements, the disease is now very manageable.
November is Pet Diabetes Month and as this is a disease that affects nearly every species, it’s important for pet owners to know a little about it. All types of animals, from ferrets to cats and humans to dogs, can develop diabetes.
To understand the condition, you need to know a bit about insulin. Insulin is a hormone that enables a body to use sugar (glucose), which is converted from consumed food, for energy or save it for use later. Glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines; it then flows to the body’s cells. If the pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin, which acts as a key to open up cells to glucose, the sugar cannot be absorbed by the cells. This results in a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream.
This buildup is what causes your pets want to eat constantly, but still appear to be malnourished. It is due to the cells not properly absorbing glucose for energy.
If your pet is showing signs of excessive thirst, frequent urination or acting like he or she is tired all of the time, it’s time to get some blood work done. Diabetes is one of those diseases that can sneak up on you and if you don’t pay attention, you could quickly lose your pet. Caught early, and your pets can live a normal, healthy life.
Types of Diabetes in Pets
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. For Type 2, the pancreas produces insulin, but the body’s cells don’t respond well or have become resistant to it.
Dogs tend to develop insulin-dependent diabetes (Type 1), which means they will need injections—probably forever. Cats, however, are more commonly diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which can usually be handled with oral medication and diet changes.
Diagnosing Diabetes in Pets
If your veterinarian suspects diabetes in your pet, she will likely need to perform a complete blood count (CBC), a serum biochemistry profile and a urinalysis to confirm diagnosis. While this may seem like a lot of tests, they are important as it allows the vet to accurately confirm the dosage levels required to help your pet.
It’s also important to remember that many pets react very strongly to being at the veterinarian’s office, and this can effect or change their actual levels. Running multiple tests will help confirm what is really going on while also ruling out other things that could affect your pet’s health.
Treating Diabetes in Pets
After your veterinarian has reached the conclusion your pet has diabetes, she will select an insulin type and dosage for your pet. The dosage needs to be closely monitored for the first few months to ensure it is accurate and effective. Every animal responds differently to the treatment and it’s up to the vet to establish how well your pet is doing with it.
In severe cases, your veterinarian might ask you to leave your pet at the hospital for a few days so she can quickly establish the best dosage through close monitoring.
Diet and Exercise
You might also need to change your pet’s diet to a prescription food or other vet-recommended food. It is very important that you monitor your pet’s diet, including treats, for the rest of his life. You need to be extra careful not to let your pet eat from the table or get into garbage as this can seriously affect his blood-sugar levels.
Currently, most vets recommend that dogs stay on high-fiber diets, since fiber seems to help increase the effect of insulin in dogs. Cats with diabetes, however, should be on a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet. Sugars, obviously, need to be avoided. This is often simple to do for cats, but dogs tend to have a harder time controlling their intake of sugar.
Exercise is also very important. You will want to make sure your dog is getting plenty of walks and playtime to keep him active—it will tremendously help him to manage this condition.
Most pets could require injections twice a day—after each meal. You might have to modify your pet’s feeding schedule. You will also need to learn how to give these injections subcutaneously (under the skin). This might seem intimidating, but you can quickly learn this simple task. The needles are quite small and, in most cases, your pet will not even feel it—especially after you’ve had some practice. Work closely with your veterinarian to learn how to give these injections. They are very, very important to maintaining your pet’s health.
In some cases (such as with Type 2), oral medication can be used instead of insulin injections. The treatment plan will depend on your veterinarian and how advanced your pet’s condition is (which is one more reason why you need to catch it early).
Your pet will need to have glucose tests to monitor his insulin levels. In the beginning, he might need to have a glucose curve established—blood -sugar levels are monitored every 2 to 4 hours for a 24-hour period. This test tells the veterinarian how well your pet is adjusting to the insulin.
After the initial curve is established, you should be able to monitor your pet with ongoing veterinarian appointments or by measuring the levels at home with a glucometer. You’ll want to learn more about this process because many things can affect how your pet responds daily to insulin day.
If you suspect your dog or cat has diabetes, be sure to get him into the veterinarian right away. This is a very manageable disease and the science used in preventing and treatment is improving every day.
About the Author: Stacy Mantle is the founder of PetsWeekly.com and the bestselling author of “Shepherd’s Moon.” Learn more great tips for living with animals by visiting PetsWeekly.com or get to know a little more about the author at www.StacyMantle.com