November 27th
Diabetes Awareness for pet owners

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and we'd like to share a special guest article from our very own Dr. Sarah Thompson.

Diabetes in Pets

Diabetes mellitus is a common endocrine disorder in dogs and cats. It is caused by a lack of insulin production by the pancreas and results in a dangerous increase in blood sugar. Affected dogs and cats will typically exhibit weight loss, increased thirst and urination as well as an increase in hunger. Dogs can develop cataracts, an opacity in the lens of the eye, secondary to diabetes. Diabetes is not curable but it can be managed through insulin injections.

Glucose is an essential source of energy for the cells that make up muscles and tissues. It is also the brain's main source of fuel. In order to be utilized, glucose must be absorbed into the body’s cells from the bloodstream. Insulin is often described as a key, unlocking the cell to allow glucose to enter and be used for energy. Without this key glucose is stuck outside the cell and accumulates in the blood causing hyperglycaemia, the term for high blood glucose.

Now the cells become starved for fuel and look for other sources of energy, such as fat and protein. Affected pets will start to lose weight, despite a ravenous appetite. Dogs without diabetes will not have glucose in the urine as the kidneys are designed to conserve glucose in the body. However, when blood glucose levels are severely elevated in dogs with untreated diabetes, excessive amounts of glucose are excreted in the urine along with increased amounts of water. The resulting dehydration from a continual loss of the body’s water will cause increased thirst and your pet will drink more and more water.

Diabetic pets generally require two insulin injections each day. Nutrition is an important component of diabetes management and your veterinarian will discuss the most appropriate diet for your pet’s condition.  Interestingly, the discovery of insulin is a Canadian story. In 1921, a team of researchers at the University of Toronto succeeded in producing extracts of pancreas that contained an effective anti-diabetic agent. The discovery of insulin completely transformed the treatment of diabetes, saving millions of lives worldwide.

Client frequently ask about the cost of treating a diabetic pet. After the initial diagnosis it is prudent to have a full and frank discussion with your veterinarian about the financial and personal commitment required in treating a diabetic pet. Once your dog is well regulated, the treatment and maintenance costs tend to be reasonable. However, the financial commitment may be significant during the initial regulation process or if complications arise.

Complicated cases of diabetes in pets require days of intensive hospitalization. Pets can become so sick from diabetes that they stop eating and drinking; and the effects of untreated diabetes on the body are devastating. The body becomes more acidic and normal fluid balance cannot be maintained, resulting in severe dehydration. Electrolyte imbalances can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and abnormal muscle function. If left untreated, complicated cases of diabetes are fatal.  Pets in a diabetic crisis need intensive case including intravenous fluids, short-acting insulin, frequent blood work and supplementation of key electrolytes such as potassium.

The key to preventing complicated cases of diabetes is early detection and careful adherence to your pet’s management plan. If you have noticed weight loss, increased appetite, thirst or urination, or are not sure if your dog is completely healthy, please make an appointment to have your pet examined. Standard blood and urine tests are generally sufficient to make a diagnosis of diabetes.  Your veterinarian will make an individual treatment and management plan for your dog based on the dog's current disease status. 

What symptoms would my pet show if they have diabetes?

You know your pet better than anyone and certain symptoms, such as increased thirst, urination and hunger can be early signs of diabetes. If your pet is displaying any of these signs, even if they are subtle changes and you are not sure if they are truly present, please make an appointment to discuss your concerns with your veterinarian and have your pet examined.

When diabetes is not detected and becomes advanced, worrisome signs such as dehydration, weight loss, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain typically occur. If your pet is displaying any of these signs, emergency veterinary care is required.

It is important that your dog be thoroughly examined by a veterinarian at least once a year. For older pets, twice yearly examinations can be an important tool in detecting disease early. As diabetes is more common in older dogs and cats, more frequent examinations can be key to disease detection and prevention.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

All veterinary clinic have experienced clients randomly dropping of urine samples when online research triggers fears about diabetes in a beloved pet. While it is true that uncomplicated diabetes can be diagnosed with a few tests, it is vitally important to make an appointment to bring your pet into the clinic. We don’t start books by randomly flipping them open and reading, just like we don’t diagnose disease without first obtaining a history and performing a full physical examination.

When a pet’s history and clinical signs point strongly towards diabetes mellitus as a possibility, your veterinarian will begin by testing your pet’s blood and urine. Your veterinarian will have a list of diseases to narrow down and blood testing will be performed as a panel, checking vital body systems and blood cell levels. Abnormal levels of glucose in the blood and urine will be suspicious for diabetes and the magnitude of these levels will be the most significant factor in diagnosing diabetes. However, your veterinarian will likely recommend other testing based on the preliminary laboratory results, as obtaining a fulsome picture of your pet’s current health status is important for planning treatment.

Affected pets can have high liver enzymes, electrolyte imbalances or elevated pancreatic enzyme levels. In pets with diabetes, urinary tract infections are common and your veterinarian will recommend that a sample of urine be sent to an external laboratory for a bacterial culture and antibiotic sensitivity testing. If stress is a possible contributing factor in your pet’s elevated glucose levels, a fructosamine test will be recommended. Fructosamine levels reflect your pet’s blood glucose concentration over the last 2-3 weeks and, in some cases, can be an important component of confirming diabetes.

Finally, pets with diabetes can be affected by more than one disease at the same time. Examples of common concurrent diseases are Cushings, hypothyroidism and pancreatitis. Additional tests for these diseases may be appropriate and your veterinarian will make recommendations as appropriate based on the initial diagnostic tests performed.

Written by: Dr. Sarah Thompson