The month of November is nationally recognized as American Diabetes Month, a month focused on raising awareness about diabetes in people. However, it’s important for pet parents to recognize that November is also National Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.
Both feline and canine diabetes are similar to the diabetic condition in humans. In fact, once diagnosed, your pets will be prescribed medication and using equipment and monitoring systems that are similar to those used by diabetic humans.
The diabetic condition is most likely brought on in our pets due to the growing prevalence of pet obesity (secondary to inactive lifestyle, a high carbohydrate diet, and lack of exercise).
While there’s no cure for diabetes, the proper veterinary care can help your pet live a happy, healthy and active life. The more you know about diabetes, the better you’ll be able to work with your veterinarian to successfully manage your pet’s health.
Signs and Symptoms
Regular wellness exams are important to establish baselines and note any changes in your pet’s weight and behavior. Be sure to report the following diabetic symptoms to your veterinarian so a proper diagnosis to the cause can be made.
- Lethargy, weakness or fatigue
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Sudden weight loss
- Increased hunger
Because cats use litter boxes, be aware that larger urine clumps means they are drinking more and that may be due to diabetes. Although symptoms of diabetes are similar in both dogs and cats, a cat’s symptoms are more subtle than a dog’s, and weight loss is harder to appreciate in cats. An 8 oz. or 1/2 lb. weight loss in your average 10 lb. cat equates to a 5% weight loss, and this is significant in a cat.
Only your veterinarian can diagnose diabetes and provide appropriate preventive and management programs. And the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better. Why? When diabetes goes on undiagnosed, or when it becomes difficult to control or regulate, a life-threatening condition called diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA) can occur. DKA develops because the body is so lacking in insulin that the sugar can’t get into the cells which results in cell starvation. Cell starvation causes the body to start breaking down fat in an attempt to provide energy to the body. Unfortunately, these fat breakdown products, called “ketones,” are also poisonous to the body.
What happens when a pet is diagnosed with Diabetes?
If diabetes is caught early enough before the pet is Ketotic, there will be no need to hospitalize the pet, so again, early detection is important.
However, if the pet comes to us very sick and Ketotic, then yes, they may need 24 hour care for a few days. We may do a BG curve for a day in the beginning, and then again in a week and every few weeks until the pet is regulated, which may take 3 months. Some cats can go into remission during the first 3-6 months with a diet change and good regulation. We now have blood glucose monitors that owners can use at home that helps with regulation and costs.
Managing your pet’s condition at home
It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations at home for diet and monitoring once your pet is diagnosed. The goal in managing diabetes is to keep glucose concentrations regulated, avoiding spikes and drops, and to reduce or eliminate the signs of diabetes, such as excessive thirst and urination. Although diabetes can’t be cured, the condition can be successfully managed with daily insulin injections and changes in diet and lifestyle.
During the holidays, some diabetic pets may be left at home with the pet sitter. It’s important that the pet sitter be made fully aware of the pet’s condition so he/she can be managed properly while you are away.
Since weight management is key to avoid diabetes and many other health risks, please refer back to our earlier newsletter, Why managing your pet’s weight is so important.
Joe Martins, DVM, Belle Mead Animal Hospital