Penelope the pug hasn’t been feeling so great recently. She has always been a bit on the round side, to put it mildly, but now she is losing weight, draining her water bowl several times a day, and peeing a lake when she goes outside every few hours. As it turns out, Penelope’s pancreas, who goes by Patrick, has gone on strike. Patrick the pancreas is supposed to create insulin, which acts like a key that opens the door of the body cells so that the glucose from the food Penelope eats can enter the cells and be used for energy. Now that Patrick the pancreas is not creating enough insulin, the glucose is stuck in Penelope’s bloodstream. The official name for the problem caused when Patrick the pancreas refuses to work is diabetes mellitus, which was exactly what Dr. Breite diagnosed when Penelope’s owners brought her to  LaGrange Veterinary Hospital.

The furry face of diabetes mellitus

Middle-aged dogs are more prone to develop diabetes mellitus, and  female dogs are twice as likely to be diabetic as males. Diabetic cats are typically middle-aged to older and, most commonly, overweight males. Some breeds may be predisposed to diabetes, and conditions such as obesity, pregnancy, pancreatitis (i.e., pancreas inflammation), certain infections, and metabolic, kidney, or dental diseases, as well as some medications could increase the diabetes risk.

Diabetes signs in pets

Like Penelope, diabetic pets may experience a range of signs, such as:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Walking on their hocks (in cats)
  • Cataracts (in dogs)
  • Increased infection susceptibility
  • Lethargy or weakness

Diabetes diagnosis in pets

If, like Penelope, your pet is showing potential diabetes signs, Dr. Breite will perform a detailed nose-to-tail physical exam and selected diagnostic tests, such as:

  • Blood chemistry panel — This test assesses the function of several organs, helps screen for other diseases that could cause similar clinical signs or complicate diabetes treatment, and gives a blood glucose reading.
  • Complete blood count — A CBC quantifies the number of platelets and red and white blood cells circulating in your pet’s body, looking for indications of inflammation, infection, or disease states.
  • Urinalysis — Our team will assess your pet’s urine for glucose and ketones, two diabetes indicators absent in normal urine. Diabetic pets are prone to urinary tract infections, so we will also examine the urine for infection signs and request a urine culture, if indicated.
  • Fructosamine — This blood test gives an average blood glucose reading from the past two to three weeks, and can be useful for distinguishing between diabetic cats, and non-diabetic cats who had a stress-induced blood glucose spike at the hospital but maintain a normal blood glucose at home.

Diabetes treatment options

Unlike people with type II diabetes, pets are rarely able to gain good blood glucose control with oral hypoglycemic medications. Thus, diabetic pets like Penelope will require insulin injections given at the same time every day with a meal to take the place of the insulin normally produced by their pancreas. Our veterinary team will determine the insulin type, dose, and frequency best suited for your pet, adjusting as needed. To help manage your pet’s blood glucose and achieve an optimal body weight, feed them the recommended amount and type of a high-protein, low-carbohydrate cat food or a high-fiber dog food. Regular exercise and having your intact female spayed can also help achieve good blood glucose control. 

Diabetes outlook in pets

Diabetes is typically lifelong in dogs, but some cats go into remission, especially if they reach a good body condition, are on an appropriate diet, and are closely monitored with good blood glucose control. Our veterinary team will periodically reassess your pet’s diabetes control using a fructosamine test or a blood glucose curve (i.e., a series of blood glucose measurements performed every few hours) in conjunction with an evaluation of how your pet is feeling. In some situations, our team may also ask you to check your pet’s blood glucose at home, or monitor their urine for glucose or ketones. 

Diabetes complications in pets

Diabetic pets must be watched closely for the following complications:

  • Hypoglycemia — Sometimes your pet’s blood glucose will become dangerously low (i.e., hypoglycemia), especially if they receive insulin but did not eat their meal, or are given too much insulin. Hypoglycemia causes tremors, seizures, weakness, sleepiness, loss of consciousness, or abnormal behavior. If you see these signs, rub corn syrup on your pet’s gums or feed them a high-carb meal, and contact LaGrange Veterinary Hospital immediately. 
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) — If your pet’s blood glucose gets out of control, they may begin to break down fats for energy, resulting in vomiting, dehydration, increased thirst and urination, lack of appetite, and lethargy. This potentially life-threatening complication is more commonly seen when a pet is first diagnosed with diabetes, or a diabetic pet becomes sick for another reason. 
  • Cataracts — Diabetic dogs, but usually not cats, frequently develop an irreversible lens opacity (i.e., cataract) that may impair their vision. 

Whether you suspect your pet’s pancreas is merely slacking on its job, or you know your pet has diabetes mellitus, contact our LaGrange Veterinary Hospital team for help and guidance. We know that caring for a diabetic pet may seem daunting, but we are committed to helping our patients live long, fulfilled lives, despite their disease.