Across the United States and even the world, the rate of human obesity and subsequently, diabetes, has been climbing significantly. However, this phenomenon isn’t only being observed in humans, but also our pets. More and more dogs and cats are overweight or even obese, which predisposes them to develop diabetes.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a disease where the body can no longer regulate the amount of sugar, or glucose, in their bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas (an organ that sits next to the small intestine) normally helps to facilitate the movement of glucose from the blood into cells that need them as a source of energy. In pets with diabetes, there is not enough working insulin to effectively move glucose into the cells. This results in ‘starvation’ of the cells, which causes them to break down. When fat and muscles are broken down, the liver then converts them into sugar, which floods the bloodstream even more.
Human diabetes is broken down into Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 is generally inherited in our pets, just like in humans. This is when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Type 2 is generally acquired later on in life and occurs when the body cannot react normally to the normal amount of insulin produced. Type 2 diabetes is much more common in dogs and cats than Type 1. A lesser-known Type 3 also exists and typically occurs secondary to an over-abundance of certain hormones produced by the body or introduced from an outside source.
How do I know if my pet is diabetic?
If your pet is overweight, working with your veterinarian to come up with a weight loss plan is the safest method to bring your pet back to a healthy weight. Oftentimes, they will recommend increasing the number of calories burned and decreasing the number of calories eaten. At the same time, supplements for joint, skin, and immune health may be recommended to help your pet in their weight loss journey and beyond.
Many pets are accustomed to eating calorie-dense human foods such as ice cream, whipped cream, peanut butter, and sometimes even steak or cake! All of these are empty calories for pets and bring little to no nutrition to their lives.
To confirm diabetes, your veterinarian will need to perform tests on your pet’s blood and urine. Generally, an abnormally large amount of glucose in both the blood and the urine is indicative of the disease.
How do we manage or treat diabetes?
Diabetes is incurable after it occurs, but can be managed. Some pets may be lucky enough to go into remission, where they no longer need medications for some time.
In most cases, losing weight, increased exercise, eating a diet high in fiber and low in carbohydrates, and receiving twice daily insulin injections is extremely important in caring for a diabetic pet. Also, spaying female dogs helps them better regulate their insulin. For overweight pets, supplementing their diets with joint supplements or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications can help them become more active.
Frequent blood and urine tests are required to find the correct dose of insulin, and even after the dose is found, blood and urine tests are recommended to be run every few months. This is because having diabetes also predisposes pets to skin infections, urinary tract infections, cataracts, and other secondary illnesses.
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) DKA is an illness that occurs when cells in the body go into an ‘extreme starvation mode’ where they break down large amounts of fat and muscle cells into ‘ketones’. Ketones are great in supplying energy to cells in small amounts for short amounts of time, but they accumulate in the bloodstream causing a toxic change to the blood’s pH. This can be deadly and requires aggressive care, including hospitalization.
Diabetic pets can go into DKA if their blood sugar is unregulated or if they develop some other illness, such as infection, stress, pancreatitis, etc…
Insulin overdose It is also important to know the signs of insulin overdose, which can occur if too much insulin is injected or if the pet is given insulin despite not eating. This can become a life-threatening emergency. Watch for:
If seen, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Diabetes is not an easy disease to manage for any pet and it is much easier to prevent it from occurring at all. Next time you are about to give in to a pair of puppy dog eyes or your cat’s incessant meowing, remember not sharing is caring!
1. Keep your pets at healthy weights
2. Work with your veterinarian to learn to recognize what a healthy weight is
3. Regular exercise to keep lean muscle tone
4. Do not overfeed pets (stay strong and don’t give in to their begging!)
5. Do not share human foods high in carbohydrates, sugars, and fats
6. Prevent pets from ingesting human hormonal medications or creams
If you need any additional tips on how to keep your pet at a healthy weight, take a look at the Wellnergy blog post titled “Is My Pet Overweight?”. As always, speak to your veterinarian or reach out to our team on Facebook, Instagram, e-mail, or in the comments section if you have any other questions.
About the Author:
Dr. Debra Chen, D.V.M. has been a practicing companion animal veterinarian for over three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. Prior to moving to the Bay, she received both her veterinary and undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. After spending a third of her life in Taiwan, she is also fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Her veterinary interests include preventative medicine, animal behavior, and surgery. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Chen can be found camping, hiking, eating, or traveling with her husband and Formosan Mountain Dog, Tuna. They also share a home with their two feline overlords, brown tabby cats Cairo and Khaleesi.