There are relatively few diseases that animals and humans share but as with people, diabetes in dogs and cats can lead to serious health problems, including liver disease, kidney disease, seizures, blindness, increased risk of infections and even death if left untreated. The good news is that with early detection and proper treatment, diabetic pets can still enjoy long and happy lives.
Symptoms and signs
As in humans, diabetes in pets occurs when the body does not make enough insulin, cannot use insulin properly or stops producing it altogether. Though the American Veterinary Medical Association estimates diabetes affects less than 1% of dogs and cats, veterinarian Dr. Ann Schlipf with Riverside Park Veterinary Clinic in Grants Pass says it’s important for pet owners to be aware of the risks and stay alert to early warning signs.
“The most obvious is drinking an unusual amount of water and urinating a lot,” Schlipf says. “That might mean accidents in the house or for kitties, their litter might be wetter than normal. If people miss those symptoms, the secondary set of symptoms can be not eating, not drinking and vomiting. The clinical signs can be cloudiness in the eyes, and changes in kidney, liver and pancreas function. With cats, it’s also typical to see what’s called neuropathy in the legs, where they walk flat on their feet or on their entire back leg as opposed to how they usually walk on their toes.”
If left untreated, Schlipf says, “Pets can go into insulin shock or comas, become sluggish, unresponsive and have seizures just like people. These symptoms usually indicate that the disease is more advanced or being poorly controlled.”
“There are many other diseases where excessive drinking and urination can be symptoms,” cautions Dr. Liana Barron, veterinarian with All Creatures Animal Hospital in Eagle Point. “If your animal is exhibiting those behaviors, it’s best to get them to the vet right away. We will do an evaluation of overall health, ask about weight changes, either up or down, do blood work to see how the liver and kidneys are functioning, and a urinalysis.”
Barron says if caught early, some cats may do well with a high protein, low carbohydrate prescription diet. Others who are more affected will require daily insulin injections. She adds, “Most dogs that are diagnosed require insulin, so the owner has to give them shots once or twice a day. There are different kinds of insulin that can range from $25 a month to $250 a month, so it can be an expensive disease to treat. Blood sugar levels can be inconsistent, and especially in cats, it can rise and fall, so it’s important to have periodic checks to keep an eye on the correct insulin dosage.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, both dogs and cats can be at risk for diabetes at any age, however, most dogs are diagnosed between 7 and 10 years of age, while cats are usually older than 6. It also occurs twice as often in female dogs than male dogs. And some breeds may be at a higher risk than others.
“Obesity, allowing your pet to be overweight, is one of the biggest risk factors,” says Schlipf. “There are also some breeds that can be predisposed, like Schnauzers, but not every Schnauzer is diabetic. Diabetes can also be one of the side effects associated with repetitive use of Depo-Medrol, a steroid drug used in dogs and cats to treat inflammation, autoimmune diseases of the skin and feline bronchial asthma. Another one is an oral steroid called Prednisone, which is sometimes used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.”
There is no cure for diabetes, but Barron advises preventative measures that include regular veterinary checkups, especially as animals age, keeping weight in check with proper feeding of a good quality food and adequate exercise. She also notes that female dogs that are not spayed are more likely to develop diabetes.
“Once a pet is diagnosed as a diabetic, the disease needs to be managed responsibly with correct dosages of insulin at the correct times.” Ann Schlipf, D.V.M., Riverside Park Veterinary Clinic, Grants Pass
“Owners really need to be aware of their pet’s health, behaviors and habits,” advises Schlipf. “And once we diagnose a pet as a diabetic, the disease needs to be managed responsibly with correct dosages of insulin at the correct times. They will require regular and consistent treatment to do well.”
Diabetes is not usually a fatal disease, Schlipf says. “But it does take some special dedication by the owner, and a veterinarian who is forthright about the responsibilities in controlling the disease. It’s our job as veterinarians to educate our clients about the disease and their part in treating it effectively, because animals can live relatively healthy lives if they receive the correct treatment.”
“Diabetes is not usually a fatal disease, but it does take some special dedication by the owner, and a veterinarian who is forthright about the responsibilities in controlling the disease.” Ann Schlipf, D.V.M., Riverside Park Veterinary Clinic, Grants Pass