Meet Ralph, a long-haired kitty who is not all fur, despite what his owners think. This hefty cat weighs in at a whopping 18 pounds, but has been dropping weight in spite of his voracious appetite. He’s also been soaking his litter box with giant wet spots, and draining his water dish dry. Concerned about his unkempt hair coat, sunken sides, and excessive hunger, thirst, and urination, Ralph’s family scheduled an appointment at the Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs.

Sebastian the miniature schnauzer was in the same position as Ralph. Although he didn’t fill a litter box with urine, he was having accidents inside, which was unlike this well-behaved pup. And, unlike Ralph, Sebastian was much closer to his ideal weight, with only a bit of extra pudge. However, he was rapidly shedding weight, drinking excessively, and seemed to be hungry all the time. Worried about Sebastian’s urinary accidents, weight loss, and hunger and thirst issues, his family also scheduled an appointment with our team

After performing diagnostic testing, Dr. Harrer diagnosed both these pets with diabetes mellitus, a common endocrine disease in cats and dogs. Each pet displayed the hallmark diabetes signs, and blood work and a urinalysis provided further proof. Reaching a diagnosis was the easy part, however—these pets will require lifelong management of their condition to avoid serious issues associated with unregulated diabetes. To help shed more light on this condition, in honor of Pet Diabetes Month, we’re spilling the facts on diabetes in cats and dogs.

What happens to my pet’s body when they have diabetes?

Pets develop diabetes because they have a pancreatic issue. The pancreas is an essential organ that contains insulin-producing beta cells. Insulin is vital for helping glucose—a type of sugar—enter the body’s cells from the bloodstream to be used as an energy source. In some cases, the pancreas loses the ability to manufacture insulin (i.e., insulin-deficient or Type 1 diabetes) and the pet relies on insulin administration. In other instances, the pancreas can still manufacture insulin, but the body has no response (i.e., insulin-resistant or Type 2 diabetes). 

The general thought has been that dogs almost always developed Type 1 diabetes, whereas cats developed Type 2, but that is no longer the case. Rather than being firmly placed in one camp or the other, diabetes is more fluid and can slide along a severity spectrum.

How do pets develop diabetes?

Diabetes can develop in pets for a variety of reasons, and obesity is not always a leading factor. Some of the more common diabetes triggers in pets include:

  • Age — While diabetes can occur at any age, middle-aged to older pets are more vulnerable.
  • Gender — Unspayed female dogs are more likely to develop diabetes than male dogs, whereas male cats have almost twice the risk as females.
  • Breed — Although any breed can develop diabetes, an increased risk appears in certain breeds, including miniature poodles, pugs, dachshunds, miniature schnauzers, samoyeds, Australian terriers, fox terriers, Cairn terriers, beagles, and Burmese cats.
  • Weight — Weight is a serious issue with pets, and can predispose them to many conditions other than diabetes. However, not all pets who develop diabetes are overweight or obese.
  • Cushing’s disease — In this disease, the body overproduces steroids, which can lead to diabetes. Long-term steroid use is also a risk factor.
  • Pancreatitis — Chronic or repeated pancreatitis can damage the pancreas and the beta cells it contains, destroying the body’s ability to manufacture insulin.

What do I need to watch for if my pet is diagnosed with diabetes?

Diabetes in pets requires lifelong management to avoid serious illness. Pets generally need insulin injections once or twice daily, along with a prescription diet and routine exercise. To monitor your pet’s response to insulin therapy, we may perform regular blood glucose curves, blood chemistry testing, and urinalyses. Since many conditions, such as dental disease or urinary tract infection, can make it more difficult for your pet’s body to use insulin, your furry pal will need more frequent physical exams to ensure they’re in good health. Some problems that may arise in diabetic pets include:

  • Cataracts — Cataracts are a common issue in diabetic dogs, but rarely form in cats.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis — A life-threatening condition, diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when pets cannot properly use insulin or glucose, and the blood glucose levels skyrocket. The pet’s body will then create ketones from fat as an emergency fuel source. If glucose regulation is not restored, the acid/base balance is upset and can be fatal.
  • Diabetic neuropathy — This condition, most commonly seen in cats, causes your pet’s hind legs to weaken, and they take an abnormally flat-footed stance. 

If you notice an increase in your pet’s diabetic signs (e.g., excessive thirst, urination, or hunger), they may be unregulated and their insulin dose may need adjustment. Call our team immediately if you notice issues that need rapid resolution.

Although a diabetes diagnosis for your beloved pet can be scary, your Animal Clinic of Council Bluffs team is here for you and your pet every step of the way. Contact us for help.