Diabetes in Pets

Diabetes is fast becoming a common issue for pets in the UK and it’s leading to millions of pounds being paid out in obesity related insurance claims every year. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for diabetes in pets and you might not even know your pet has it despite it causing some unpleasant symptoms. However, this condition doesn’t have to affect the quality of your pet’s life and they can still live a happy and healthy life with the condition.

What is diabetes?

Pets suffer from diabetes mellitus either because their pancreas stops producing insulin, doesn’t produce enough insulin or their body has an abnormal response to the hormone. The pancreas produces insulin and allows glucose in the blood to enter cells so the body can function properly.

There are two common types of diabetes mellitus and just like humans, pets can develop both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes, known as insulin-deficiency diabetes occurs when your pet’s body can’t produce enough insulin. People and pets that have type 1 diabetes need to be given insulin so their body can use glucose. Unfortunately, if your pet develops type 1 diabetes, there is no cure but the condition can be controlled.
  • Type 2 diabetes, known as insulin-resistant diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin. Sometimes through weight loss and diet and exercise improvements, type 2 diabetes can be reversed.

Dogs are more likely to get type 1 diabetes whereas cats are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. However, obesity, as well as some diseases and medications, can cause type 2 diabetes in dogs.

How do pets get diabetes?

Whilst the exact cause of diabetes is unknown, many experts suggest that diabetes in pets is down to autoimmune diseases, genetics, obesity, chronic pancreatitis, certain medications and abnormal protein deposits in the pancreas.

Brown Bengal kitten

How do I know if my pet has diabetes?

It can be difficult to spot if your pet has diabetes but there are some common symptoms you can look out for:

  • Eating more than normal
  • Increased thirst
  • Weeing more than normal
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Being off their food
  • Seeming depressed
  • Cloudy eyes

If you notice any of the above changes in your pet, seek veterinary advice immediately. If diabetes is diagnosed early, your pet has a better chance of a long and healthy life.

Diabetes in dogs

Diabetes mellitus is common in middle-aged to older dogs, particularly females but it can also affect young dogs of both sexes. When it’s experienced by younger dogs, it can be a sign that they’re genetically predisposed to diabetes. Certain breeds are also more likely to be affected than others. These include:

  • Toy Poodles
  • Terriers
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepherds
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Golden Retrievers

Diabetes in cats

Diabetes mellitus is more likely to affect middle-aged to older cats and cats that are overweight. Also, diabetes in cats is most common in males that have been neutered.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Your vet will collect blood samples and urine samples from your pet to diagnose diabetes. It can be helpful to take a urine sample with you to your appointment. On occasion, more than one set of blood and urine samples are required to diagnose diabetes.

How is diabetes treated?

Cat diabetes treatment and treatment for diabetes in dogs is very similar. Diabetes is a chronic disease that has to be managed over time. It can be treated with insulin injections. You’ll need to inject your pet every day, normally twice daily to bring their blood sugar levels down. Your vet will calculate exactly how much insulin your pet needs and show you how to inject it. Too much insulin causes low blood sugar, known as hypoglycaemia so it’s vital to be accurate when injecting insulin. Insulin injections need to be given 12 hours apart and at the same time every day. They should also be given within an hour of feeding. Injecting your pet may seem daunting at first but don’t panic, you’ll both get used to it very quickly.

Shiba Inu

How to care for a pet with diabetes

If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, it’s important to follow any veterinary advice but you can make some small changes to their lifestyle that can help manage the disease.

Diet

Pets with diabetes usually require specialist diets. It may be necessary for your pet to eat a specific brand of food and follow a feeding schedule, especially if they need to lose weight. Cats require regular, small meals throughout the day. The portion size needs to be controlled to ensure they don’t gain weight. Cats should be fed wet food that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates. It’s recommended to feed dogs a controlled amount every 12 hours to keep their blood sugar levels as steady as possible. Speak to your vet about which food is best for your pet.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia)

If your pet has low blood sugar, it can be fatal if left untreated. Low blood sugar may occur if your pet’s had too much insulin, over exercised, eaten less than normal or vomited. If you notice that your pet is wobbly, twitchy or confused they could be having a ‘hypo’. They may seem to be very hungry, vomit or collapse. Always have a small sachet of sugar to hand so you can rub it into their gums immediately and get an emergency vet appointment.

Exercise

If your pet is diabetic, they’ll benefit from lots of exercise as exercise reduces the level of glucose in their blood. Taking your dog for regular walks will greatly improve their health and help them lose weight.

Be alert

Keep an eye on your pet and look out for any behavioural changes such as excessive hunger, thirst, urination and physical changes like weight gain and weight loss. Raise any issues with your vet immediately as they could indicate a change in the course of the disease.

Can I get insurance for my diabetic pet?

It’s always best to insure your cat or dog when they’re young, in case they develop an ongoing condition like diabetes. Unfortunately, many pet insurance providers won’t accept cats or dogs with diabetes onto their policies as they already suffer from a chronic illness. Some companies might provide them with insurance but it won’t cover your pet for any diabetes related treatment.

Insurance company Bought By Many have a unique Pre-Existing policy that might cover diabetes in dogs and diabetes in cats. It covers medical conditions that your cat or dog has experienced in the past as long as they’ve not received treatment or medication for them in the three months prior to your policy starting.

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