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Information from Knutsford Vets

Diabetes is becoming more and more common in both cats and dogs. Much like in the human population, this primarily relates to the increased numbers of overweight and obese animals that we see.

Diabetes in pets is caused by an absolute or relative lack of insulin. Insulin is a hormone released from the pancreas in response to rising blood glucose levels that enables the glucose to be taken up by cells and used for energy. Without insulin, blood glucose levels rise but the body must rely on other sources for energy, such as fat breakdown since there is no mechanism to absorb glucose directly.

This can be a secondary disease – as a consequence of another condition such as hyperadrenocorticism (cushings), pancreatitis or acromegaly in cats and more commonly as a result of autoimmune disease in dogs, although the latter is not yet well understood. However, being overweight and leading a sedentary lifestyle are common causes of ‘insulin resistance’ where tissues in the body have an impaired response to any insulin that is released by the pancreas.

Signs of Diabetes in your pet

The most common signs of diabetes are increased urination and drinking

The most common signs of diabetes are increased urination and drinking – glucose that cannot be absorbed by the body is excreted in the urine and this draws more water with it, which the body then replaces through increased intake. Weight loss is evident as the body is unable to use glucose as a primary energy source and so breaks down fat instead. Cats and dogs affected usually seem hungrier, but not always. In addition diabetes can cause a diabetic neuropathy in cats that leads to weakness in the hind limbs and ‘sunken hocks’. Canine and feline patients may be more prone to bladder infections and so show signs of straining to urinate or pass blood in their urine. Left untreated, diabetes can progress to the point where the animal enters diabetic ketoacidosis (a form of blood poisoning) resulting in depression, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea and collapse.

A diagnosis of diabetes is made where glucose (and sometimes ketones) are present in the urine, in conjunction with a high blood glucose level. Where ketoacidosis is present, animals will usually require a period of hospitalisation to try to stabilise their condition.

Treatment of Diabetes for animals

Treatment can be very rewarding in both cats and dogs and affected pets can lead long and happy lives, but it is not always easy to manage the disease and does require commitment and dedication from owners. Diet is important, primarily to reduce weight in obese animals but in cats a low carbohydrate diet can make diabetics much easier to manage, require less insulin for treatment and in some cases this is enough to resolve the clinical signs of diabetes. In female dogs especially, neutering is recommended as the hormone changes during oestrus can further complicate the management of diabetics. For most pets however, insulin injections are needed to allow the body to take up glucose from the blood. These are usually given twice daily and it is important to keep their routine as constant as possible with regards food, exercise and weight.

Once stabilised, your pet will continue to have regular check-ups with us to monitor fructosamine levels. This test enables us to look at blood sugar levels over a period of weeks and see how well controlled they are. Changes in insulin dosing may be required on occasion but it is important to do this only under the supervision of our vets – too much insulin will cause hypoglycaemia, which can lead to collapse, seizures and possibly coma.

Unfortunately, diabetic patients commonly develop severe cataracts and this can happen quite quickly, causing blindness. Many pets will cope well but more often now, once stabilised, patients are able to undergo surgery to remove the cataracts and restore sight.

Find out more about diabetes by booking a consultation

If you’re concerned that your pet may be showing signs of diabetes, Knutsford Veterinary Surgery offer free Diabetes Nurse Clinics which are a valuable source of further information and support on the issue. These can be booked online though our register your pet page at Register your pet or by ringing 01565 337999.

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