National Diabetes Awareness Day is in November, making it the perfect time for us to highlight this important disease affecting dogs and cats! Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is similar to the condition with the same name in people.
What is Diabetes Mellitus?
DM is caused by a deficiency of insulin, which results in the inability of the body to properly utilize glucose (sugar). This inability leads to sugar building up in the bloodstream and spilling over into the urine. There are two types of diabetes mellitus. Type I (also called insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, or in humans, juvenile diabetes) occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Type II (non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus) occurs when the body is able to produce insulin but is unable to utilize it properly. Almost all dogs with diabetes mellitus have type I. In cats, however, 50–70% of those diagnosed with diabetes mellitus have type I and the remaining 30–50% have type II. In dogs, diabetes mellitus is commonly a permanent disorder, whereas in cats a short-term (transient) and reversible form of diabetes mellitus exists.
What are the symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus?
Symptoms of diabetes mellitus can vary from patient to patient and can mimic other diseases. The most common early signs of diabetes mellitus in our feline friends include an increase in thirst and urination and weight loss in the face of an increased appetite. Later in the course of the disease, sluggishness and vomiting can be noted along with a poor hair coat, yellow discolorations to the skin, gums, and whites of the eyes (icterus/jaundice), and hindlimb weakness with an abnormal flat footed stance (diabetic neuropathy). Diagnoses are confirmed by testing your pet’s blood and urine sugar levels.
Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus
The goal of treating a diabetic animal is to minimize blood sugar fluctuations, eliminate the symptoms associated with high blood sugar levels (excessive drinking, urination, and appetite), and improve the quality of the pet's life. These treatment goals are achieved through the use of insulin along with a change in diet. Insulin is administered as an injection under the skin. Insulin always should be kept in the refrigerator. In addition, insulin should be replaced every 3-6 months, whether it is finished or not. Most pets require two insulin injections daily which should be given either during or after finishing a meal and given approximately 12 hours apart. If your cat does not eat or vomits, it is advised to skip that insulin dose and go back to insulin for the next dose, as long as your cat is eating normally. Please remember to notify us at VCMC if your cat misses a meal and/or you are unable to administer the insulin as directed.
A diet and weight management program is also an essential part of the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Diets that are high in simple carbohydrates (sugars) can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, and therefore are not recommended. Diets containing complex carbohydrates (starches) that are broken down and used by the body more slowly are preferred. For our feline friends, we recommend switching to either Hills W/D or Purina DM and to not deviate away from these foods.
For newly diagnosed diabetics, in office blood sugar monitoring is required more frequently until the pet is regulated. Once the disease is better under control, a blood test called Fructosamine will be performed on your cat every 6 months. Fructosamine levels measure the average blood sugar level over the previous several weeks in your cat’s body and will allow us to evaluate how well regulated your cat is.
How to Handle a Diabetic Emergency
Occasionally, insulin treatment may result in blood sugar levels which are too low. This generally occurs 3-7 hours after insulin administration. You may notice that your cat may seem weak, tired, or uncoordinated. In more serious cases, seizures may develop. For these situations, always keep a sugar-containing syrup (i.e. Karo Syrup) handy to treat low blood sugar levels. If your cat has a seizure, rub syrup on the gums and inside the lips. Do not try to force a convulsing animal to swallow the syrup, as this can cause choking. Call us immediately if one of these situations occurs.
Lastly, it is extremely important to notify your veterinarians at VCMC if you are unable to administer the insulin as directed, if your cat has repeated bouts of low blood sugar, your cat’s thirst or urination increases, your cat develops vomiting or diarrhea, becomes weak, acts depressed, or exhibits signs of troubled breathing.
If you have any questions about your diabetic pet’s needs, or are concerned that your pet may be showing signs of diabetes, please give us a call at 973-887-0522. If your pet is having a diabetic emergency, please call us immediately or, if we are closed, call the Animal Emergency and Referral Associates at 973-788-0500.