Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a disease in which the pet has a high amount of sugar in the blood. This high blood sugar produces a dramatic increase in thirst, frequent urination and weight loss despite an increased appetite. High blood sugar is also called hyperglycemia.
The cause for DM is either not enough insulin produced by the pancreas, or a lack of response of the cells to insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that controls the uptake of glucose (sugar) into the cells. Glucose is essential for energy, especially for the brain.
In DM the muscles and organs are not being signaled to convert glucose to energy, and the excess glucose is excreted through the urine. The loss of glucose causes a lack of energy and increased thirst. Excessive glucose in the body can cause liver and kidney disease, and cataracts (the lens of the eye turns white).
As noted above the early signs of DM are increased thirst and urination, hunger and weight loss. As the disease progresses there will be a loss of appetite, decreased activity, depression and vomiting.
DM is diagnosed with blood and urine tests. These are simple, straightforward tests where the results are available either same day or next day.
Most animals with DM will require twice daily insulin injections. There are a variety of insulins available today and your veterinarian likely has one or two favorites. Diabetic animals are typically put on a schedule for feeding, exercise and insulin amounts. Daily checking of the blood sugar is not recommended, nor is it necessary in pets. Fortunately, there are in home blood sugar monitors for pets, thus saving you time and money going to your veterinarian for regular blood glucose checks, typically every 14 days until regulated, then every 4-8 weeks.
Diet is a very important factor in regulating diabetes. Unfortunately there are differences in opinion as to what is the best food for a diabetic animal. I recommend an individual approach, and I approach cats differently than dogs. A very important fact is that obesity is a major contributing factor to a pet becoming diabetic – statistics show that up to 95% of diabetic cats are diabetics due to obesity.
DM cannot be cured, but it can be controlled and your diabetic pet can live a full, happy life with you and your family. Treatment requires your time and commitment, but you can do it with the support of your veterinarian and veterinary staff.
Please see future articles for a more comprehensive individual discussion of cat diabetes and dog diabetes.