Diabetes in Pets

An overview of what diabetes is, the different types, and treatment for cats and dogs.

November 19, 2021
3 min read

Article Highlights

  • Diabetes results in high blood sugar, which can lead to many health issues.

  • The cause of diabetes is multifactorial.

  • Diabetes is managed with a combination of insulin therapy, diet, and exercise.

Diabetes

The most common disorder of the endocrine pancreas in dogs and cats is diabetes. This disease is more commonly diagnosed in middle-aged to older pets. Dogs diagnosed with diabetes are usually 7 to 12 years old, while cats are 10 to 13 years old.

Diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are too high. Glucose is a sugar that gives cells energy to function properly. The pancreas produces insulin, which is a hormone that allows cells to absorb glucose from the blood. When glucose stays in the blood, the body has difficulty functioning properly and a pet can be at high risk for many health issues. These include heart disease, stroke, cataracts, urinary tract infection, kidney failure, and ketoacidosis.

Causes & Symptoms

Multiple factors play a role in diabetes, so there is no one root cause. Influencing factors include genetics, environment, current diseases of the pancreas, and obesity. Common symptoms of diabetes are excessive drinking, hunger, and urinating. More subtle signs may include weakness or reduction of energy levels, and reoccurring infections. These reoccurring infections may be signs that your dog or cat’s body is not properly healing itself due to its inability to break down glucose. If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, talk with your veterinarian soon.

Prevention

Because the cause of diabetes is multifactorial, and linked to genetics, it is difficult to prevent. Clinical trials are ongoing to learn more about metabolism and immune function in diabetic dogs and cats. Spaying female pets is one way to reduce the risk of transient diabetes that can occur after heat cycles. This is because the hormone progesterone that is produced during pregnancy or heat cycle can affect insulin operation. Obesity also impacts blood sugar levels, so helping your pet maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine can reduce their risk of diabetes.

Types

Type 1 diabetes is an insulin deficiency caused by mediated β-cell destruction. The body is unable to produce substantial insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, and pancreatic cells that create insulin are destroyed. Dogs are more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is an insulin resistance with β-cell dysfunction. The body may produce substantial insulin levels, but hormones produced by excess fat cells impede the body’s ability to respond to these levels. Obesity increases risk for type 2 diabetes. This type is more common in cats.

Treatment

Veterinarians may order blood and urine tests to diagnosis a dog or cat with diabetes. Diabetes is usually permanent, but there are solutions to reduce its impact. Diabetes is managed with a combination of insulin therapy, healthy diet, and exercise. Insulin therapy is generally administered twice daily for the pet’s lifetime. Veterinarians may measure blood glucose levels every couple of weeks for a couple months after diagnosis to determine the best dose of insulin. A pet’s diet, exercise, and stress levels impact the dose of insulin they need, so it is important for owners talk with their veterinarians about healthy choices for their pet.

If you think your dog or cat might have diabetes, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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