What You Need to Know About Diabetes in Dogs and Cats

As pet owners, we all want our pets to be happy and healthy. Some pets, though, are unluckier than others, and while they become sick, they may not always let you know they feel unwell. A medical condition like diabetes can occur in pets of all ages, breeds, and sizes, but you may not know what signs to look for that point to the illness. Because of this, we sat down with Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Caroline Wilde to learn more about diabetes in dogs and cats and what to look for to help your furry family members.

A bulldog with their tongue out is examined by a veterinarian

A pet owner’s guide to diabetes in dogs and cats

What is diabetes?

Humans and pets alike can have the medical condition of diabetes, a chronic health condition that affects how bodies convert food to energy. Wilde breaks down what diabetes mellitus does to our furry friends. “Diabetes mellitus is a disease where your pet’s body can’t use sugar for fuel. This may happen for a few reasons—either due to the inability to produce insulin, decreased amounts of insulin, or an inability to use insulin,” says Wilde.

Insulin allows the body to break down sugar so that it can’t be used as fuel. Therefore, when there is an insulin deficiency or when the body can’t use insulin correctly, the body has to use fat as its sole source for fuel. This results in blood sugar increases—sometimes dramatic ones.

Diabetes requires daily supervision and medical care, so if you have any cause for concern, please seek medical care from your veterinarian.

How does diabetes in dogs and cats occur?

Whether you are a new or seasoned pet owner, it is helpful to understand how medical conditions like diabetes manifest in pets. Naturally, it isn’t always one set factor that can trigger the disease. For example, “obesity can increase the risk in both dogs and cats of becoming diabetic. Diabetes can also occur secondary to long-term steroid administration,” says Wilde.

Pet obesity prevention is important for the overall wellness of your furry friend. Consider incorporating playtime, walks, and enriching interaction to encourage daily physical activity and prevent the onset of diabetes.

Common signs of diabetes in dogs and cats

We all want to be able to give our pets the best care possible when they are sick. But how do you know if your pet has a serious medical condition like diabetes? Consider whether your pet is exhibiting these common symptoms of diabetes mellitus:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • An increase in appetite

Of course, all pets are unique and may not show all signs at once. In addition, “sometimes the signs of diabetes can be more subtle, and are not detected until the pet becomes very sick from the complications of diabetes mellitus,” points out Wilde. Because of this, please seek medical care immediately for your furry friend if you suspect your pet may have signs of diabetes.

A treatment plan for diabetes in dogs and cats

Treatment plans may vary depending on the diagnosis of your pet. Aside from additional testing and diagnostics, the course of action for your furry friend is personalized for them. Consider the following:

  • Diabetes is diagnosed through blood tests and urine analysis. Your veterinarian may want to repeat blood sugar measurements or perform other confirmatory tests to ensure your pet is diabetic. They may also want to perform other diagnostic testing such as abdominal ultrasounds or blood pressure measurements.
  • The goal of treatment in a diabetic dog and cat is to stabilize the pet’s blood sugar, thereby minimizing the signs of high blood sugar, such as excessive thirst and urination.
  • Managing a diabetic pet generally requires daily insulin administration (injections). When first beginning treatment with insulin, pets often need weekly serial glucose measurements to determine the optimal dosage, as it varies between pets and types of insulin.
  • Diabetic dogs and cats can benefit from special—often prescription—food that will help their bodies stabilize blood sugar on their own. In dogs, that diet is most likely to be lower in fat and higher in fiber, whereas in cats, that diet is likely to be higher in protein.
  • Co-existing health conditions can contribute to a pet’s inability to use insulin, so maintaining an ideal weight can help minimize the amount of insulin necessary.
  • When dogs are diagnosed diabetic, they will require insulin administration for the rest of their lives. Cats, however, can be ‘transiently diabetic,’ meaning that there is the possibility of diabetic remission, where they no longer require insulin.

Diabetes in dogs and cats: wellness for your best friend

While a diabetes diagnosis can be stressful for you and your family, with the proper diagnosis and treatment plan your best friend can live a long and healthy life. The best way to help your pet is to maintain a yearly wellness exam and seek medical care when there are any concerns.