Diabetes mellitus is a disorder involving blood sugar and insulin. Glucose (sugar) is the basic substance that supplies energy to the body. It circulates in the blood until insulin, which is manufactured by the pancreas, a small organ near the intestines, carries it into the cells, where it is metabolised and used for energy. Without the carrying properties of insulin, the glucose cannot be utilised and the body becomes ill. In the diabetic patient, the glucose continues to circulate but there is either not enough insulin to carry the glucose into the cells or the natural insulin is not effective.
Two Types of Diabetes
There are two basic forms of diabetes: type I and type II. Absolute deficiency of insulin leads to type I diabetes. This is due to an insufficient number of insulin-producing pancreas cells. Type I diabetes, often called “juvenile-onset diabetes” in people, represents the most serious form of the disease. Effective treatment for type I diabetes requires a combination of controlled diet, regular exercise and insulin therapy. Dogs are most often affected by type I diabetes and rarely have type II. People and pets with type I diabetes require daily injections of insulin to maintain a regular blood-sugar level.
Adult onset or type II diabetes is the more common form of diabetes in people. This condition combines a relative lack of insulin production with a resistance of body cells to the effects of the hormone. Type II diabetes is treated with a combination of diet, weight control and medicine that makes cells more sensitive to insulin. This form of diabetes is observed more often in cats than in dogs. Keys to successful treatment are a high-fibre diet, weight control and occasionally, medicines designed for humans to control the glucose level.
Among the notable symptoms of diabetes in pets are increased thirst and urination, loss of weight, a sweet smell on the breath, a worsening appetite, and later on, cataracts may develop in the eyes. While there can be other explanations for these problems, diabetes should always be considered when these symptoms are observed. Most pet owners notice that their diabetic pet drinks excessively and has a need to go to the toilet more often. Left uncontrolled, diabetes can become life threatening.
Diabetic pets, like people, need medical care. Uncontrolled elevation of glucose leads to dehydration and body chemistry disorders that can eventually cause coma and death.
The first step in treating the disease is getting a correct diagnosis. This requires a veterinary examination and appropriate tests, such as a urinalysis and blood glucose determination. Additional tests often are needed to assess the overall medical situation. Once the diagnosis is made, however, the pet owner and veterinarian can work together to effectively control the disease.
Managing the Condition
Treatment for diabetes attempts to mimic the body’s natural insulin. Some pets respond to oral medications and diet changes. Others require insulin injections. Without testing your pet’s blood sugar repeatedly through the day, it’s difficult to determine if the medication is working. However, by closely watching and monitoring your pet, you can determine the effectiveness of the treatment.
Typically, unregulated diabetic patients drink a lot of water and, therefore, urinate significantly more than non-diabetic animals. Noting your pet’s water consumption and urination habits while on medication can help you and your veterinarian determine if the treatment is working. Once the blood sugar level is under control, diabetic patients return to normal drinking and elimination habits.
Your pet’s attitude, appetite and activity level can also provide invaluable information. As the blood sugar levels stabilise, your diabetic pet should have a more normal appetite and be more alert and active. Keeping track of your pet’s body weight is also important. Weigh your pet weekly or at least every other week. Keep a record so you can monitor any weight gain or loss.
Devices for home evaluation of blood sugar levels in pets have become recently available. If you are interested in monitoring your diabetic pet more closely and feel you could test your pet’s blood on a daily basis, discuss this option with your veterinarian. What may work for one diabetic patient may not work for yours. With proper management and care, your diabetic pet can still lead a full, active and long life!