Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes is an autoimmune disease, which, unfortunately, many people and pets are diagnosed with. Insulin is produced by cells in the pancreas, allowing glucose to enter the body cells from the bloodstream to use as energy. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas does not produce, or doesn’t produce enough insulin; therefore, glucose is not leaving the bloodstream. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin, but the body is not responsive to insulin (insulin resistance), which is seen in many cases in cats. With prompt, effective treatment, type 2 diabetes in cats may lead to remission, no longer needing injections. On the opposite end, a hormone called glucagon (also produced by the pancreas) is released when blood sugars get too low. It allows the liver to release stored glycogen and convert it into glucose to raise blood sugar levels. Diabetics need to maintain a strict protocol to manage a proper balance of insulin. It will prevent hyperglycemia (high sugar) and hypoglycemia (low sugar).

Clinical Symptoms
Pets are not able to tell us how they are feeling, so we, as pet owners and veterinary professionals, need to rely on the symptoms to help flag us when diabetes may be the cause of your beloved pet not feeling well.

The following is a list of symptoms to watch for:

  • Increased thirst/water consumption
  • Sudden onset of cataracts
  • Increased urination
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Increased appetite
  • Sweet/fruity-smelling breath
  • Lethargy

To properly diagnose diabetes, both blood and urine tests are needed. A blood test checks glucose levels, as well as other organ functions such as the kidney and liver. Urine tests are also an important tool to confirm diabetes by checking for glucose spilled into the urine, kidney function and urinary tract infections.

Since there is no cure for diabetes, it is managed by lifelong insulin injections and proper nutrition. Depending on your pet’s current health status, your pet may need to be hospitalized at the initial diagnosis for IV fluid therapy in addition to insulin. If hospitalization is not warranted, a demonstration of how to properly and safely administer insulin and a recommended diet will be discussed.

The most effective way to tell how your diabetic pet is doing on the insulin is to periodically come in for glucose curves (glucose checks every two hours, over eight hours). We will also test fructosamine (the value that tells us what the average sugar levels are over a 2-3-week period). This information is pertinent in determining the correct dose of insulin. These tests are usually done 1-2 times per year, depending on symptoms at home.

Signs of Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia occurs when there are critically low levels of sugar in the bloodstream. This condition needs to be treated quickly and appropriately. Here is a list of symptoms to watch for:

  • Increased hunger
  • Visual instability
  • Disorientation/confusion (inability to complete basic tasks)
  • Weakness, low energy
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

Signs of Hyperglycemia
Hyperglycemia occurs when there is too much sugar in the bloodstream. Persistently high glucose levels can lead to various health concerns, such as; ketoacidosis, eye problems, nerve damage, kidney damage and cardiovascular problems. Here is a list of symptoms to watch for:

  • Change in appetite
  • Increased thirst/increased water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Unusual sweet/fruity-smelling breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic skin infections
  • Cataract formation/blindness

Please contact our veterinary team if you have any concerns with your pet. Having your pet in for an annual wellness exam can be crucial for the early detection of any disease.

Written by: Heather, Vet Tech/Diabetic Consultant