Diabetes — or more appropriately, diabetes mellitus — is more common in dogs and cats than pet owners may realize. In fact, pet diabetes is estimated to affect between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 dogs and cats. That’s why November is now recognized as Pet Diabetes Month. Just as many human health organizations observe November as National Diabetes Month to bring attention to diabetes and its impact on millions of people, Pet Diabetes Month is designed to increase awareness of this common endocrine disease in dogs and cats.
Here’s what you should know about this health condition and how it can affect your pet.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when your dog or cat has stopped producing insulin, has inadequate levels of insulin or has an abnormal response to insulin. Insulin is an important hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps moves glucose, a simple sugar produced during digestion, from the bloodstream into cells so it can be used for energy. Without insulin, glucose can’t enter the body’s cells and instead it accumulates in the blood. Yet at the same time, the cells are starved for energy.
Which pets are at risk?
Diabetes has been diagnosed in dogs and cats of all ages; both sexes, including neutered, spayed and intact pets; and all breeds. However, certain pets — especially obese cats and dogs — are at greater risk for developing the disease.
Diabetes tends to affect older cats, especially neutered male cats. Other key risk factors in cats include inactivity, genetics and other health problems that cause insulin resistance or decreased insulin production, such as chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) or hyperthyroidism (overproduction of thyroid hormones).
Middle-aged to older dogs are more affected by diabetes, with most dogs diagnosed at 7 to 10 years old. Intact (unspayed) female dogs are twice as likely as males to have diabetes. Certain breeds of dogs also experience above-average rates of diabetes.
Know the signs!
If your dog or cat has one or more risk factors for diabetes, you’ll want to know what signs are associated with diabetes as the first step to protecting your pet’s health.
These signs can be seen with other conditions, such as hyperthyroidism and kidney disease in cats and Cushing’s disease in dogs. If you see these signs, you should have your pet examined by a veterinarian to determine the cause and start the appropriate treatment.
How pet diabetes is managed
While a diagnosis of diabetes initially may feel overwhelming, diabetes is a condition that you can manage with your veterinarian’s help, especially in the early stages. Diabetes can’t be cured, but daily insulin injections and changes in diet can keep your pet’s blood glucose regulated and reduce or eliminate diabetes symptoms.
When it comes to a diabetic pet’s diet, the pet should be fed the same amount of a tasty, nutritious food at the same times every day to minimize blood glucose changes. A healthy weight also will be important.
For cats: Many veterinarians consider a food containing high levels of good-quality protein and low levels of carbohydrates ideal for diabetic cats. Cats have a unique ability to use protein to make a steady supply of glucose for energy.
For dogs: A food containing good-quality protein, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber is considered ideal for diabetic dogs. The complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber help slow glucose absorption from your dog’s digestive system. These diets are often low in fat, too.
If you have any questions about an appropriate pet food for your diabetic dog or cat, be sure to discuss them with your veterinarian.