Diabetes in Pets: Recognition and Prevention

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By Patrick Mahaney, VMD, CVA Veterinarian, Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist

Upon adopting a pet, most owners don’t consider the possibility their canine or feline companion could develop a condition such as diabetes.  It’s a disease that severely compromises a dog or cat’s quality of life and creates significant alterations in the care provider’s schedule, budget, and emotional state.

Contemplating our pets’ diabetic potential typically conjures up unappealing images of daily (or twice daily) administration of injectable insulin and the need to frequently visit one’s veterinarian for physical examination for evaluation of glucose (sugar) levels and vital organ system function via blood and other diagnostic testing.  This vision is the harsh reality facing pet owners obligated to manage this complicated and generally preventable condition.

So, what exactly is diabetes? It’s a metabolic (glandular) disease involving multiple hormones that affect regulation of basic body system function, especially water balance.

Diabetes insipidus is a less common form that involves hormones that help to regulate water retention and excretion.  Diabetes mellitus (Type I or II) is more common and involves a lack of or an insufficient production of insulin from the pancreas.

Insulin is hormone necessary to facilitate the movement of glucose from the circulating blood volume into body tissues.  If insufficient insulin is produced by the pancreas, then glucose levels increase and hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) occurs.  The kidneys, liver, and other organs are negatively impacted by hyperglycemia.  The kidneys act as a release valve for glucose, which is excreted into urine when hyperglycemia exceeds an upper threshold.  Hyperglycemia and glucosuria (glucose in the urine) are detectible via diagnostic testing and cause notable clinical signs, including:

  • Excessive water consumption
  • Increased urinary volume and frequency
  • Ravenous appetite
  • Weight loss

Ravenous appetite and weight loss occur from prolonged hyperglycemia as the body strives to produce glucose from stored energy sources, including carbohydrates, fats, and protein.  Protein and carbohydrate breakdown produces glucose, while fat metabolism releases toxic ketones that can cause a pet to exhibit potentially severe illness (diabetic ketoacidosis), including:

  • lethargy
  • anorexia (decreased appetite)
  • emesis (vomit)
  • diarrhea
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • seizures

Type I mellitus is the typical canine variety caused by pancreatic damage stemming from with chronic inflammation of the digestive tract (Inflammatory Bowel Disease, etc) and pancreas (pancreatitis), infection (bacterial, parasitic, viral, etc.), and toxin ingestion.  When enough insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells are damaged, insulin output is severely compromised, blood glucose levels rise, and further diabetic consequences ensue.

Avoiding processed foods and treats containing protein and carbohydrate meals and by-products, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors can help to relieve your potential lifelong responsibility to inject your dog with insulin.  Additionally, strive to prevent dietary indiscretion by canine proofing your home environment and keeping your pooch on a short leash when setting paw outdoors.

diabetes in cats

Type II diabetes is more common in cats, but it can be prevented. Read on to learn how to protect your pet.

Type II diabetes is more commonly seen in cats and results from the pancreas’ inability to make enough insulin to support a body burdened by excess weight.  Type II diabetes is preventable, therefore owners who permit their cats to overfeed and become obese are primarily at fault for inducing this life threatening disease in their feline companions.

Before you decide to “top off” your cat’s food or free feed, consider the economic consequences associated with diabetic pet health care.  Can you afford the projected ongoing medical expensed incurred by a diabetic pet?  According to VPI Pet Insurance claims data, diabetes related veterinary expenses totaled more than $1.5 million in 2007, with an average invoice of $200 per visit.   When feeding cats, emphasis must be placed on calorie restriction, as the feline obesity epidemic continually yields new generations of diabetic patients.

Dog and cat owners should work with their veterinarians to create a daily wellness plan that incorporate feeding appropriate quantities of minimally processed, whole food-based diets, participating in physical activity, and reducing chronic inflammation and infection (from periodontal disease, arthritis, etc.).  Owners that dedicate themselves to these health strategies can help to reduce the likelihood their pet will become diabetic.

About Patrick

Dr. Mahaney attained a BS from the University of Delaware, a VMD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, and completed an internship at Friendship Hospital for Animals.  His belief in the integration of western and eastern perspectives motivated Dr. Mahaney became a certified veterinary acupuncturist (CVA) through the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS).

After finding synergy between personal and professional lives in Los Angeles, he started California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW) to offer medical services on a house call basis and at the Veterinary Cancer Group.

To satisfy his creative urges, Dr. Mahaney writes a pet health column (Patrick’s Blog) and connects with animal aficionados worldwide through petMD’s The Daily Vet, Perez Hilton’s TeddyHilton.com, FlexPet Blog, Fido Friendly, i Love Dogs, Veterinary Practice News, Animal Wellness, and My Buddy Butch Radio.  Recently, he’s lent his holistic veterinary perspective to MSNBC Sunday with Alex Witt and Jackson Galaxy’s My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet.  The public’s obsession with “celebreality” motivated him to create Celebrity Pet News, which puts a veterinary spin on celebrities and their pets.

Dr. Mahaney is also writing his first book, The Uncomfortable Vet, which will be available in 2013 through Havenhurst Books.

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6 Responses to Diabetes in Pets: Recognition and Prevention

  1. Pingback: Diabetes in Pets: Recognition and Prevention | PetSafe Blog | Dog Health Advocacy | Scoop.it

  2. Jana Rade says:

    I wish more research was done into what is behind the rise in the disease in pets and it was determined with some certainty whether the food they eat is behind this development.

  3. Pingback: Diabetes in Pets: Recognition and Prevention | Holistic Pet Care - For PAWSitively Healthy Pets!

  4. Pingback: Diabetes in Pets: Recognition and Prevention via PetSafe — Dr. Patrick Mahaney

  5. Tammara Stahlhut says:

    Thanks for sharing superb informations. Your website is very cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this blog. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for extra articles. You, my pal, rock! I found just the info I already searched all over the place and simply could not come across. What a great website.

  6. Broken Arrow Veterinarian says:

    Very informative. I will be bookmarking this page. The thing with pet diabetes is that, modern science is already making tons of research on it, and by the future, this can be easily handled as 1, 2, & 3.

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