Just like us our furry friends can get diabetes. And like us, the diabetes can be deadly. Diabetes is a disease due to hormonal imbalances between insulin & glucose. Glucose is important for cell energy & insulin is important to convert excess glucose into fatty acid stores. These fatty acid stores are important energy sources during periods of fasting.

If there is a deficiency in insulin, pre-made glucose stores are used up quickly. The body’s natural compensatory mechanism is to eat more to gain more glucose. As a result diabetic animals (mostly dogs) often have weight loss (due to all the fat stores used up) & a ravenous appetite (keeping up with the glucose demand & as glucose can enter the satiety centre without insulin).

Dogs, again like us, have 2 types of diabetes. Type I is caused by a lack of insulin available & type II is due to insulin resistance. A lack of insulin available is a result of damage to the pancreatic cells, the producers of insulin. Insulin resistance is when insulin is produced but in an inadequate quantity for utilisation. Type II can be related to obesity of certain medications. Type I is more common in dogs; type II is more common in cats.

Common clinical signs of diabetes are weight loss, polyphagia (increased appetite), polyuria (increased urination) & compensatory polydipsia (increased drinking). Polyuria is present as excess glucose molecules in circulation can’t be resorbed easily by the kidneys, thus the body excretes it in urine. Diabetes can also predispose to urinary tract infections. Any increase in urination needs to be checked.

If you suspect your pet has diabetes, a simple blood test can be performed at your vet to check the blood glucose levels. Often vets will also check the pancreas & liver function to assess how those organs have been affected. Once diagnosed your vet will start insulin treatment – which can be given by you at home. There are different types of insulin, but most are given twice a day.

It can take a while for your pet to stabilise on insulin. During this period your vet will perform blood glucose curves. These are serial blood tests taken during the day to monitor your pet’s response to the insulin dose. If needed, this dose can then be adjusted. Blood glucose curves are often performed fortnightly after each dose change & once stable your vet will work out a monitoring regime with you.

Diet can be adjusted to help with diabetes control. Many vet branded foods will have a calorie controlled diet to help with management. Check with your local vet clinic as to what they have. Alternatively feed a diet moderately high in fibre & feed small frequent meals. Increased fibre helps slow glucose absorption & frequent feeds decreases the chances of massive glucose & insulin fluctuations. Avoid soft, moist foods as they cause a severe increase in glucose post-meal.

Your pet can show signs of low glucose which can be life threatening. Low glucose is the result of incorrect insulin dosing – whether this is too high a dose or an accidental double dose given. (If you are unsure if your injection was successful – never repeat it!!) Signs of low glucose are collapse, tremors, weakness & sweet smelling breath. If these signs are present in your diabetic dog, smear honey on their gums & urgently get to your nearest vet.

Gaining control of your pet’s diabetes can take months & can sadly be complicated with other hormonal diseases. But once controlled, your pet often bounces back to a younger version of themselves.