URBANA, Ill. — Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. are living with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and an estimated 7 million of these are not aware that they have diabetes. Diabetes is also a common problem — and can easily go undetected — in our pets.
According to Sallianne Schlacks, a veterinarian who is completing a residency in small animal internal medicine at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, the occurrence of diabetes in cats and dogs is on the rise.
In fact, one study found a 32 percent increase in incidence of diabetes in dogs and a 16 percent increase in cats between 2006 and 2010. This rise is thought to be correlated with a rise in obesity, a reduction in the amount of exercise pets are getting, and an increased life span for pets.
“Diabetes is characterized by high levels of blood sugar that arise because the body is not able to produce or to properly use insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas,” explains Schlacks. “The cells in the body need insulin in order to acquire sugar from the blood stream and use it for energy.”
So how can you tell if your pet may have diabetes? According to Schlacks, a pet may show signs such as increased drinking (he or she may always be at the water bowl or you may notice having to fill the water bowl more often, increased urination (sometimes uncharacteristic accidents in the house), lethargy, an increase in appetite, weight loss (despite an increased appetite) and a dry coat.
Schlacks emphasizes that there is a difference between diabetes in cats and dogs.
“Dogs have what in people is called Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes, and cats are more likely to acquire Type 2 diabetes,” she says.
In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas loses its ability to produce insulin. The treatment requires owners to give daily insulin injections to their dog. If you have a diabetic dog, Schlacks recommends also avoiding moist food and commercially available dog treats, which are usually very high in simple sugars.
She advocates talking with your veterinarian to ensure that a diabetic dog is receiving a proper diet. Feline diabetes is typically preceded by prolonged obesity, which causes the cells in the body to be resistant to insulin even when a normal level of insulin is present.
According to Schlacks, most cats require insulin injections when the disease is first diagnosed, but unlike diabetes in dogs, which will require giving insulin injections the rest of the dog’s life, diabetes in cats can sometimes go into remission.
In order to achieve remission in feline diabetes, weight loss and change to a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in protein is recommended. Once cats achieve an ideal body weight, their insulin requirements often decrease.
Some cats don’t require any insulin, at which point they are considered to be in remission. Because these cats are always at risk for relapse, they must be closely monitored by a veterinarian.
If diabetes goes untreated, it may lead to other diseases, including urinary tract infections and life-threatening conditions such as pancreatitis and ketoacidosis. In dogs, but not cats, untreated diabetes is associated with cataracts. Unfortunately there is no cure for diabetes, but maintaining your pet at a healthy weight can help decrease his or her risk for development of this disease. If your pet does become diabetic, the disease can be managed with veterinary supervision and a commitment to proper home care. For more information about diabetes in pets, please see your local veterinarian.