Diabetes in Pets - Causes and Diagnosis

Diabetes mellitus has become a common malady that afflicts dogs and cats. I cringe when I see an obese dog or cat waddle into the clinic because I know it's only a matter of time until diabetes becomes the diagnosis for that pet.

Symptoms of diabetes include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, muscle atrophy, and weakness. Initially the pet may be hungry, wanting to eat more, but eventually they will have decrease appetite.

Diagnosis of diabetes is made through blood testing and urinalysis. The normal blood sugar for dogs and cats is 80 to 120. Cats are unique because a stressed cat may have an elevated blood sugar as high as 200 to 225. Testing urine will give more evidence as to whether the pet is truly diabetic. If glucose is found in the urine, it is more likely the pet is actually diabetic. Blood sugars above 225 generally indicate a pet has become diabetic. A fructosamine level gives a more accurate determination of the average level of sugar in the blood over a 7 to 10 day period with one simple blood test.

Once a pet is diagnosed as being diabetic, treatment will generally involve daily injections of insulin. The pancreas normally produces insulin. The insulin drives the glucose, or sugar, into the cells of the body to serve as fuel for the cells to function. Without insulin, the glucose stays in the blood stream, resulting in high glucose levels when performing a blood test. The excess sugar in the blood stream will then spill over into the urine when the blood is filtered through the kidneys. High levels of sugar in the urine will predispose the dog or cat to urinary tract infections (bacteria love the high-sugar environment).

Skin infections are more common in pets with diabetes, as well. It is important to have the pet well-regulated with insulin injections to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Chronic bouts of pancreatitis or even one bout of acute pancreatitis may be enough to cause the pancreas to stop producing insulin. Pets fed high-carbohydrate diets have chronic pancreatic stress, as the pancreas works overtime producing enzymes to break down the starch. Fat has been incriminated as causing pancreatitis, however many pets do very well on high-fat diets, while some that are fed low-fat diets still have flares of pancreatitis. This may be due to the fact that COOKED fats undergo oxidation, which causes inflammation. RAW fats are less likely to cause pancreatitis, as long as they are not rancid or oxidized.

For more information about diabetes in pets, check out my book From Needles to Natural: Learning Holistic Pet Healing

Treatment with insulin, diet changes, and close monitoring will be discussed in another blog.