Diabetes in Pets - Treatment Options

In my last blog I discussed the symptoms and diagnosis of diabetes in dogs and cats. Once your pet is diagnosed as diabetic, there are very few treatment options available. Almost all dogs and cats will require insulin injections under the skin once or twice daily.

If the pet is in advanced stages of diabetes at the time of diagnosis, the following may be seen:

  • lack of appetite
  • vomiting
  • increased thirst and urination
  • sweet odor to breath
  • ketones in the urine indicating ketoacidosis, a very dangerous condition that may require hospitalization
  • dehydration
  • weight loss

Insulin will be prescribed for your pet; generally the prescription will require injections under the skin every 12 hours. The goal is to give enough insulin to drive the sugar (glucose) into the cells to be utilized as energy, but not so much insulin that the blood sugar drops too low. Symptoms of low blood sugar include tremors, weakness, wobbliness, seizures, coma, or death if allowed to stay low too long. It is very important to monitor blood sugar levels fairly often when your pet is first diagnosed.

Glucometers can be purchased for monitoring at home; your veterinarian can instruct you on obtaining blood samples. Most of our clients use the vein along the edge of the ear. A small drop of vaseline or petroleum jelly placed next to the edge of the ear, followed by a quick stab with a needle or lancet, will allow a drop of blood to bead up on the jelly which can be used to measure the blood sugar.



Insulin comes in two strengths: U-40 and U-100 which indicates how many units of insulin each ml contains. The syringes you use must match the insulin you use. 

It will be very important to work with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is well regulated to keep the blood sugar as close as possible to the normal range of 80 to 120.

Feeding a diet that promotes well-balanced blood sugar is also important in managing your diabetic pet. Diets should have low starch content, as starch breaks down to sugar, increasing the "glycemic" or sugar load. Diets high in meat content, along with fiber and low-glycemic vegetable matter, will help keep blood sugar well maintained. Dry kibble is rarely, if ever, the correct choice for maintaining a diabetic pet. The body will thrive on routine, preventing spikes and drops in blood sugar. Pets should be fed every 12 hours. If you pet will not eat or is vomiting, check with your veterinarian before giving an insulin injection. Having a slightly high blood sugar for a day or two is much better than having a drop in blood sugar resulting in hypoglycemia.

For more information on preparing diets for diabetic pets, check out this book. Raw  or freeze dried diets generally work very well for cats; canned low-glycemic foods would be another good option. Avoid any foods that contain added sugar or foods that fall into the "semi-moist" category.

Photo by Ludemeula Fernandes on Unsplash

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