Diabetes Mellitus in Pets

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Diabetes Mellitus in Pets

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, but what many people do not realize is that diabetes doesn’t just affect people – it affects animals too. Diabetes Mellitus, commonly referred to as Diabetes, affects a range of companion animals including cats and dogs. It is a medical condition that results in an excess amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood, and is caused by a deficiency of insulin, which is a hormone secreted by the pancreas. So what do pet owners need to know about diabetes?

It is estimated that 1 in 400 cats is affected by diabetes. Males and old-age cats are more frequently diagnosed than their counterparts. In comparison, it is estimated that 1 in 300 dogs is affected by diabetes with female dogs age 5 or older being more frequently diagnosed. While some animals may be more naturally prone to developing diabetes, the most common diagnostic factor is obesity. In fact, overweight pets are 4x more likely to develop diabetes over their lifetime. 


There are 4 common symptoms shared between cats and dogs that may be signs of diabetes:

  1. Weight Loss
  2. Increased Water Consumption
  3. Increased Appetite
  4. Increased Urination

When insulin is deficient, the cells become starved for a source of energy. As a result, the body starts to break down stores of fat and protein to use as alternative energy sources. As a consequence, your pet may start to eat more, but will also be losing weight at an extreme rate. The body will try to get rid of excess glucose by excreting it in the urine. However, glucose (blood sugar) attracts water resulting in the production of a large amount of urine. To avoid dehydration, your pet will continue to drink more and more water. Thus, the cycle repeats.


There are 2 types of Diabetes Mellitus – Type I and Type II. Type I (Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) is the most common type of diabetes in pets. As the name implies, this type of diabetes requires insulin injections to stabilize your pet’s blood sugar. Type II (Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus) is more common in older, obese pets. Similarly, as the name implies, this type of diabetes does not require insulin injections to stabilize your pet’s blood sugar. The diagnosis of diabetes, including Type I or Type II, must be made by a licensed veterinarian based on 3 criteria:

  1. The 4 Common Symptoms
  2. The presence of a persistently high level of glucose in the bloodstream (typically done with a series of blood tests over a period of 1-5 days)
  3. The presence of glucose in the urine (tested either at home using a designated kit provided by a veterinary clinic, or by a veterinary clinic)


Although treatable, Diabetes Mellitus requires long-term commitment. Initial steps for treating a diabetic pet involve the removal of any predisposing causes for diabetes such as withdrawing from the administration of certain medications, and increases in exercise for overweight pets. Sometimes, initial action can lead to the resolution of diabetes or diabetic symptoms; however, most pets will often require insulin injections. 

The role of insulin is much like that of a gatekeeper: it stands at the surface of body cells and opens the door, allowing glucose to leave the bloodstream, and pass inside the cells. Without an adequate amount of insulin, glucose is unable to get into the cells. It then accumulates in the blood, setting in motion a series of events that can ultimately prove fatal.

During the initial stages of treatment, your pet may require several visits to a veterinarian until an appropriate insulin dosage is determined. After the first few days/weeks of stabilization, your pet will require 1-2 daily insulin injections. Administration times, dosages, and insulin types will be determined by a veterinarian (Note: It is possible for your pet to receive too much insulin. If this happens, your pet’s blood sugar level will drop extremely low and may cause symptoms such as lack of coordination, drunkenness, extreme lethargy, seizures, and/or loss of consciousness. Should these symptoms occur, introduce sugar to your pet’s system by rubbing corn syrup on its gums/tongue, and trying to get it to eat. If there is no response within 15 minutes contact animal emergency services). Consistency is vital to proper management of a diabetic pet. This includes not only medication, but also a consistent feeding routine, a consistent diet, a non-varying exercise routine, and a stable/stress-free lifestyle. It is recommended that all diabetic pets adopt indoor lifestyles, as the many uncontrollable variables of outdoor living can disrupt regulation.

As you and your pet adapt to this new way of life, it is important that you continue to monitor your pet as well. This includes keeping track of your pet’s daily appetite, water consumption, urine output, and the time of an insulin injection. You should also weigh your pet at least 1x/month. Monitoring your pet’s blood is also very important. Thus, a blood test should be performed about every 3-4 months if your pet seems to be well-regulated, or any time that clinical signs of diabetes are present/if glucose is detected in the urine for 2 consecutive days.


For a diabetic pet any dietary changes and the administration of insulin are typically the only noticeable changes. As for you, the owner, there are 2 implications: financial commitment and personal commitment. When your dog is well-regulated, the maintenance costs of a diabetic pet are minimal as a special diet, insulin, and syringes are not expensive. However, financial commitment is significant during the initial regulation process, as well as if any complications arise. The financial commitment required by a diabetic pet is also why paying close attention to the regulation and monitoring of your pet is so important.

In addition, your personal commitment to treating your pet is very important in maintaining regulation and preventing crises. Most diabetic pets require insulin injections 1-2x daily. They must be fed the same food, in the same amount, on the same schedule every day. For example, if you are out of town, your pet must still receive proper treatment while you are gone. These are factors that should be carefully considered if your pet has been diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus.

Although a Diabetes Mellitus diagnosis can seem daunting and scary, it is important to keep in mind that it is a treatable condition. Most pets who are properly regulated go on to live long and happy lives. Therefore, although long-term treatment requires financial and personal commitment, it can be very rewarding for both the pet and the owner to successfully manage this condition.

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