In human medicine and veterinary medicine alike, diabetes is a scary word. If you have a pet who was recently diagnosed with diabetes, or simply like to keep yourself awake at night with a bunch of what-if worrying (no judgment, we all do it), you probably have a lot of questions about how to deal with this condition. Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom! While diabetes may be the boogeyman under the doggie bed, we know a lot about how to manage the disease. With proper management and a little TLC, your diabetic pet can still have plenty of happy years ahead of them.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus is a disease that results from the body’s inability to properly process glucose. You may have heard the words glucose and insulin in passing, but in order to understand diabetes it’s important to have a grasp of what these are, and the role they play in the body.
Glucose is fuel! Specifically, it’s a kind of sugar our bodies and our pets’ bodies tend to break food into, and it serves as our primary energy source. Glucose is produced by the intestines during digestion, and is then moved to the bloodstream for transportation throughout the body. Meanwhile insulin is the hormone responsible for moving glucose out of the blood and into the other cells; glucose can travel where it pleases within your bloodstream, but it can’t actually leave without a helping hand from insulin. When these two components are working in beautiful harmony, you have a healthy happy body! But when your body doesn’t have enough insulin, or when it’s not capable of utilizing the insulin it does have, we call that diabetes.
You may have also heard the phrases type 1 and type 2 thrown around. They’re not the most descriptive names, but the difference is pretty simple: type 1 diabetes means your body struggles to produce insulin, while type 2 means your body can produce insulin but can’t effectively utilize it, so glucose builds up regardless.
Excessive thirst and urination are two of the most common, most recognizable symptoms of diabetes."
Pet vs Human: What’s the difference?
While diabetes is relatively similar across species, there are a few key differences that cause the disease to stand out in dogs and cats.
For a start, diabetes tends to present later in life for dogs than it does in humans. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed during childhood or adolescence in humans, while it isn’t common in dogs until middle age. Type 2 diabetes is also rare in dogs, while Type 1 diabetes is rare in cats!
The other key difference sounds obvious, but it’s an important one: pets can’t take care of themselves. A diabetic human can monitor their own blood glucose, administer their own insulin, and regulate their meals as necessary, but our pets have yet to master these skills. They rely on their humans for care and may not understand why they’re being poked or denied a usual meal, which can present some extra bumps along the road.
Have a diabetic pet or curious how to administer insulin?
Watch our how-to video!
Spotting the Symptoms
The sooner diabetic treatment can be started the better, so it’s important to recognize the signs early!
Excessive thirst and urination are two of the most common, most recognizable symptoms. When your blood has too much glucose the excess sugar ends up being filtered by the kidneys, which draws out additional water in the process. This water is fast-tracked to urine rather than absorbed into the body, which means our poor hypothetical diabetic dog is left thirsty no matter how much they drink.
Beyond this, other major symptoms to watch out for include cloudy eyes, decreased appetite, and recurring skin or urinary infections. If you notice any of these symptoms in your own pet, give us a call and we’ll figure out next steps!
Managing Your Pet’s Diabetes
So you’ve got the diagnosis, and you’re wondering where to turn next. Figuring out next steps, at-home management, dietary changes, and more can be a logistical challenge and a major source of stress. Fortunately managing your pet’s diabetes actually becomes pretty simple once you get the hang of it, so we’re here to walk you through the basics!
Insulin administration is probably the most recognizable part of diabetic management. If your pet can’t produce their own insulin they’ll need injections after meal time, typically twice daily, to help their body process glucose. This can be one of the most stressful parts for owners who worry about hurting their pets, but fear not! Insulin needles are very thin, and the injections are administered subcutaneously (into the layer of fat underneath the skin), so your pet will barely feel a thing. Those first few injections can be stressful, but we’re happy to demonstrate and work with you until you’re giving them like a pro.
Dietary changes are another key piece, since dietary management is all about regulating those glucose levels. Veterinarians typically recommend a high fiber diet for dogs and a low carb, high protein diet for cats.
If there’s one golden rule of diabetic management, consistency is key! You want to be feeding the same amounts of the same food at the same time of day, and administering the same amounts of the same insulin along with it. Ensuring that you get these routines down to a science is the most reliable way to control your pet’s insulin and glucose levels, which is the ultimate goal of treatment.
Diabetes management can be tricky. Finding the right routine can take time, and that time is often stressful for pets and humans alike. If your pet has just received a new diabetes diagnosis it may feel like too much to take in, but just remember: you’re at the hardest point right now. Every day you’ll learn a little more about taking care of your pet, and everything you learn will make it that much easier. Soon these routines will just feel like second nature!
Until that time comes though, you’re not in this alone. Our staff are here to help you find a treatment plan that works for you and your pet, and to answer your questions every step of the way.