manageable malady: diabetes in pets

Posted by Dr. Jules Benson on Nov 15 2013



Life with pets can be very sweet, but a diagnosis of diabetes can be anything but. Diabetes is the result of an insulin deficiency that leads to high blood sugar, and it affects pets in much the same way it affects as people.


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Unfortunately, diabetes in furry friends is on the rise. In 2012 alone, Petplan saw claims for insulin-related diabetes (or diabetes mellitus) increase by nearly 66 percent. And as a condition that generally requires lifelong maintenance, costs can add up quickly. According to 2012 claims data, the average cost of veterinary care for diabetes was more than $900 per incident, with some costs reaching as high as $10,600!

November 14 is World Diabetes Day, and to help you understand the condition, the risk factors and treatment of the disease, here are some helpful hints from Petplan’s veterinary experts.

Risk factors

Many breeds of pets are genetically prone to developing diabetes. Dog breeds including the Miniature Schnauzer and the Chow Chow are at a higher risk, and cats such as the Burmese, American Bombay and Domestic Shorthair are particularly prone. To assess your pet’s genetic risk factor of diabetes, visit our Condition Checker.

Did you know that one of the other major risk factors for diabetes is obesity? With nearly half of the adult dog and cat population carrying extra weight, and a full quarter of cats and a fifth of dogs classified as obese, it is easy to see why diabetes in furry friends is on the rise. To help keep your pets fit, consider swapping high-calorie treats in favor of Dr. Ernie Ward’s superfoods and for a little real-life weight loss inspiration, read Dr. Nina Mantione’s tale of a family who helped their obese Beagle unpack the pounds.

Signs + Symptoms

Early signs of diabetes are easy to ignore, so staying tuned in to any changes in your pet’s eating, drinking, bathroom and behavior habits is essential to catching the disease. Here are some telltale signs your pet might be developing diabetes:

Increased thirst. Noticing your pet at the water bowl for extended periods of time here and there is nothing to worry about. But if it becomes a pattern, visit your veterinarian to get to the bottom of it. Cats, in particular, drink more when something is "off" with their health. Take note of how much your pet is drinking and urinating and report any changes to your veterinarian immediately.


Increased appetite. Your pet’s body is telling him that it’s not getting enough food; this can result in what seems to be an unreasonably large appetite despite sometimes losing weight.


Walking low on their back legs. Look for your pet walking on more than just their back foot; often the entire portion of the lower leg up to the hock will be placed on the floor.

Diagnosing Diabetes

We’ve talked many times about the importance of a routine physical for pets, and detecting diabetes is one of the reasons regular check-ins are so essential. If your vet suspects your pet may be developing the disease, he or she will likely conduct a urinalysis and blood work, including a chemistry panel, to achieve a definitive diagnosis. Patients who have undiagnosed diabetes (as well as patients who are being under treated for the disease) are at risk for experiencing complications related to the condition, including diabetic ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. Always see your doc at the first sign of trouble!

Treating and Managing Diabetes

The cornerstones of diabetic treatment are insulin therapy and diet. The goal of a change in diet is to maintain (or achieve) a healthy weight that encourages good glucose regulation. Your vet may recommend a high-fiber food to help avoid “spikes” in glucose that can hinder glucose regulation.

Insulin therapy is the other piece of the diabetes management puzzle. The hardest part of giving insulin injections isn’t holding your pet down to be pricked (although, that can be challenging, too), but coordinating schedules so that someone is always available to give your pet injections when he needs them. Commitment is key; your pet will most likely need injections every 12 hours for the rest of his life.

When getting used to managing your pet’s diabetes, rely on your vet for guidance, support and information. Though it will be an adjustment at first, most diabetics do well with diet and therapy changes and go on to live full and happy lives!

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