I’m So Sweet, It Makes Me Sick ~ Brooke, Vet Nurse

You know how there are awareness months for different sicknesses and diseases … Did you know that November is National Diabetes Awareness month?

(Crickets chirping in the background)

No … just me? Not a problem, you see, I am here to help! I have been a Type 1 diabetic for 15+ years and have experienced quite a lot since I was diagnosed with this autoimmune disease at the age of 11. Going through what I’ve been through, I want to share my knowledge about diabetes.

I expressed the passion I have about diabetes to management, and they were able to help create a new role for me! As the Diabetic Educator at Shiloh Animal Hospital, I am here to educate and guide pet parents with the nitty gritty information.

This is a whole lot of information I am about to word vomit to you. Stick with me though, it’s a very intriguing disease to learn about!

Diabetes Mellitus in vour Pet

Diabetes mellitus (fancy phrase for “my kiddo is a diabetic”) is an endocrine disorder that occurs in dogs and cats. It is characterized by high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), and it is caused by an inability of the pancreas to properly secrete enough insulin into the blood. Insulin is the hormone that controls blood sugar in the body. Insulin helps to transport glucose from the blood into the cells of the body that then use the glucose for energy. When your pet eats, the sugar from the food should be absorbed into the blood and then transported into cells for use as energy (yes, there is a sugar content in kibble). When a lack of insulin is present, the sugar (glucose) cannot move into the cells, and the glucose level in the blood becomes abnormally high. In some cases, the sugar can then transform into toxic by-products that
cause very serious and life-threatening disease.

Diabetes in humans occurs in two forms: Type 1 diabetes (or insulin-dependent diabetes) and Type 2 diabetes (or non-insulin-dependent diabetes.)

Sensor on cat

Most diabetic dogs are like humans with Type 1 diabetes; their pancreas is unable to make enough insulin. In dogs, the most common causes are a dysfunctional immune system that damages the pancreas, or pancreatic injury that occurs due to an inflammatory condition called pancreatitis. It can also occur as a side effect of medication, particularly steroids, and can result from certain diseases like Cushing’s. Unfortunately, diabetes is not curable in dogs. Most diabetic dogs require insulin injections for life once diagnosed (I will warn you, insulin smells awful). 1 in 100 dogs are diagnosed with diabetes.

Diabetes in cats, on the other hand, is more like Type 2 diabetes in humans. The most common causes in cats: obesity and an excess of carbohydrates in the diet, which exhaust the pancreas. It can also occur in cats with pancreatitis or who are given steroids. In some cases, feline diabetes can be reversible with insulin administration, a high protein/low-carb diet, and maintenance of a healthy weight. However, diabetes will recur if cats go back to an inappropriate diet. In other cases, feline diabetes is irreversible, and the cat requires daily insulin for life (having this for the duration I have, STILL not used to the smell). 1 in 400 cats are diagnosed with diabetes.

What Does Diabetes look like in a Pet?

Increased water consumption and urination are the two most common signs seen in dogs and cats, regardless of the type of disease. Another common sign is increased appetite. Additional signs of illness (lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, or weight loss) may also be seen. Many dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts that will progress to blindness – this condition can develop even with appropriate treatment. Poorly regulated diabetic in cats may develop a problem with their nervous system leading to weakness and an unusual gait (this is comparable to neuropathy in humans, or the feeling of your limb/hands/feet “going to sleep” constantly).

After the initial diagnosis, you will then see me for a consultation. At that point I will do some more word vomit, walk you through how to check blood sugar levels and give insulin injections, and educate you on how to help your kiddo live the best possible life they can live.

How Can I Care for My Diabetic Pet?

It is very important to work closely with your veterinary team to regulate your pet’s diabetes. Treatment requires a commitment of time, accountability, money, and patience from pet owners. The cost of caring for a diabetic pet is an important consideration and will vary depending on the size of your pet and any additional health problems that may occur. The cost of insulin, syringes, and periodic blood work should be expected.

Insulin injection

Beyond financial considerations, there is a large time commitment required of owners of diabetic pets. Diabetes regulation can be frustrating during the initial months, and you may feel like you are at the veterinary hospital a lot. This is normal with all animals as the initial regulation takes many small manipulations of insulin dosing to get the desired result. Once your pet is well regulated, they may only need check-ups two or three times a year.

This commitment is not easy, and the disease will have its ups and downs. Your commitment adds to the quality of your pet’s life and is paid back in years of companionship.