Diabetes is a disease about which we hear a great deal in a human context. However, it is also very important in the animal world. There are of course two forms of Diabetes: Mellitus and Insipidus, as they are called.
However, it is Diabetes mellitus, which is certainly the most common form.
Diabetes mellitus is known colloquially as “Sugar diabetes” as it results in excessively high levels of blood sugar, and the presence of sugar – or glucose, to be precise – in the urine.
Symptoms of diabetes include a grossly exaggerated thirst, loss of weight, a sweet smell on the breath, a worsening appetite, and later on, cataracts can develop in the eyes. It certainly occurs in both dogs and cats, but is more common in the former. Bitches are supposed to be the more likely of the two sexes to contract the condition.
The First Signs
The problem often draws attention when your dog starts wetting in the house. Often it is a very well trained, older dog, and this behaviour is quite out of character. On further questioning, it may turn out that the pet has been drinking rather more water than used to be the case. There may also be some loss of weight.
Another old fashioned term for sugar diabetes was “starvation in the midst of plenty”. This was meant to describe the fact that the blood sugar level was very high, yet for some reason, the body was unable to utilise that glucose resource. The cause of this “starvation” was then discovered to be a lack of the hormone insulin.
Damage to specific clusters of cells in the pancreas, which release the insulin, is indeed the root cause of this sad condition. Nevertheless, both in dogs and in cats, diabetes mellitus is quite treatable nowadays.
Treatment depends on finding a way of replacing the deficient hormone, or by reducing the body’s need for insulin.
The primary treatment usually involves the direct replacement of insulin using once or even twice daily injection given just under the skin. Many pets have owners who have learnt to carry out this simple procedure themselves. However, although giving the injection is quite easy – unless you have a very uncooperative dog!
There is rather more to the whole procedure, though: The body’s need for insulin tends to fluctuate.
The normally working pancreas is a wonderfully complex organ, which monitors the precise requirement for insulin and “drip- feeds” it into the bloodstream. This monitoring function has to be carried out by the dog’s owner and involves daily urine measurements of urine glucose levels.
From the results obtained, the owner will be able to calculate any necessary adjustment in the need for daily insulin. Occasionally, if things start to go awry, it is necessary to involve the help of the vet to carry out blood glucose measurements, and as this may need to be done repeatedly over a few days, a period of hospitalisation is often the best approach.
Having achieved a stable daily insulin regime, owners usually notice a dramatic improvement in the animal’s condition almost immediately. Dietary techniques can be very helpful. Certain high fibre diets have been developed to help diabetic dogs and cats. Such diets help to reduce the need for insulin and make it easier to maintain stability.
Over and above the insulin treatment, one or two other helpful things can be done. If the patient is a bitch who has not been spayed, then your vet may well recommend that she be neutered. Unspayed bitches are subject to violent variations in their insulin needs, especially around the time of their season, and this makes treatment very difficult.
And sometimes, Diabetes Mellitus can occur in combination with other hormone problems, notably a condition called “Cushing’s Syndrome” – such a situation complicates the situation further, to say the least! This will need to be balanced alongside each other.