Most people have heard of diabetes. It is quite a common medical condition amongst our human population. But many people are probably unaware that diabetes strikes our pets as well – there are many cats and dogs having daily injections of insulin so that they can continue to lead relatively normal lives.
So just what is diabetes?
The most common form is diabetes mellitus, which is basically a failure in the production of insulin; a hormone that controls the way glucose is used in the body. Glucose, produced from the digestion of carbohydrates, is essential to every cell in the body. But without insulin, the cells can’t extract the glucose from the blood
This means that the glucose levels in the blood rise dramatically – a condition known as hyperglycaemia. Some of this excess glucose spills over into the urine, drawing with it much more fluid than is normally the case. In fact, the first sign people often see with their affected pets is that they urinate more frequently, and, in an attempt to maintain their fluid levels, they also drink a lot more than usual.
Often they become very hungry as well. Once again this is due to the failure of glucose to enter the cells, particularly those cells in the brain that control appetite. Lack of insulin also contributes to the breakdown of fat and muscle within the body so that, although animals are often eating more than usual, they actually lose weight.
There are four classic signs of diabetes -
• increased urination
• increased thirst
• increased appetite and
• loss of weight.
It must be remembered, however, that each of these symptoms may have other causes as well.
Diagnosis of diabetes depends not only on the symptoms, but also on laboratory tests on both blood and urine.
Animals can get diabetes at any age, although it is more common in those that are middle-aged and older, and much more common in pets that are overweight. Sometimes the disease seems to occur for no apparent reason,
but it can also be a result of other disease processes, for example pancreatitis. As the pancreas produces the bodies’ insulin, if enough of the gland is damaged, the production of insulin falls below the necessary levels and blood glucose levels rise.
Generally diabetic animals are treated by injecting them with insulin once or twice a day. Great care is needed in the early stages because too much insulin will lead to hypoglycaemia, when the glucose levels fall too far, initially causing weakness, but ultimately, if untreated, resulting in convulsions and coma.
Initial treatment and stabilisation is administered in the veterinary clinic, until a satisfactory insulin dose is established, or at least until the high glucose levels have begun to fall. Owners are then taught to inject the insulin under the skin of their pets.
Diet is extremely important. In order to establish and maintain the correct dose of insulin, owners need to ensure that their pets’ calorie intake does not vary from day to day. Prescription diets for diabetes are available – these contain the relatively high amounts of fibre important for affected animals.
Some animals settle quickly into an insulin regime and only need occasional blood tests to check glucose levels. Your pet is admitted to the hospital for the day and blood tests are done at intervals throughout the day to check the glucose levels to ensure that the correct dose of insulin is being administered. With others, it is more difficult to establish an insulin dose, and this may sometimes be due to other concurrent health problems as well. However the treatment goes, it involves a lot of input from the owner. Daily insulin injections, strict diet, checking the urine and regular veterinary checks are not for everyone, but for those who are happy to make that degree of commitment, the result is a beloved pet as near to normal as possible. Treatment can be very rewarding.
When you start treating your animal for diabetes the veterinarian will prescribe the insulin, syringes and needles you require. A handout is available discussing the technique for insulin injection. Our nurses and vets will teach you how to administer insulin to your pet and guide you through the learning process
CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY IF ANY OF THE FOLLOWING OCCUR:
• Lack of appetite
• Abnormal behaviour e.g. vocalising, disorientation
• “Drunken state” (staggering, weakness)
• “glassy” stare
This could mean that your pet is going into hypoglycaemic shock (low blood sugar) Telephone the vet clinic immediately and they will tell you to give your pet glucose or honey. It is sufficient to rub some on their gums but be careful when putting your fingers near their mouth
© Forrest Hill Vets (2000) Ltd