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Diabetes in pets – What signs to look for, by Dr Ingrid Goodman

Diabetes in pets – What signs to look for, by Dr Ingrid Goodman

As Pet Owners, we cherish the love and companionship our furry friends provide. But what if they’re suffering silently from a condition that can go unnoticed until it reaches an advanced stage? In this enlightening article by Dr. Ingrid Goodman, we delve into the world of diabetes mellitus in pets, shedding light on the crucial signs to look out for.

Just like in humans, diabetes in pets can be a life-altering condition that requires timely attention and care. So, what are the signs you should be on the lookout for to detect diabetes mellitus in your beloved pets?

Firstly, what is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a hormone disorder where the pancreas is unable to produce enough of the hormone insulin to reduce the amount of sugar (glucose) in the blood stream. Glucose rises after we eat and absorb our food. Insulin is crucial for allowing glucose to enter our muscle and fat cells, to provide them with their energy. Insulin is like the bouncer at the door of these cells, if he’s not there, glucose just can’t get in!

What causes diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats?

The cause of diabetes mellitus (DM) between dogs and cats is different. Generally in dogs, it is similar to human type-1 DM where the immune system has specifically destroyed all the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. It is irreversible and not caused by the dog being overweight or eating the wrong types of food.

 In cats on the other hand, their DM is generally more like human type-2 DM where there is ‘insulin resistance’. This is where the normal amount of insulin that their pancreas is producing just doesn’t work anymore to reduce their blood glucose effectively. It’s as if the bouncer at the door of the muscle and fat cells has taken insulin off the guest list.

In cats this is strongly linked to obesity – which is associated with high carbohydrate diets, reduced physical activity and neutering. In some cats it can be reversed or go into ‘remission’, but not always.

Certain cat breeds have a genetic predisposition to developing DM. Thse include Burmese, Abyssinian, Tonkinese and Norwegian Forest cats. The use of glucocorticoid medication and some other rarer hormone disorders may also cause DM to develop in cats.

What are the signs to look out for that might mean my pet has diabetes mellitus?

Whilst these are the most common signs of diabetes in pets, the severity of these signs depends on how long your pet has had DM for, and how severely high their blood glucose is.

1. An increase in thirst. It’s like their thirst just cannot be satisfied! You will be filling their water bowls up multiple times a day, or you may notice your pet trying to drink out of unusual places like the floor of the shower, the toilet bowl, or the kitchen tap.

2. An increase in the number of times your pet needs to pee. Your dog will be waking you up in the middle of the night multiple times to go outside, or they may be having accidents in the house when they previously wouldn’t have.

3. Increased hunger. Your pet may all of a sudden be scavenging in the bin or stealing off your plate, or the other pet’s food in the house, or generally hankering after you for more food even after you’ve just fed them.

4. Weight loss or muscle loss. You might notice that you can feel the bones of their spine or their hip bones more prominently and when you haven’t necessarily put them on a diet. As any owner knows, normally, it is a challenge to get your dog or cat to lose weight.

5. Poorer quality hair coat. You might notice their coat has become coarse, unkempt and drier than it used to be, sometimes with excessive scaling or white specks that look a little like ‘dandruff’.

In more advanced or chronic states of DM you might notice:

6. Loss of appetite (anorexia). They may go completely off their food and not want to eat anything.

7. Vomiting. Any vomiting in a pet, whether associated with eating or not, is cause for concern.

8. Increased lethargy. Your pet wants to sleep all the time and doesn’t want to interact with you. They may seem very flat or dull.

9. Cats may develop weakness in their back legs with a ‘plantigrade stance’. This is where they walk with their hocks on the ground.

10. Dogs may develop sudden blindness, due to cataracts. This is when the lenses of the eyes suddenly appear very opaque and white.

If you notice any of these signs in your pet please take them to see your veterinarian. Whilst all of these signs together are most likely to be caused by diabetes mellitus it is not the only disease that can do this – other diseases that can mimic some or most of these signs include kidney failure, other hormone disorders and even cancer.

Keep an eye out for the next instalment of information relating to diabetes in pets, including how to treat it and also how to monitor glucose levels.

Dr Ingrid Goodman

About the Author:

Dr Ingrid Goodman BVSc MANZCVS FANZCVS (Internal Medicine) graduated from the University of Sydney in 2009. Dr Ingrid has worked in mixed practice, general practice, as an emergency vet, and more recently as a medicine specialist in a referral hospital. Dr Ingrid is the author of a number of academic papers and currently works as a specialist consultant at The Pines Vet on the Gold Coast. Dr Ingrid’s passion is all things feline, and she is affectionately known as “the cat whisperer” with her team at The Pines.

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