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What is diabetes and how do I manage it in my pet?

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Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body can not use glucose (a type of sugar) normally.  Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells.   The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas.

Insulin is required for the transfer of glucose from the bloodstream to the cells of the body .  If there is not enough insulin or the body is unable to use the insulin, glucose accumulates in high levels in the blood – a condition called hyperglycemia. When the blood glucose reaches a certain level, the glucose overflows into the urine (this is called glucosuria) and draws large volumes of water with it. This is why diabetic pets often drink more water and urinate more frequently and in larger amounts.

In diabetics, not enough glucose is moved from the blood into the body’s cells.  As a result, there is not enough energy for the cells to function normally, and, the tissues become starved for energy.  This state of metabolic “starvation” causes the body to breakdown fat and muscle tissue, which is then converted by the liver to sugar. his breakdown of body tissues results in the weight loss often seen in diabetic patients.

Noticing the early signs of diabetes is the most important step in taking care of your pet. If you see any of the following signs, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian. The earlier the diagnosis, the better chance your pet may have for a longer and healthier life.

  • Excessive water drinking and increased urination

  • Weight loss, even though there may be an increased appetite

  • Decreased appetite

  • Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)

  • Chronic or recurring infections (including skin infections and urinary infections)

Diabetes may be suspected based on the signs a pet is showing, but the diagnosis is confirmed by your veterinarian by finding consistent hyperglycemia and glucose in the urine. Although a diagnosis of diabetes is often relatively straightforward, your veterinarian may run additional blood tests to rule out other medical conditions seen in older pets.  

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your veterinarian will prescribe an initial dose and type of insulin for your pet. Insulin cannot be given orally – it must be given by injection under the skin. Your veterinarian or veterinary technician will teach you how to give the insulin injections, which involve a very small needle and are generally very well tolerated by the pet. GIVING INSULIN SHOTS IS NOT HARD AND MOST ANIMALS TOLERATE IT VERY WELL!!  Your veterinarian may periodically need to adjust your pet’s treatment regimen based on the results of monitoring.  Dietary recommendations are an important part of treatment.

Successful treatment of diabetes requires regular examinations, blood and urine tests, and monitoring your pet’s weight, appetite, drinking and urination.

Having a diabetic pet is not hard!!  The needles are tiny, and most animals don't care about the insulin shots.  You will need to be able to take your pet to the vet routinely for monitoring but managing a diabetic pet sounds much harder than it is.  Diabetic pets who are managed live very normal lives!!

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