Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine diseases in animals. Despite this, many families are shocked and overwhelmed when their pets are initially diagnosed. It is true that there are dangerous consequences of untreated diabetes including blindness, infection, severe illness and even death. However, if symptoms are recognized early in the disease process, most of these consequences can be avoided and well-regulated diabetic patients can live long, happy lives! The goal of this article is to help owners identify common symptoms as quickly as possible.
Diabetes basically presents the same way every time: excessive hunger, thirst and urination accompanied by weight loss. If that is all you remember from this article, then I have done my job! If you want to understand why, we must first review basic physiology.
All cells in the body require energy to function properly. The best source of this energy is glucose, derived from digested food. In a healthy animal, this glucose is carried into the cells by a hormone called insulin, which is manufactured by the pancreas.
In a diabetic animal, either the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin at all, it doesn’t produce enough, or the body doesn’t respond to it appropriately. Therefore, the glucose from food stays in the bloodstream. The body can’t access the glucose, so the cells send signals to the brain that more food is needed. Therefore, one of the primary clinical signs of diabetes is ravenous hunger. This hunger is often accompanied by rapid weight loss, as the body breaks down fats to provide energy for cells in the absence of glucose. Sometimes pet owners don’t realize that this weight loss is problematic; they are pleased to see that their historically overweight pets are suddenly more slender and therefore diabetes goes unrecognized at first.
The other typical signs of diabetes are increased thirst and increased frequency of urination. There is so much glucose in the blood that it spills into the urine, accompanied by water. In order to prevent dehydration, pets must consume more water to keep up with the losses. Some pets are first diagnosed with diabetes when they have accidents in the house. Owners take them to a vet expecting an easily treatable urinary tract infection and they are surprised to learn that the pet has a chronic disease.
Most pets do require insulin injections to manage glucose levels but it is not as scary as it sounds! If your pet develops diabetes, please know that there is no need to panic. There may be lifestyle adjustments for everyone in the household but diabetic pets and their families can still have a great quality of life! – Written by: Dr. Elizabeth Chosa