Diabetes and how to care for a pet with the disease

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that results from either a lack of insulin in the body or a resistance to insulin. This means that insulin cannot do its job of regulating the levels of glucose in your pet’s body. This can cause a range of problems and it’s important to be able to recognise the signs of pet diabetes.

This article will aim to provide you with advice on how to spot the tell-tale signs of diabetes and how you can go about caring for a pet with the disease.

Pet diabetes - an kissing his terrier dog

What are the signs of diabetes?

A pet suffering from diabetes may show some of the following signs:

  • Increased thirst – you may notice that your pet is drinking far more than they normally do. They may take a long time at their water bowl and you might be having to fill it up more frequently. Sometimes it can be helpful to measure the amount that your pet is drinking during a 24-hour period (in litres or mls) so that you can tell your vet. Don’t restrict your pet’s water intake at any time – if you think they’re drinking excessively then visit the vet.
  • Excessive urination – This sign goes along with the one above but can be harder to notice in certain circumstances, for example, in cats that urinate outdoors. With some dogs, if they have the urge to urinate more, you may notice some accidents in the house or you might notice them asking to go out more frequently. They might seem to take longer to pee as they are usually passing an increased amount of urine. With indoor cats, their litter trays will need emptying and cleaning more frequently.
  • Increased appetite – Diabetic pets will often seem hungrier and may even start stealing food items or raiding counter tops and bins to satisfy their increased appetites.
  • Weight loss – You may notice some weight loss despite the increased appetite.
  • Lethargy – Your dog may seem less energetic on walks and your cat might sleep more (hard to notice this in some cats!)

These are the main signs that your pet might be diabetic, but there are some other effects on the body such as:

  • Sudden loss of vision – Diabetes can cause cataracts and so you may notice your dog bumping into things or becoming less confident when off the lead. Cats are a little less likely to get diabetic cataracts but cats that lose their vision suddenly can become very distressed and start acting very oddly.
  • Urinary tract infections – Diabetic pets are more prone to all kinds of infections as their immune system is compromised by the illness. Bladder infections can be common but might be hard to tell from some of the other signs of diabetes such as urinating more frequently, taking longer to pee and having accidents in the house.
  • Reduced appetite, vomiting – If your pet’s diabetes is uncontrolled for a long period, they can become very ill and stop eating, start vomiting and become very dehydrated and weak.

How to care for a pet with diabetes

There’s no avoiding the fact that, to care for a pet with diabetes, you must seek veterinary advice. The first steps in a diagnosis of diabetes at the vets will usually involving testing a urine sample and taking some blood from your pet. Your vet will then be able to talk you through the treatment options for your pet and provide you with the correct medication.

This is usually in the form of insulin injections and your vet can teach you how to do this. This might sound a bit daunting but you will be surprised by how quickly you become skilled at administering injections to your pet. You can use special insulin syringes or a pen type injection device that is like the device used by human diabetic patients.

There are a few elements of your pet’s lifestyle that you can keep an eye on to help in the management of this disease.

  • Diet – Your vet might recommend a specialist diabetic diet for your pet once they have been stabilised. It is important in some diabetics to have regular mealtimes and quantities of food and to cut out or change the type of tit bits fed in between meals.
  • Exercise – Controlled and regular exercise can help in the management of this disease. Exercise reduces the levels of glucose in the blood and so needs to be carefully timed. Irregular or inconsistent amounts of exercise can make it harder to keep the pet’s blood glucose level stable.
  • Be observant – If you notice any changes in thirst, appetite, energy levels and behaviour once your pet is stabilised then bring these to the attention of your vet as soon as possible as they could indicate a change in the course of the disease.

Although there’s no cure for diabetes, your pet can live a fairly normal life provided you can care for them effectively. If you can work together with your vet, you can make your pet’s life with diabetes as comfortable as possible. A lifetime pet insurance policy will usually cover your cat or dog for life should diabetes be detected whilst they are insured.

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