Diabetes And Pets

By Jamie Bozzi

January 18, 2008 5 min read


What you should know about this treatable disease

By Jamie Bozzi

Copley News Service

You've been feeding your dog or cat a well-balanced diet. In fact, you've been providing a little extra food because he seems to have developed a voracious appetite. But despite your efforts to keep your pet happy and healthy, he is losing weight and seems lethargic. You've also been filling up his water bowl more often than usual and he is indicating that he needs to go potty more frequently.

It's possible your beloved pet may have diabetes.

A common disease, diabetes affects both humans and animals. Diabetes is a disorder where the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight loss (due to the body's inability to use food efficiently) and lethargy. It's important that you consult your veterinarian if any of these symptoms are present.

While any pet can develop diabetes, those at risk are dogs over 7 years of age and unspayed females, and cats over 8 years of age and neutered males. Approximately 1 in 500 dogs and 1 in 200 cats develop diabetes. The onset of this disease is usually very gradual and easily missed by owners. In fact, fewer than half of the 2,300 pet owners surveyed recently by Intervet, Inc. realized that dogs and cats can develop diabetes (www.avma.org).

There are two types of diabetes, just like in people. According to Dr. Jennifer DeBerry, D.V.M., of Veterinary Specialty Hospital of San Diego, "Dogs are typically type I diabetics (insulin requiring), whereas cats are a combination of type I and type II (problems with how insulin works in the body)." Diagnosis of diabetes involves blood and urine testing. - is testing is more challenging with cats because they sometimes have elevated blood glucose in their urine when stressed (such as a visit to the vet's office).

Diabetes is a treatable disease. It can be managed with insulin injections and dietary modifications and exercise. The majority of animals receive conventional treatment - regular insulin injections. Although oral medications are available, they are less than 5 percent successful, explained Dr. Patricia Unger of Kensington Veterinary Hospital in San Diego.

As for alternative treatments, herbal remedies and dietary supplements exist to help keep diabetes under control but are used sparingly for pets in general. There are no alternative treatments for dogs. State Dr. DeBerry, "Dogs need insulin and it is the only thing used to treat diabetes in dogs." Cats, however, can sometimes do well simply with dietary adjustments. Without treatment, animals usually die a matter of months.

In addition to insulin injections, dietary modifications are also critical to diabetes therapy. Dogs generally go on a high-fiber, moderate-carbohydrate diet. (Check out the Web site www.olddogcookie.com for specially made treats for diabetic animals.) Cats however, are more successfully managed with diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates. In fact, a recent mini-study (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/16452. php) showed that many diabetic cats stopped needing insulin after changing to a low-carb diet. Although dogs stay diabetic for life, diabetes in cats is sometimes reversible.

In addition to diet, exercise is important too. Many animals, particularly older ones, are overweight. Excess storage of fat in body cells can lead to insulin resistance. Regular exercise should be combined with dietary management to help pets maintain optimal weight. Daily walks are good for both pet and pet owner.

Initially, there is a large financial obligation as the animals' response to treatment must be monitored via frequent blood tests, medicine, etc. The goal is to regulate the pet's blood glucose, which may take a few weeks or even many months. Dr. Patricia Unger of Kensington Veterinary Hospital, says "Therapy for diabetic pets is very individualized."

Additionally, there is a time commitment required to manage this serious condition, as the treatment must continue for the rest of the animals' life. Says Dr. Unger, "when owners are well-educated and involved in the treatment plan, the animal has an excellent chance of a good quality of life." The key to successful treatment is to follow the required therapy plan. While there is no cure for diabetes, proper care can help your pet live a happy, healthy life.

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Jamie Bozzi of www.smrtdog.com is a certified member of APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers).

Visit Copley News Service at www.copleynews.com.

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