Pawlicy Advisor / Pet Care Blog

Diabetes In Pets: Biggest Risk Factors To Know

Veterinarian Lila Batiari
Lila Batiari, DVM
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian
Diabetes in dogs and cats can be fatal if symptoms go unnoticed. Learn all about the causes, signs, and risks of diabetic pets.

Many pet owners are unaware that cats and dogs can develop a serious health condition called diabetes, just like people can. Occurring in about 1/500 dogs and 1/200 cats, diabetes can be extremely dangerous in pets — potentially even fatal if left untreated.1

Being aware of the signs of diabetes in dogs and cats is key to protecting your pet's health. November is Pet Diabetes Month, so read on to learn more about this serious disease and how to prevent it from affecting your four-legged family members at home.

Table of Contents:

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic condition in which too much glucose builds up in the bloodstream due to an endocrine disorder. The endocrine system controls metabolism by producing hormones vital to healthy functioning, including insulin.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps tissue cells absorb sugar from the bloodstream and convert it into the energy needed to carry out daily activities. However, pets with diabetes cannot produce enough insulin or cannot respond correctly to the insulin they produce.

What causes diabetes in pets?

There are two primary causes of diabetes in pets, classified as Type 1 and Type 2.

  • Type 1: Also known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Type 1 is the most common form of diabetes in dogs, and happens due to insufficient insulin production.

  • Type 2: Also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus, this form is more common in cats and occurs when the body can't respond properly to the insulin produced by the pancreas.

How does diabetes affect pets’ health?

Glucose — a type of simple sugar found in food — is the body's main source of energy, but cells require insulin to absorb the nutrient from the bloodstream and into the cellular tissue. Without the hormone, cells become starved of energy and cannot function properly.

Rather than being distributed throughout the body, glucose accumulates in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels — a condition known as hyperglycemia. Once it reaches a certain saturation point, the glucose overflows into the urine, drawing large volumes of water, before the kidneys ultimately eliminate it.

These processes can lead to serious health problems for diabetic pets. Some examples include

  • Dehydration
  • High blood pressure
  • Blindness
  • Swelling of the feet and legs
  • Amputations
  • Blindness
  • Kidney failure
  • Death

What pets are at risk of diabetes?

While the exact cause of diabetes in pets is not known, several lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors have been shown to contribute.

Lifestyle risks

All pets can develop diabetes at any age in life, but obese dogs and cats are at the highest risk. Pet obesity may stem from a diet that is too high in sugar or too low in fiber. A lack of exercise can also increase the risk of diabetes in dogs and cats.

Environmental risks

Exposure to certain toxins or viruses — including skin infections, urinary tract infections, and pancreatitis — may contribute to diabetes in pets. Overactivity of the thyroid and adrenal glands and a history of heart or kidney disease can all contribute to diabetes or affect pets' response to treatment.

The continued risk of steroids to treat illnesses such as feline asthma is another considerable risk factor. Exposure to these factors at a young age places pets at a greater risk of developing diabetes later.

Genetic risks

Some purebred dogs and cats have a hereditary predisposition to diabetes. One study found Poodles, Pugs, Miniature Schnauzers, and Samoyeds to be at higher risk of developing diabetes, while low-risk breeds included Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, and American Pit Bull Terriers.2

With regards to the prevalence of diabetes in cats, Burmese, Norwegian Forest, and Tonkinese cats showed increased odds of DM when compared to mixed cat breeds, as did cats weighing over four kilograms, and those aged over six years old.3

What are the symptoms of diabetes in pets?

Now that you know the risks of diabetes in pets, it's important that you know how to recognize the signs so you can get your pet the help they need as soon as possible. The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs and cats include:

  • Excessive thirst and urination, especially at night
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Disinterest in food or activity
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Unkempt haircoat
  • Itchy skin
  • Sweet-smelling breath

If you notice any of these signs in your pet, please make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Early diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.

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How do you treat diabetes in pets?

The goal of treatment is to control the pet's blood sugar levels and prevent secondary complications. Depending on the severity of the disease, this may be accomplished with diet, exercise, and/or insulin injections.

Diet and exercise are important for all diabetic pets, but especially for those that are overweight. A weight loss program should be gradual to avoid serious health problems. Your veterinarian will work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for your pet.

Keep in mind, if they recommend insulin injections, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $150 per month for a cat's ongoing treatment.4 Meanwhile, the cost to treat diabetes in dogs ranges between $40 to $80 for small breeds and up to $150 for larger breeds. Without pet insurance, the cost of care could add up to $1,500 in one year alone.5

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Can you prevent diabetes in dogs and cats?

Prevention is always the best medicine, so if your pet is at risk of developing diabetes, there are some things you can do to help prevent the disease. Feeding your pet a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight are the best ways to prevent diabetes.

Be sure to take your dog or cat to the vet for annual wellness exams to monitor their blood glucose levels and check for symptoms you might not have noticed at home.

References

  1. Countryside Veterinary Clinic, "Pet Diabetes Facts to Know to Keep Your Cat or Dog Healthy". Accessed 14 Nov, 2022.
  2. Hess, R. S., Kass, P. H., & Ward, C. R. (2000), "Breed distribution of dogs with diabetes mellitus admitted to a tertiary care facility". Accessed 14 Nov, 2022.
  3. O'Neill, D. G., Gostelow, R., Orme, C., Church, D. B., Niessen, S. J., Verheyen, K., & Brodbelt, D. C. (2016). "Epidemiology of Diabetes Mellitus among 193,435 Cats Attending Primary‐Care Veterinary Practices in England". Accessed 14 Nov, 2022.
  4. Spot Pet Insurance, "The Cost of Cat Diabetes". Accessed 14 Nov, 2022.
  5. " " "The Cost of Dog Diabetes. Accessed 14 Nov, 2022.
Veterinarian Lila Batiari

Lila Batiari, DVM

Small Animal Relief Veterinarian -

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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