Vet Blog

Diabetes in Pets

December 31, 2018

Weight and Diet Keys to Controlling Diabetes in Pets
Michael Stephan, DVM
Juno Beach Animal Hospital

Like people, some pets are prone to developing diabetes. Diabetes occurs when there is not enough insulin to carry sugar from the blood into the bodys cells for fuel. When this occurs, the body turns to the break down of fat and protein for energy, but this is only a short term solution and eventually insulin must be provided to restore normal metabolism.

Insulin is produced by islet cells in the pancreas. In middle aged to older pets these cells may stop producing insulin resulting in high blood sugar. The risk of developing diabetes is greater in breeds such as miniature poodles or Schnauzers, or in obese animals of any breed. As in people, the initial signs of diabetes are increased drinking and urinating, lack of energy, and weight loss in spite of a good appetite.

Diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, is the most common form of diabetes in dogs and cats. Mellitus meanssweet. Diabetes mellitus was so named because the ancient Greeks noticed that honey bees were attracted to the urine of diabetics. As in people, there are two main types of diabetes mellitus: Type-I, or insulin dependent diabetes, and Type-II, or non-insulin dependent diabetes. Type-I is the most common type in pets, though approximately one in three cats may initially develop Type-II diabetes. In the early stages of the disease these cats may be managed with diet modification alone or a combination of diet and oral glucose regulating medication. Some cats with Type-II diabetes may be weaned off of their insulin once the diabetes is controlled, though most of them will require insulin again eventually.

Your veterinarian will perform blood and urine tests to confirm the diagnosis of diabetes and rule out other diseases which may be present. Cushings disease may mimic the signs of diabetes and may be present by itself or occur with diabetes. The presence of Cushings disease can make diabetes much more difficult to control. Once the diabetes is identified a dose of insulin will be calculated to bring sugar levels back to normal. Not all animals respond the same way to the same dose of insulin and some trial and error and repeat monitoring may be required to determine the proper dose of insulin for your pet. While the initial testing and treatment will probably be done in your veterinarians office, long term control of the diabetes can be accomplished by giving insulin injections to your pet at home. Most animals tolerate insulin injections very well, and your veterinarian can instruct you on the proper way to administer them.

The new Humilin insulin used in people can be used to control diabetes in some pets, but most of them will respond better to the insulin products made specifically for animals. These products can be obtained through your veterinarian. Monitoring blood sugar at home can be done easily using the Accucheck II glucose monitor. These monitors are the same ones used by people and are available in most pharmacies. Your veterinarian can instruct you on their use.

There are a few specific diets that have been shown beneficial in controlling diabetes in pets. Hills, the makers of Science Diets, manufactures a diet named m/d which has been very useful in managing diabetic cats. In cats with Type-I diabetes m/d diet may significantly reduce the amount of insulin required. Cats with Type-II diabetes may be completely controlled without insulin when fed m/d exclusively. Eukanuba markets canine and feline Opitimum Weight formulas for diabeteic pets and Purina makes canine and feline DM diets.

Establishing a regular schedule of feeding and insulin injections is a key factor in successfully managing your pets diabetes. If your pet is over weight, shedding a few extra pounds will also make the disease easier to control. Moderate exercise will help with the weight loss and improve your pets metabolism, further reducing their dependence on insulin. You should establish a habit of keeping a journal of your pet=s diet and insulin injections to help with controlling the disease.

Many dogs with diabetes are prone to developing diabetic cataracts. This occurs when the excess sugar in the blood leaks into the lens in the eye. When this happens, the lens will turn white virtually overnight resulting in the sudden onset of blindness. This condition is irreversible, though lens replacement surgery may restore your dogs vision if done early. This condition has not been reported in cats.

Increased urinary tract infections are another diabetes related problem. This is caused by excess sugar in the blood spilling into the urine, which provides food for bacteria. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to help control these infections.

There are two very good websites with information about diabetes in animals. is a free website for pet owners maintained by the Veterinary Information Network. Reliable information on diabetes and other diseases and issues of concern to pet owners can be found on their site. is a free site for owners of diabetic cats which deals with the serious and not-so-serious issues of living with a cat with diabetes. When identified early and treated appropriately, diabetic dogs and cats and their owners can enjoy years of good health and an active lifestyle. For more information on diabetes, visit these sites or talk with your veterinarian.