Diabetes in Cats and Dogs


Diabetes mellitus is a disease that can affect aging cats and dogs. Since diabetes impacts humans too, you may already be somewhat familiar with the condition. Diabetes mellitus is a condition where the body is unable to keep blood sugar levels down in the normal range. Normally, an animal will maintain blood sugar levels through the action of insulin. When an animal eats and the blood sugar starts to rise, insulin is secreted. The sugar is then driven into cells where the sugar can be used as energy. In diabetes, either the insulin is not available (there is a shortage), or the insulin does not work as it is supposed to (e.g. cells have become resistant to the insulin effects). Either way, the blood sugar then becomes elevated. Over time, the elevated blood sugar levels can cause signs such as increased hunger, weight loss, increased thirst, increased urination, lethargy, increased risk for infections, and cataracts.

It is important to diagnose the condition early to avoid secondary problems or even emergency crisis situations. If diabetes is left unchecked, an animal’s body constantly feels hungry because the cells are not getting the sugar that is circulating in the blood. The body will turn to alternative energy sources and start to breakdown fat. As fat is broken down, a metabolic product called ketones starts to rise. Ketones can make the animal feel very sick because in high numbers ketones are basically poisonous to the body.

While we don’t always know the cause of the diabetes, there can be a genetic component.  It is also known that overweight animals can be at a higher risk for developing the condition. There is not a cure for diabetes, but we have ways to help manage the problem. Through diet and medications such as insulin, as well as routine monitoring for secondary complications, we can help keep your dog or cat feeling good for as long as possible.

November is National Pet Diabetes Month.Take some time to read more about the condition in dogs and cats to help you be proactive in your aging pet’s care. Additionally, make sure your pet is not overweight. Stay on top of wellness exams and consider screening lab work as your pet gets older so that we can catch problems like diabetes early. Diabetes is a condition we can manage and treat by working together as a team!

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS