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Diabetes in Animals

Diabetes in Animals

Diabetes is a well-known human disease: the sedentary nature of our societies, the adoption of an increasingly sugary diet and the consumption of more and more processed products have heralded a veritable epidemic of diabetes, particularly in western industrialized societies, since the end of the Second World War and the advent of mass consumption. Today, many people have undoubtedly heard of diabetes (and pre-diabetes) or even know someone close to them who is affected. But did you know that diabetes does not only affect humans? In fact, many mammals can suffer from this chronic disease, including some pets, such as dogs, cats and even horses. Here are the facts.

What is diabetes in practice?

Diabetes mellitus, often incorrectly shortened to diabetes, is a disease linked to the human body’s inability to regulate glucose in the body. Glucose is the main source of energy in mammals. The level of sugar in the body is mainly regulated by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by one of our organs, the pancreas. This hormone is responsible for transporting sugar to our cells. The condition where insulin (or the pancreas) no longer fulfils its role is called diabetes.

Diabetes refers to a failure of the biological mechanism for regulating our body’s blood sugar level (the concentration of glucose in the blood). This failure can lead to hyperglycemia (when the amount of glucose in the blood is too high) or, on the contrary, to hyperglycemia (when the amount of glucose in the blood is too low). The latter can also be caused by glucagon.

In humans, the condition is usually classified as type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The former is the result of the pancreas’ failure to produce insulin to regulate blood glucose levels. The latter is the result of two factors: insulin resistance of the body’s cells (the cells become resistant to insulin’s action) and exhaustion of the pancreas due to several factors (poor lifestyle, poor diet, etc.).

Type 2 diabetes is preceded by pre-diabetes, a stage of the disease characterized by abnormally high blood sugar levels, but which is perfectly reversible. This is a kind of warning sign to start making changes in one’s lifestyle in order to prevent, or delay, the onset of type 2 diabetes.

In pets, such as dogs and cats, diabetes is sometimes classified as type 1 or type 2. However, the differences between the two forms of the disease are less clear than in humans.

Which pets are at risk of diabetes?

Like humans, many mammals may be at risk of developing diabetes mellitus. Although scientific research has not been as extensive as in humans, we now have proof that cats, dogs and horses can suffer from diabetes. In contrast, exotic pets, such as rodents or birds, have not been the subject of much scientific research, due to their short life expectancy and their relatively recent adoption as pets.

As in humans, diabetes in animals can occur at any age. However, it seems that most dogs are diagnosed around 7-10 years of age and most diabetic cats are over six years old. It also appears that female dogs are twice as affected by diabetes as males, and that certain breeds are more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. Overweight, obesity, lack of activity and a diet too high in sugar or fat are predisposing factors for the disease.

Similarly, horses can be affected by equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). This is a condition that is mainly characterized by a disturbance in insulin production and an abnormal distribution of fat in the horse’s body. This condition is mainly the result of insulin resistance in the horse’s cells, which is why it is considered type 2 diabetes. As in the cat and dog, age, breed (Spanish Purebred, Arabian or Morgan seem to be more affected), lack of exercise and overweight seem to have an effect of the appearance of this syndrome.

Signs of diabetes in animals

As in humans, the onset of prediabetes and diabetes in animals is accompanied by several specific symptoms. These symptoms are similar to those found in humans.

They are mainly:

  • Weight loss, sometimes accompanied by an increased appetite
  • Pollakiuria and polyuria (respectively increased frequency and quantity of urination)
  • Increased water consumption
  • Decreased appetite
  • Chronic and recurrent infections, especially skin and urinary tract infections
  • The appearance of cataracts, especially in dogs
  • A generalized state of weakness

The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chances of treating the animal or reversing the trend if it has diabetes. It should be noted that it is only possible to reverse the trend in cats and not in dogs. Indeed, cats have the particularity of suffering from transient diabetes. This is reversible if the diet and lifestyle are properly adjusted. Dogs, on the other hand, suffer mainly from type 1 diabetes. Therefore, the treatment consists of insulin injections and a specific diet. For this reason, it is essential to contact your vet if you notice that your pet is suffering from any of these symptoms.

How is diabetes diagnosed and treated in animals?

If a pet owner detects any of the symptoms listed above in their pet, the first thing to do is to take it to the vet. The diagnosis will then be confirmed by the veterinarian through blood and urine tests. If the animal is suffering from hyperglycemia (too high a level of glucose in the blood) or glycosuria (the presence of glucose in the urine), the veterinary surgeon can then envisage an insulin-based treatment for the animal – whether it is a dog, a cat or a horse – depending on the case. In all cases, veterinary treatment will involve adjusting the animal’s diet.

The treatment of diabetes in animals, as in humans, cannot be done orally (with the exception of certain drugs such as metformin). For this reason, insulin must be injected intravenously. The veterinarian can teach you how to administer the treatment correctly.

The injections are made with small needles that are usually very well tolerated by the animal. A regular visit to the veterinarian will however be mandatory to adjust the therapeutic treatment according to the evolution of the diabetes.

How to care for an animal suffering from diabetes?

In most cases, an animal suffering from diabetes mellitus will need a life-long treatment with insulin; with the exception of cats suffering from transient diabetes, in certain cases (the trend can be reversed thanks to a supervised diet and lifestyle). However, a certain number of reflexes, in addition to the therapeutic treatment, will enable your pet to be properly cared for.

For cats, a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is often recommended. For dogs, a high- fiber, high-protein diet will help maintain stable blood sugar levels. In both cases, daily exercise is essential. This will help keep them fit and help them cope with any excess weight they may have.

In addition, it will be essential to inject the insulin at fixed times (usually after the meal) and to monitor possible episodes of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia. With proper treatment, a pet can live a long and healthy life, just like any other animal.












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