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Many pet owners do not realize that their dog or cat can develop diabetes. While the disease can be severe, pets with diabetes can live long, happy lives when the disease is managed properly. In honor of Pet Diabetes Month, here’s what you need to know to keep your furry friend happy and healthy.

What exactly is pet diabetes?

Pet diabetes refers to the same disease that affects humans. Diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, is a condition that results in too much glucose, a form of sugar, in the blood stream. This high concentration of glucose in the blood stream is due to a shortage of insulin in the body or the body not properly responding to the insulin it creates.

How does diabetes affect pets?

When your pet eats, insulin helps break down the glucose from the food and convert it into fuel for the body. Without proper insulin function, your pet’s body cannot convert food into energy and does not register that it is receiving food. As a result, the glucose is not absorbed by muscles and vital organs from the bloodstream, and is instead carried out of the body through urine. A dog or cat with diabetes will be hungry very often but receive no energy from the food they eat.

How common is pet diabetes?

Diabetes is quite common in both dogs and cats. For both dogs and cats, the disease affects between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500 animals. Overweight or obese dogs and cats are at higher risk of developing the disease.

Diabetes is more commonly diagnosed in older cats and neutered male cats, but can affect cats of any age or sex. All dogs can develop diabetes, but commonly occurs between the ages of 4 and 14 and is twice as likely to affect unspayed females as it is male dogs.

There are also certain breeds of dogs that are more likely to develop diabetes: Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, Pomeranians, Terriers, and Toy Poodles.

What are the signs?

Early signs of pet diabetes are hunger, thirst, excessive urination, and weight loss even with normal appetite. These symptoms result from the body’s inability to convert glucose into energy and the glucose being carried out of the body through urine. Diabetes also affects the eyes and liver. An enlarged liver or cataracts may be a sign of the disease.

The longer diabetes goes undiagnosed in dogs or cats, the more severe the symptoms become. Some include anorexia and complete loss of appetite, lethargy or depression, and vomiting.

What should I do if my pet develops diabetes?

The first thing you should do if you notice any of the above symptoms is visit your vet as soon as possible. The sooner your pet is diagnosed, the better. Your veterinarian will check glucose levels in your pet’s bloodstream and liver to determine if they have diabetes. If it turns out your pet is affected, your vet will help you come up with a plan for treatment.

How can I manage my pet’s diabetes?

Unfortunately, diabetes is incurable, but there are ways to manage the disease and its symptoms. The main goal for managing diabetes is regulating glucose levels, which will in turn hopefully regulate symptoms like hunger and extreme thirst. Glucose levels can be regulated through daily insulin injections and changes in your pet’s diet.

Diabetes treatment for pets is not so different from treatment for humans. The medication, equipment, and monitoring systems used for diabetic cats and dogs is often very similar to those used for humans.

Diabetes can be life threatening for pets, but with regular checkups, proper management, and close monitoring of your pet’s condition, even a diabetic dog or cat can live a long, happy, and active life. Even if your pet is not affected by diabetes, all dogs and cats are at risk of developing the disease. So make sure your pet is active, well-fed (but not over-fed) and keep an eye out for any symptoms of the disease.