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Warning signs of diabetes in pets

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and we all know what that means—an excuse to overindulge on our favorite foods! But November is not just the host month to Thanksgiving: it’s also Pet Diabetes Month. It’s often hard to tell when an animal is suffering from diabetes, and Pet Diabetes Month aims to bring attention to the disease and to help pets with diabetes get the care that they need and deserve.

As is the case with human diabetes, animals with diabetes do not produce enough (or any) insulin or cannot use it properly. Insulin is meant to help their bodies turn glucose (from carbohydrates they’ve eaten) into fuel. Without the correct amount of insulin to convert glucose, the glucose can build up in their bloodstream leading to a whole host of health issues.

One of the warning signs is an animal who exhibits excessive hunger but still seems malnourished. Other warning signs include excessive thirst and urination, as well as lethargy—animals who are less active than normal, and spend more time sleeping. Dogs may begin to exhibit cloudy eyes, and cats may stop grooming themselves. In both dogs and cats, their hair may begin to thin, or seem drier and duller than normal.

Although diabetes usually affects less than 1 percent of dogs and cats, if you’re concerned that your pet may have diabetes, your best course of action is to set up an appointment with your veterinarian. The testing for animal diabetes is similar to that for humans—a general exam, a urine test which looks for the presence of glucose or ketones, and/or a blood test which will determine their glucose levels.

There are some risk factors for diabetes that you should bear in mind. In dogs, middle-aged to older dogs are affected the most. Unspayed female dogs have a higher risk for diabetes as well. Genetics plays a part, of course, and obesity, just as it does in humans. The following breeds have a higher risk for developing diabetes: cocker spaniels, dachshunds, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Pomeranians, terriers, toy poodles and miniature schnauzers.

In cats, age, genetics and obesity play a part just as they do with dogs. Neutered male cats have a higher risk, as do cats who suffer from chronic pancreatic issues and hyperthyroidism. An inactive lifestyle and time spent solely indoors also increases a cat’s chance of developing diabetes.

If your dog or cat is exhibiting any of the warning signs, and they have one or more of these risk factors, please make an appointment with your vet. The earlier your pet starts treatment, the less likely they are to develop complications like those listed below:

  • Cataract formation, which may lead to blindness (dogs)
  • Increased susceptibility to infections, especially of the urinary tract (dogs)
  • Weakness of the hind legs (cats)
  • Nerve damage, which can lead to weakness and muscle wasting (cats)

The good news is, with treatment and continuous monitoring, your pet can lead a long life. You’ll need to monitor their glucose, and they may need daily insulin injections. Although the idea of giving your furry friend daily injections may seem frightening, your vet will be able to coach you through the beginning, and it will soon become a non-stressful fact of life for you and your pet.

Diet and exercise will play a big role in your diabetic pet’s health. Again, your vet will be able to help you find the best balance between the two, but generally speaking, you’ll need to make sure that you provide a diet full of high-quality protein and low carbohydrate foods. Exact portions will depend on the size of your pet, but across all shapes and sizes, keeping meal times and sizes consistent from day to day will be important. Similarly, a consistent exercise routine will go a long way toward helping your pet stay healthy.

And of course, regular checkups with your vet will help you keep an eye out for any changes in your pet’s health. Although a diabetes diagnosis can be scary at first, you and your animal will soon settle into a routine that makes you both feel comfortable, and keeps them healthy. As far as Thanksgiving indulgence goes, you’d be wise to make sure your beloved pet avoids these foods, but otherwise, dig in, and enjoy!