Basic Pet Care

Caring for a Diabetic Pet

Vet Holding Dachshund

A diagnosis of diabetes in your pet can be alarming. Yet a pet's quality of life can be maintained by managing insulin therapy, diet and exercise, under the direction of your veterinarian.

Is your pet likely to be diagnosed with diabetes? Approximately one dog or cat out of every 500—and even as many as one out of every 100—will develop this condition. Diabetes develops when there is too much glucose (sugar) in the blood, which is caused by insufficient production of the hormone insulin or the inability of the body to respond to insulin.

Diabetes typically presents itself when an animal is older, between 4 and 14 years of age for dogs and in middle-aged to older cats. In dogs, females who have not been spayed are twice as likely as males to become diabetic. In cats, neutered males are most likely to be diagnosed with the disease. As with humans, obesity in pets also can bring on the condition.

Signs of Diabetes

The following may indicate the presence of diabetes mellitus in your pet. Not every pet will exhibit all signs, but any are worth reporting to your veterinarian who can further investigate as to their cause.

  • Frequent urination and increased volume of urine
  • Drinking more water
  • Eating excessively without weight gain
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Cataracts in dogs
  • Rear leg weakness in cats
  • Breath that smells fruity or sweet
  • Listlessness

To diagnose diabetes, a veterinarian will ask about your pet's clinical signs, perform a physical examination, draw blood and do a urinalysis.

Should the diagnosis be positive, stay calm. Although there is no cure, according to the ASPCA, "Diabetes is considered a manageable disorder—and many diabetic [pets] can lead happy, healthy lives."

In fact, when diabetes is properly managed, the life expectancy of pets with the disease is thought to be similar to that of healthy dogs or cats.

How Your Veterinarian Helps

Your veterinarian will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of the signs and your pet's general health. He or she may recommend an insulin product such as Vetsulin®. Vetsulin is the only insulin product approved for both dogs and cats by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Each dog and cat responds differently to treatment. After the initial confirmation of diabetes, initial follow-up visits will enable your veterinarian to adjust your pet's insulin dosage based on blood glucose tests. It is important to work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your pet receives the best possible medical care based on his or her individual needs. It's also vital that you maintain ongoing communication with your veterinarian and report any changes in your pet's health.

What You Can Do as a Pet Parent

Expect to play a major part in maintaining your diabetic pet's health. If insulin is required to regulate blood sugar, your veterinarian will instruct you on how to:

  • Monitor blood glucose levels
  • Administer insulin
  • Manage diet and exercise

Other steps to take when diabetes is your pet's "new normal" include adhering to a schedule so that your pet receives insulin at the same time every day depending on meal times. You'll also want to spend a little extra time reading pet food and treat labels. Before putting something in your pet's food bowl, you'll want to read the label: food high in fat and carbohydrates should generally be avoided.

The keys to managing the health of a pet with diabetes are maintaining the right diet, consistent exercise, insulin therapy and regular veterinary visits.

For more information, visit the ASPCA Web site.