Diabetes Isn't a Death Sentence: The Ease of Caring for a Diabetic Pet

Diabetes Isn't a Death Sentence: The Ease of Caring for a Diabetic Pet

Although diabetes may be a scary diagnosis, successfully managing your diabetic pet's health is possible. Many pet parents fear diabetes is too much to manage and it may be the end of the road for their furry loved one. But, with insulin therapy, the right diet and exercise your pet can live a happy and normal life.

What's the 411 on diabetes?

  • Diabetes is caused by little to no production of insulin (a hormone produced by certain cells in the pancreas) in the body; that usually keeps your dog or cat's glucose concentration at a normal level while delivering glucose (energy) to the body's cells. In diabetic animals, these cells produce little or no insulin, or there is an abnormal response to the insulin that is produced.
  • 1 out of every 100 dogs that reaches 12 years of age will develop diabetes.1 In cats, it's estimated that between 1 in 50 and 1 in 500 will develop diabetes mellitus.2
  • Diabetes mellitus occurs when your dog or cat has stopped producing insulin, has inadequate levels of insulin, or has an abnormal response to insulin.
  • In general, diabetes cannot be cured. Some cats have transient diabetes and can go into remission, but it is more likely that a cat will have diabetes for life.

How do pets get diabetes?

  • When seen in younger animals, it can be a sign that your cat or dog is genetically predisposed to diabetes and that related animals may also have a predisposition.3
  • Some drugs, when used long-term, may interfere with insulin and lead to diabetes mellitus in your pet. These include glucocorticoids (cortisone-type drugs) and hormones that may be used to control heat cycles in female dogs.3

What are the signs of diabetes? If any of the following signs apply, you should bring your dog or cat to your veterinarian for a checkup.

  1. Urinates frequently
    Your dog or cat wants to go outside or to the litter box often. Your dog may urinate in the house; your cat may urinate outside of the litter box.
  2. Drinks a lot of water
    You must fill the water bowl with more frequency, or notice your cat or dog drinking from unusual places, such as the toilet bowl.
  3. Is always hungry
    Never seems to get enough; always begging for food.
  4. Has lost weight
    Insufficient insulin hinders the body from getting glucose from the blood into the body's cells for use as energy. When this happens, the body starts burns fat and muscle for energy, and reduces overall body weight.4
  5. Eyes appear cloudy
    This sign is more common in dogs. Excess glucose in the bloodstream causes changes in the lens of the eye. Water enters into the lens, causing swelling and changes in the lens structure. This results in the cloudiness that is seen.5
  6. Coat has deteriorated
    Your cat has stopped grooming, and fur becomes dry and dull.
  7. Sleeps more or is less active
    Excess weight and lack of energy can cause lethargy

The above signs may suggest diabetes, but are also seen in other diseases. If your pet displays any of these signs, he/she should be taken to the vet immediately, as an animal can only be diagnosed when glucose is found both in the urine and at a high level in the blood through medical samples.

Are certain pets more likely to develop diabetes than others?

  • In dogs, diabetes mellitus is seen in all sexes and ages, but is most common in middle-aged to older dogs, especially females.
  • Certain breeds of dogs also experience above-average rates of diabetes. These include: Toy Poodles, Terriers, Cocker Spaniels, Dachshunds, Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers.6
  • In cats, diabetes mellitus is more common in middle- to older-aged animals as well, and also in cats that are overweight. Neutered males are at a greater risk than females. Certain breeds, such as Burmese, Maine Coon, and Siamese experience an above-average rate of diabetes.7
  • When seen in younger animals, it can be a sign that your cat or dog is genetically predisposed to diabetes–this can mean that related animals may also be predisposed.5

How do I manage my pet's diabetes?

Monitoring your pet's glucose level is an important part of the overall therapy for diabetes and can be done in 2 ways:

Measuring glucose level in your pet's blood. This is the most accurate method and is done either by your veterinarian in the clinic or at home with a portable glucometer and blood test strips.

Checking your pet's urine for the presence of glucose and ketones (a chemical produced by the body when it burns fat for energy). This is not as accurate as measuring glucose in the blood, but can be done at home easily.

Diet is also key to maintain your pet's health!

There are two key factors in maintaining a healthy diet for diabetic pets: what they are eating, and the timing of their meals. There are a number of prescription pet foods that have been specifically formulated for the management of diabetic dogs and cats. These can be particularly useful for achieving weight loss in obese pets; however, many diabetic dogs and cats can be managed on a carefully controlled program eating their regular pet food.

Timing of meals is also crucial to managing insulin levels in your pet. Clean drinking water should be available at all times as a reduction in excessive water consumption indicates successful management of diabetes mellitus.

At Merck Animal Health, we hope to provide you with all the information you need to care for your diabetic pet- including diet tips, knowledge on monitoring diabetes and what to do if your pet ever has a diabetic emergency. With these tips and your care, you and your furry friend will be enjoying life together for years to come. Visit vetsulin.com for more info.

Written by Katryna Peart, proud pet parent to Ichigo, an 8 year old Yorkie, and Oliver, a very fluffy 3 year old Ragdoll cat.


  1. Feldman EC, Nelson RW. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2004:486–538.
  2. Reusch C. Feline diabetes mellitus. In: Ettinger SJ, Feldman EC, eds. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2010:1796–1816.
  3. http://www.mypet.com/pet-diabetes/dogs-cats.aspx
  4. http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/brochure_diabetes.cfm
  5. http://vetsulin.trellist-dev.com/dog-owner/Complications.aspx
  6. Feldman EC, Nelson RW. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2004:486–5538.
  7. http://pawesomecats.com/2016/11/18/diabetes-in-cats/