Diabetes might be the most frustrating condition for both pet owners and veterinarians alike. It's frustrating because it can take a lot of vet visits and blood tests to figure out the best solution and treatment plan for that individual pet; it can be a significant financial and emotional cost to the pet owner. And, for some people, it just seems like a very scary and daunting diagnosis.
But there is hope.
The good news is that, if caught early, diabetes is a manageable condition. Plenty of pets do live long, happy lives with their well-managed diabetes.
What the heck is diabetes?
For many of us, all we know about diabetes is what Wilford Brimley told us in commercials.
Let's begin at the beginning.
Think back to your high school science classes. The pancreas is a gland in the upper abdomen, behind the stomach. It helps regulate digestion. One of the ways it does this is by producing insulin to control glucose levels in the blood. Glucose is a sugar that the body uses as its primary source of energy.
When a body has diabetes, it cannot use glucose the way it's supposed to. This leads to the body not having the required energy to function properly.
Like we mentioned before, early diagnosis is critical in managing diabetes. Often, the symptom pet owners notice first is their pooch drinking and urinating more than normal. Other symptoms include cloudy eyes, a decreased appetite, and weight loss.
Diabetes can occur in dogs and cats at any age, but it is most commonly diagnosed in pets older than seven. This is one of the reasons it's important to do annual lab work on senior pets—we can often catch issues while they are still small and easily treatable.
Similar to humans, the most significant factor in pet diabetes is obesity. Other health issues that can contribute to diabetes in pets include pancreatitis, kidney disease, heart disease, chronic skin infections, and urinary tract infections. Overactive adrenal glands in dogs and overactive thyroid in cats are also risk factors.
If you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above, it's critical to get your pet to the veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian will likely recommend blood and urine lab tests based on your pet's medical history and a physical exam.
Your veterinarian called and said Fluffy has diabetes. What now? First, both of you will discuss diet and lifestyle changes for your pet as well as daily insulin injections.
The staff will teach you how to properly store, dose, and administer insulin to your pet at home.
Insulin is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. And even after you have your pet on a solid maintenance routine, their dose may need to be adjusted periodically to ensure optimal health. For this reason, your pet will need to have regular checkups with their doctor—regular blood monitoring at home can also be beneficial.
Your pet will likely need a diet change because a high-fiber diet for dogs and a high-protein diet for cats can be extremely helpful in managing blood glucose levels. There are several high-quality diabetic diets that your veterinarian can recommend.
Daily exercise is also an important factor in diabetes management and general quality of life for you and your pet.
If your pet is diagnosed with diabetes, it doesn't have to be the end. Sure, diabetes can be stressful, but a solid partnership between you and your veterinarian can lead to a well-managed, long, healthy life for your pet.
It's important to have a veterinarian you trust so you can have candid conversations about what diabetes treatment and management will entail and how it will affect you and your family moving forward.