Some people are surprised to hear that our pets may suffer from the same diseases we do. A common problem we and our pets get is sugar diabetes. 

It is caused by a deficiency of insulin so that glucose builds up in the blood stream.  The excess glucose is then excreted making patients urinate more frequently, this results in the most common symptom - excessive thirst. The main reason diabetics become ill is that their tissues don't receive the necessary glucose for metabolism.  In the absence of glucose, active tissues utilize mainly fats and this results in a build up of ketones to toxic levels.  Eventually the patient develops acidosis and vomiting. A major difference with our pets is that diabetic humans often can be controlled by diet and hypoglycaemic (blood sugar lowering) drugs. Dogs and cats almost exclusively have insulin dependent diabetes.

A problem common to humans and pets is the initial diagnosis. People often realise they have been diabetic for some time and the same goes for my patients - I often diagnose diabetes when the animals have come to see me for another reason.  With hindsight most people have noticed their pet drinking far more than normal but have not thought they looked ill.

Recently I had a Fox terrier visit, which had an itchy skin condition.  After seeing to that I was asked to check a lump on its mate - another foxy.  During the examination I was told it was drinking more so we sent him for a walk and obtained a urine sample (not too difficult with a boy dog). The glucose was very high - a blood test confirmed the glucose was through the roof. 

Treatment for diabetic pets is not straightforward. Insulin has to be administered twice daily for the rest of their lives.  It is not a set dose; that has to be determined by careful adjustments and frequent testing to carefully titrate the right amount. These pets have to live a set pattern for the rest of their lives -feeding, exercise and insulin at the same time each day.

An interesting phenomenon occurs in cats though. Some cats lose the ability to produce insulin properly when the blood sugar rises to high levels.  They need insulin initially but after a month or two their pancreas starts functioning again and they gradually lose the requirement for insulin. This occurs in about 15% of diabetic cats.

If your pet is drinking a lot more than normal (i.e. several litres daily) even though it is otherwise healthy it would pay to have your pet tested at your vets for diabetes. If you come across a diabetic (pet or person) who is in acute distress the best thing to do is administer glucose (or sugar) as quick as possible.  Sudden hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) can cause neurological signs, coma and death - the glucose will save their lives. If it is something else (including ketone toxicosis) the extra glucose wont hurt.  Call the appropriate health professional after giving the glucose.


© Dr Brett Kirkland

Beach Road Vet Clinic

New Zealand



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