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Dogs and Cats Can Develop Diabetes, Too

Have a beloved dog or cat? You may be surprised to learn that, like people, our pets can develop chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and their risk is also greater if they are overweight or obese.

As the number of Americans with diabetes continues to grow, a similar trend is also happening among cats and dogs in the United States, according to Christopher G. Byers, DVM, a board-certified veterinary specialist at MidWest Veterinary Specialty Hospital in Omaha, Neb.

Dogs develop an insulin-dependent type of diabetes that is similar to type 1 diabetes in humans, says Dr. Byers. “Cats are quite different in that they actually develop a form similar to type 2 diabetes in people.”

Pet parents, take note. Watch out for these five warning signs of diabetes.

  • Taking More Bathroom Breaks

    Is your kitty or pooch urinating more often or profusely? Is she accidentally peeing before making it to the litter box or going outside for a walk? Increased urination is one of the common clinical signs of diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats, says Byers. Similarly, people who urinate frequently may also have diabetes.

    “As blood sugar rises, it ultimately reaches a threshold above which the sugar begins to spill over into the urine,” he explains. When this happens, the body undergoes a process called osmotic diuresis, causing copious and more frequent urination.

  • Drinking More Often From the Water Bowl

    Have you noticed that your pet’s water-drinking patterns have changed? If they’re drinking water more often than they used to, then diabetes might be to blame. As with humans, increased thirst is another common sign of diabetes in dogs and cats.

    Animals with diabetes produce large volumes of urine more frequently, Byers explains, and so they drink more water to compensate for the fluids lost through urination.

  • Eating More and Losing Weight

    Diabetes might be a cause for concern if you find that your furry friend is losing weight despite eating more. Increased appetite and unexplained weight loss are common signs of diabetes in pets as well as humans.

    “Feeling of fullness — satiety — is influenced by a part of the hypothalamus of the brain called the satiety center,” Byers says. “The more sugar that enters the satiety center, the less the feeling of hunger.”

    But with diabetes, the hormone insulin is not available or working properly to allow sugar to enter the satiety center and be utilized by the body’s cells for fuel, resulting in unsatisfied feelings of hunger and weight loss.

  • Exhibiting Less Energy or Activity

    If Fluffy appears listless and rests more than usual, you should consider taking her to a family veterinarian. If she is lethargic and has undiagnosed diabetes, she could have a potentially life-threatening condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, according to Byers. It develops when the body uses fat instead of sugar for energy, causing the production and buildup of toxic acids in the blood called ketones. If diabetic ketoacidosis is diagnosed, the next step is to see a board-certified veterinary internal medicine specialist for an evaluation, he advises.

    Prioritizing Prevention as Part of Your Pet’s Healthcare

    If you spot these signs and symptoms of diabetes, the earlier you take your pet to a veterinarian for diabetes screening and evaluation, the better.

    “A health problem identified early is typically both easier to treat and financially friendlier to manage,” Byers notes.

    Because diabetes differs between canines and felines, treatment also varies. “Dogs require lifelong treatment with insulin, need a special diet, and benefit from regular exercise,” he says. “Most cats initially require insulin, too, but with early aggressive management, we may be able to achieve normal blood sugar levels with diet and no insulin.”

    Similar to healthcare for people, prevention is also key for pet healthcare. “The most important step pet parents can take is to recognize a minor medical problem and to help prevent it from snowballing into a major one,” Byers says.

    If expenses related to pet health prevention and treatment are concerns, pet health insurance can help.**