Many people are surprised when they learn a pet is diagnosed with the animal form of a disease that affects people too. When you tell people that your cat has hyperthyroidism or diabetes, most people are astonished. The reason is that these persons had never given it a thought before, because they don’t have pets, or because their pets are healthy. So it doesn’t really matter if this person doesn’t have a pet, but if he/she does, and disregards the seriousness of many pet diseases, the animal could suffer a lot from neglect and maybe die from the lack of medical care. For many owners, taking care of their pet as they would do of a human being is only logical. Pets are members of the family, even like children. They deserve the best life we can provide since we committed to take care of them when we adopted them. But some others, a pet is only fun when young, cute and healthy.
It is estimated that 1 in 500 dogs has canine diabetes and 1 in 500 cats develops diabetes.
What is diabetes? A persistent hyperglycemia.
There are different types of diabetes but it is basically when the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are controlled, in part, by insulin, which is secreted by the pancreas. It is found into the blood, helps regulate blood sugar and has an essential role in the body’s ability to use and store glucose. The cells composing the body use glucose to transform it into energy, but it must get in the cells first. This is where insulin is important: it acts like a key to a lock, and opens the door to let the glucose inside the cell. If the insulin levels are too low, the cell “feels hungry”, even if the glucose levels are good. The “starving cells” send signals to the body to start using stored fat and protein as energy sources. A diabetic animal will eat extra food to try to supply its body with additional energy. But the extra food is unnecessary and the animal loses weight even though he’s eating a lot. The excessive blood glucose is eliminated by the kidneys, working as filters, and passing into the urine. Water is used to flush the glucose out of the body, and this is was a diabetic pet produces a high urine volume. It makes the animal thirsty and forces him to drink a lot.
Thus, the lack of insulin sets up a complicated series of events that result in the signs you observe in a diabetic animal: polyuria (excessive urination), polydipsya (excessive water consumption), polyphagia (excessive eating), anorexia, obesity, weight loss, blindness and lethargy.
There are some risk factors to diabetes:
– Obesity: obese cats (especially over 15 pounds) and dogs are at risk for developing diabetes.
– Diestrus (period of sexual inactivity after the female is receptive) in the unspayed female dog.
The causes can be infectious viral diseases, predisposing diseases (hyperadrenocorticism, acromegaly), genetics, pancreatic malfunction (immune-mediated destruction of the pancreatic beta cells pancreatitis) and a very bad diet.
Diagnosing diabetes is possible thanks to clinical signs, physical exams and lab tests.
Once you pet has been diagnosed
After getting over the shock, you have to realize this is not a life sentence. Diabetes is less serious than human diabetes and is easier to treat. A 14 year old cat can be diagnosed and, with commitment and care, live 3 more years. But this does not mean it’s not a serious disease that, ill-treated and/or taken care of too late, will considerably shorten the lifespan of your pet.
Treating your sick pet will require a strong commitment, patience, loving care, time and money. You’ll have to inject him precise doses of insulin with a needle and control its blood sugar levels every day. Many pet parents chose to buy a blood glucose monitor or urine glucose test strips. Plus, veterinary fees are expensive, and diabetes medications can be costly for small incomes, which is why your safest bet might be to get health insurance for your cat. Your pet will have a hard time and so will you, especially at first when you are trying to restore the balance between insulin and glucose.
All the more reason to make sure it doesn’t happen. Remember that a healthy pet is a happy pet! But sometimes, diabetes appears for no reason, and the only thing we can blame is fate.
Meet “Fat Cat Oscar”:
Oscar was the neighbors’ cat and not very much taken care of. When Jane started to feed him, he was so desperate he would eat birdseeds! It took months for her to gain his trust, but with patience, he finally settled in his new home, after his former owners moved out. The problem with Oscar was that he never learned to stop eating so much. He had never got over the problem of being hungry, therefore any food left was for eating. He became really large and fat and after four years, the first signs of illness appeared: he was quickly losing weight and constantly drinking. After a first visit to the vet, he was diagnosed with a fur ball problem and Jane was asked to groom him more often! Seeing after a week that nothing was changing, she went to another vet, and asked for a blood test as she was suspecting diabetes. She was right.
Then started the real challenge: “finding the right insulin, hundreds of visits to the surgery, worries about hypos – will he be OK if I forget a dose, will I be alright if I stab myself with the needle! So many little unforeseen problems, not being able to go away on holiday, always having to be at home at the same time each day, keeping his food intake monitored, stopping my neighbors from feeding him when he went begging, the list is endless” says Jane. But 4 years later, Oscar is still here, as healthy as possible in his condition, and if she had to, Jane would do it all over again for him.
Jock the Poodle’s story:
Jock is a toy poodle who had been taking Vetsulin for a couple of years as a treatment for diabetes. The problem was that it can have side effects and caused kidney and liver failure. With Dr Carol, a famous vet, Jock’s dad Eddie started a new treatment with new insulin, and stopped checking Jock’s sugar levels by pricking him in the ear with a needle each day to get a drop of blood. Instead he would buy urine glucose test strips which happened to be more precise and more adapted to Jock’s condition. After a while and with vitamin, fluids, a homemade diet and care, Jock regained normal kidney function and a better functioning liver. Jock is now like a new happy and tail-wagging dog.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of a vet specialized in diabetes. Eddie’s regular vet obviously wasn’t incompetent, but he was trained to deal with a special case like Jock’s. This is why, in doubt, you should always seek second advice and try and conjugate doctors’ different skills.
Sir, the French rescue cat:
This big black and white cat called Sir (Monsieur in French) was rescued by his new mom after escaping euthanasia. He was in a very bad shape but the vet of the shelter gave him a second chance by finding him a dedicated mom to take care of him even if he was diabetic. Mary and her vet had a hard time finding the right dose of insulin for him. When they did, Sir was well for a year before starting to lose weight again despite eating enormously. They had to re-evaluate the right dose of insulin and found he also had cardiac problems. He now has to take pills every day for his heart. Mary has to inject him insulin with a needle, twice a day, every 12 hours. She has to organize her day so that she can do it precisely on time. She takes Sir with her when she’s away if she can. If not, she has to ask a trustful person to take care of the cat.
Taking care of a diabetic pet is challenging. But isn’t saving your best friend’s life rewarding?