Diabetes in Pets – Understanding and Managing Care

Jul 22, 2020 | Care & Wellness, Cats, Diagnosis, Dogs

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a disease where the body cannot use glucose (a type of sugar) normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the cells in the body and it comes from the food pets eat, is transferred to the bloodstream and brought to the cells. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is then required for the glucose to be absorbed and utilized by the cells. Diabetes in pets causes the body’s cells to become starved because they cannot get enough glucose, and the body is stimulated to make more and more glucose. However, because the glucose cannot get from the bloodstream into the cells, the cells will continue to starve and the pet will develop symptoms from the excess sugar in the body and from the breakdown of fat to try to feed the starving cells.

Types of Diabetes Mellitus in Pets

In veterinary medicine, there are two types of diabetes mellitus, Type I DM and Type II DM. Type I diabetes is when the pancreas does not make insulin. Type II diabetes is when the pancreas makes some insulin, but not enough. Dogs typically have Type I diabetes and are dependent on insulin injections for life. Cats typically have Type II diabetes and have the potential to go into remission or resolve the diabetes if the pancreas improves its insulin production. Insulin injections are still needed for most diabetic felines, but some cats can resolve the diabetes with good glucose control and proper diet, and may not need insulin injections for life.

Typical Signs of Diabetes Mellitus in Animals

  • Frequent and excessive urination
  • Excessive thirst and drinking
  • Always hungry and excessive eating
  • Weight loss
  • Sometimes lack of energy and increased tiredness
  • Sometimes cloudy appearance to eyes in dogs

Risk Factors for Diabetes in Pets

Any dog or cat can develop DM, but there are certain trends and risk factors as well.

General Risk Factors:

    • Obesity
    • Long term steroid use
    • Other underlying diseases


    • Older than 6 years of age
    • Neutered males more commonly
    • Certain breeds


    • Typically 8-10 years of age
    • Females more commonly
    • Certain breeds

Diagnosing Diabetes Mellitus in Pets

Diabetes is diagnosed when blood and urine test results show a consistently high level of glucose in the blood and urine. Other tests may also be recommended depending on symptoms and other lab results to determine if there is other concurrent medical diseases.

Managing Your Dog or Cat’s Diabetes Mellitus

Pets with diabetes usually require life-long treatment and frequent monitoring. It is important to keep your diabetic pet’s blood sugar as near normal as possible to avoid life-threatening complications. Treating and managing diabetes in pets will vary depending on if the animal is a cat or dog and other factors, but typically will require some or all of the following: insulin injections (usually twice daily); diet modification; weight loss; regular monitoring of blood and urine tests; regular physical exams; monitoring of pet’s activity level, weight, appetite, urine and drinking habits.

If you notice any of the typical signs of diabetes (listed above), contact your veterinarian to make an appointment as soon as possible. The sooner diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis. Diabetic pets can live long healthy lives with early detection, good management and proper veterinary care.

– Dr. Kelly Stern

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