Diabetes in pets: What you need to know

November has been declared National Pet Diabetes Month to make pet owners everywhere aware that, just like people, our pets can also suffer from diabetes.

As every pet owner knows, it’s all too easy to give in to those cute puppy dog eyes and sneak an extra treat or two to our furry friends. And while a little indulgence from time to time may seem harmless, weight problems can cause some serious health issues for our pets, including diabetes.

The ninth annual National Pet Obesity Prevalence Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), found that 58% of U.S. cats and 54% of dogs were overweight in 2015. And experts worry that as obesity rates increase, diabetes will too.

“The most important way to prevent diabetes in pets is weight control,” says Dr. Lori Wise, DVM. “This is especially important in cats. Avoid higher carbohydrate diets in cats if possible.”

Just as in people, diabetes is the inability of the animal’s body to detect and regulate the uptake of glucose into the body. This is normally due to either an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin at all (Type 1 diabetes) or to produce enough insulin (Type 2 diabetes).

Although numbers are hard to pinpoint, it is believed that the prevalence of diabetes ranges from one in 50 to one in 400 for cats, and one in 200 to one in 500 in dogs.

Symptoms of diabetes in pets include excessive eating, excessive drinking, excessive urination, weight loss, persistent urinary tract infections, and even cataracts.

For cats that develop diabetes, it is almost always Type 2. This is also known as non-insulin dependent diabetes. Pudgy cats and cats taking steroids routinely can develop a resistance to insulin.

On the other hand, in dogs that develop diabetes, it is almost always Type 1. The exact reason why is unknown, but dogs that are overweight or on corticosteroids (prescribed for inflammation and includes the popular drug prednisone) for extended periods of time are predisposed to the disease.

Most pets do very well and have a good quality of life with treatment. “Many people are intimidated by the level of care that may be necessary, such as giving injections and home glucose monitoring,” says Dr. Wise. But diabetes in pets is not—and should not be—a death sentence.

Diabetic pets can be managed with injectable insulin, a good consistent diet, proper exercise, and weight loss. Diabetic dogs will almost always need to be on insulin for the remainder of their lives. Some cats can have their diabetes controlled and even reversed by good glucose control and proper diet.

If you think your cat or dog might be showing symptoms of diabetes, visit your veterinarian for testing and treatment. With proper training and consistent attention, you can help your pet live a long and happy life.

For more information on diabetes in pets, download this brochure from the American Veterinary Medical Association.

You can also download these helpful handouts from DVM360:
My Cat Has Diabetes—Now What?
My Dog Has Diabetes—Now What?


Thank you to our friends at the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association for these great tips. Join the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association on Facebook and receive tips on pet health, behavior, upcoming events, breaking news, and much more!