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Most people know or have an idea of what diabetes is, a disorder where the body doesn’t produce or utilize insulin properly, which causes blood sugar levels to become too high. Not everyone is aware that disease can also affect dogs and cats. As in people though, diabetes in dogs and cats can be treated.
What are some signs that your pet may have diabetes? The first signs you as an owner may notice are that your pet is drinking an excessive amount of water and urinating excessively. They may also be losing weight although they are eating normally or even eating more than usual. It is more common in older, overweight pets. As with most diseases, the earlier it is diagnosed the better the long term outcome. Your veterinarian will give your pet a thorough exam and run blood work and possibly a urinalysis to determine if diabetes is the cause. Left untreated, diabetes is fatal.
Although hearing that your pet is diabetic can be frightening, keep in mind that diabetes can be treated and many pets go on to live a normal, happy life. You will have a big part in the care and treatment of your pet though, so it’s good to have an idea of what will be involved in keeping your diabetic pet happy and healthy.
“Consistency” probably best describes what is involved in caring for a diabetic pet. Mealtimes, amount of food and treats fed, exercise and insulin injections will all need to be given at roughly the same time every day. The more consistent you are the better for your pet.
So what exactly is involved?
1. Diet-It’s important to feed a high quality diet to your diabetic pet. Your veterinarian may recommend a particular diet. It’s also important that you feed a consistent amount, at the same time every day. Most diabetics will need two meals a day, and are usually fed before being given their insulin injections. You also need to be careful not to give too many treats in between meals, as regulating your pet’s glucose (sugar) level is very dependent on how many calories it takes in. A wide fluctuation of calories can make it harder to regulate.
2. Exercise-Just as in providing consistent amounts of food is important, providing the same amount of exercise everyday is also important for keeping your pet’s glucose levels consistent. Strenuous exercise, especially for a pet that’s not accustomed to it, should be avoided.
3. Insulin-This is the part most owners dread. Yes, you will have to give your pet injections every day. Most people find that this is not as bad as they had feared it wou
ld be. Your veterinarian or vet tech will show you how to draw up and administer the injections. If you have any questions be sure to ask! There are ways you can make this easier for you and your pet. Having someone else to hold your pet when you’re first learning how can help. They can often give a small treat to distract your pet while you give them the injection. If given extra attention or a special treat, many pets will not even notice the injection as the needle used is very small.
There are a few other things you should know. When your pet is first diagnosed, it will usually have to stay at the hospital to have what is known as a “glucose curve” done. This is how your veterinarian finds out how much insulin your pet will need. For the first month or two, you will probably have to make a weekly trip to the vet so that we can monitor its glucose levels to see how it is responding to treatment. It’s not uncommon for the amount of insulin given to be adjusted over the first couple of months till we find the right amount for your pet. After that, if your pet is responding well to treatment, the amount of time between glucose checks can be lengthened. Your vet will also go over the signs of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, some of which are lethargy, confusion, loss of coordination and vomiting. Hypoglycemia can be very serious if it occurs. Keeping a bottle of corn syrup on hand, that you can use to spoon into your pet, or rub on his gums if he is unconscious is a good idea. If your pet becomes ill, especially if it is not eating, you should have it checked right away. Illness can affect insulin levels, so it’s important to have your pet seen promptly.
As with any medical issue or disease that involves your pet we are here to help. Learning to care for your diabetic pet can seem overwhelming at first, so you may want to write down any questions you have to be sure you get all the answers you need. Commitment is needed, but diabetes can be treated, and the level of care you give your pet can be very rewarding in the long run for both of you.