How to Care for Pets with Diabetes


 2022-08-12

The discussion often centers on humans, but diabetes isn’t a condition exclusive to us. It can also affect your pets! Don’t worry, though—pets with diabetes can still live long, healthy lives if their diabetes is diagnosed early and managed well.

Here’s what you need to know about diabetes in your pets.

Know the risk factors and signs

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs with diabetes are usually diagnosed at seven to ten years old, while cats are usually diagnosed at six years or older. However, diabetes can develop in an animal at any age.

One study found that certain dog breeds have a higher risk of diabetes, including Samoyeds, Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles, Pugs and Toy Poodles. Another study found these cat breeds to have the highest risk: Tonkinese, Norwegian Forest and Burmese.

Risk factors for diabetes in animals include:

  • Obesity
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (overactivity of the adrenal glands) in dogs
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactivity of the thyroid) gland in cats
  • Pancreatitis
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Skin infections
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Consuming more daily calories than needed

Early symptoms include:

  • Excessive thirst (emptying the water bowl frequently)
  • Increased urination (more accidents in the house)
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Increased appetite
  • Cloudy eyes (particularly in dogs)
  • Chronic/recurring infections
  • Chronic/recurring yeast infections in female dogs/cats

Some advanced signs include:

  • Loss of appetite and energy
  • Vomiting
  • Depressed attitude

If you recognize these symptoms, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. Treating your pet’s diabetes early and properly is crucial. Unmanaged diabetes in pets can lead to dangerous complications including cataracts, seizures, kidney failure and diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Unmanaged diabetes can also lead to premature death in your beloved pet.

How is diabetes in pets diagnosed?

Just like in humans, your veterinarian can check your pet’s blood sugar levels and ketone levels in urine to confirm a diabetes diagnosis.

Your veterinarian may also check your pet’s blood for electrolyte imbalances or high liver enzymes.

How is diabetes in pets treated?

Diabetes treatment for pets usually includes three parts:

  • Insulin: The recommended treatment for most pets is usually insulin, often in the form of injections twice a day. Most dogs with diabetes require insulin. Your veterinarian will teach you how to administer injections and time them appropriately with your pet’s meals. The cost of treatment will vary depending on the size of your pet and how much insulin they require. It usually ranges from $30-150 per month. Fortunately, most pet insurance will cover treatment for diabetes.
  • Diet: A healthy diet can help your pet live a longer life. This typically means quality protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates to slow the absorption of glucose (sugar) from the carbohydrates in their meals. Your veterinarian may also recommend a low-fat diet. If your pet has been getting one too many treats lately, your veterinarian will definitely recommend being careful with these extra calories for pets who are overweight.
  • Exercise: A moderate, consistent exercise routine can help prevent sudden drops or spikes in glucose levels. Take your dog on daily walks or play a game of frisbee!

Taking care of a pet with diabetes isn’t easy, but it can usually help them live a long healthy life! It’s worth the work if you’re able to provide this level of care.

Things to consider for a pet with diabetes

Your pet’s treatment will probably start with a lot of visits to the vet for checkups and medication adjustments, but the diabetes management you do at home is equally as important. Your veterinarian will likely recommend a daily glucose-monitoring system to ensure your pet’s blood sugar levels stay in a safe and healthy range.

Here are some additional steps you can take:

  • Timing: Consider waiting until your pet is eating to give insulin, just to make sure your pet actually eats. (Animals can be finicky!) If you give an insulin injection and your pet doesn’t eat, it could cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugar.
  • Water: Since your pet’s new diet will likely include more fiber, drinking plenty of water is important to prevent complications like constipation.
  • Watch out for low blood sugar: If your pet takes insulin, keep an eye out for signs of hypoglycemia, including weakness, tremors and loss of appetite. Changes in the dosing and frequency of insulin should be made by your veterinarian.
  • Consistency is key: Whether it’s the timing of the injections or the amount of food fed, try to be consistent. And don’t underestimate the benefits of those daily walks!
  • Communicate: If you notice anything new about your pet’s behavior, make sure to contact your veterinarian and get it checked out. Ask any questions you have and make sure you’re clear on your pet’s diabetes management plan!

The bottom line

If you have any concerns about your pet’s health or symptoms, consult with your veterinarian to get a professional diagnosis, and always schedule regular examinations. Remember, with the right treatment and care, your pet with diabetes can live a long, happy life in good health!

WRITTEN BY Kaley Kwan, POSTED 08/12/22, UPDATED 08/12/22

Kaley Kwan is an editorial content intern. She is a student at Purdue University and has written for The Los Altos Town Crier, Beyond Type 1 and other publications. While she’s not working on her computer science degree, she enjoys swimming and diving into a new fantasy book.