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According to the Merck Veterinary Manual,1 diabetes mellitus is a common endocrine disorder in cats and dogs, with 1 in every 300 veterinary patients presenting with this disease. At the Fetch Coastal conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Liza Wysong, BAS, RVT, VTS (CP-CF, SAIM), program director at Rowan College of South Jersey, noted that the severity in patients ranges in diabetes, from patients that are there for a checkup and you incidentally reveal they have the disease to those that are in critical condition.2
Signs of diabetes in pets
The American Veterinary Medical Association lists the common signs of diabetes in pets as3:
- Excessive thirst and increased urination
- Weight loss, even though there is an increased appetite
- Decreased appetite
- Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)
- Chronic or recurring infections (eg, urinary tract infections, skin infections)
Wysong noted that though these symptoms may be obvious to a veterinary professional, owners may describe them in different ways. “Some dog owners will say, they'll notice that their pets’ eyes don't seem as bright anymore or they look a little funny.” Veterinary professionals know this likely indicates cataract formation in an uncontrolled diabetic dog, said Wysong. A cat owner may reveal their feline isn’t jumping normally, which may indicate diabetic neuropathy to those in veterinary medicine.1
Wysong led a lecture2 offering insight to fellow veterinary professionals on working with pet owners and their companion animals with varying diabetic conditions. “Depending on how [the patient] comes in is very much going to depend on how you need to manage them, what kind of care they need, and how that discussion goes with long-term management.” She added, “For owners, this is hard. I'm sure tons of you have had [clients] say, ‘I didn't even know pets can get diabetes.’ They [go] from not knowing that pets could get diabetes to ‘I have to manage this lifelong condition.’ It’s big, it's scary, and a lot to absorb. We must understand what's going on, so that we can guide them because they’re going to need a lot of support.”
Type 1 vs Type 2 diabetes
Wysong started by defining diabetes as a state of chronic hyperglycemia that arises because of an issue with the pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin. Type 1 diabetes involves immune-mediated beta cell destruction, “So those cells are being destroyed,” explained Wysong. “If those cells are being destroyed, you can’t make insulin…and eventually, they will completely lose that ability [to make insulin].”
Rather, in Type 2 diabetes, the pancreatic beta cells aren’t being destroyed, they are just not working correctly and are in a state of insulin resistance. “There is insulin being produced, but it's probably not enough, and the insulin they are producing, the body can't respond to it appropriately,” she told attendees.
Cat vs dog diabetics
According to Wysong, cats often suffer from Type 2 diabetes. Because of this, the remission rate in felines can be as high as 90%.1 “The best way to get [cats] into remission is to achieve what they call tight glycemic control in less than 6 months,” Wysong said. “If they can get their blood glucose down and reasonable in a short amount of time and be able to save the cells, those are the cats likely to get into remission.”
Meanwhile, dogs typically have type 1 diabetes and in the absence of predisposing disease, this condition is still typically life-long1 because of the pancreatic beta cell destruction. “Even if we catch it early in the course of disease [for dogs], maybe they're still making some insulin, but eventually it's going to stop,” Wysong said. “We can't fix that, we can't reverse that, those pancreatic beta cells are going to be destroyed and no longer function.” Wysong emphasized it’s important to remember this as a veterinary professional so you are mindful that you can only do so much, and so you can inform the pet owner on how diabetes progresses in dogs as they can often feel like they failed when their pet succumbs to the disease.
Diabetes resources for veterinary professionals
Wysong shared with attendees 2 excellent resources for when faced with diabetic patients. These include the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats4 and the International Society of Feline Medicine Consensus Guidelines on the Practical Management of Diabetes Mellitus in Cats.5 The former addresses dogs and cats while the latter is specific to cats. Wysong prefers the AAHA’s guidelines “just because they’re a little more robust [and] they have some algorithms…[and] some of the steps and some of the processes you might want to go through.” They also have a resource center with printouts you can distribute to clients for further education.
Wysong emphasized that it’s important to be mindful that these are just guides and to incorporate a tailored approach for each patient. “Not everything is going to work for every patient, not every disease is going to be the same way in different patients, so it's going to be a little bit different. But [the guidelines are] helpful because it gives you a good solid background,” she said.
- Bruyette D. Diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats. Merck Veterinary Manual. Reviewed and Revised July 2019. Updated October 2022. Accessed October 18, 2023. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-pancreas/diabetes-mellitus-in-dogs-and-cats
- Monitoring the diabetic patient. Presented at: Fetch dvm360 conference; Atlantic City, New Jersey. October 9-11, 2023.
- Diabetes in pets. American Veterinary Medical Association. Accessed October 18, 2023.https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/diabetes-pets
- 2018 AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats. American Animal Hospital Association. Updated 2022. Accessed October 18, 2023. https://www.aaha.org/aaha-guidelines/diabetes-management/diabetes-management-home
- Sparkes AH, Cannon M, Church D. ISFM consensus guidelines on the practical management of diabetes mellitus in cats. J Feline Med Surg. 2015 Mar;17(3):235-50. doi: 10.1177/1098612X15571880