Diabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas stops making insulin. Insulin is a hormone needed for the muscles and organs of the body to use glucose, the sugar from digesting/processing food. Without insulin, the blood glucose is very high, but organs and muscles cannot take in the glucose and use it. The body’s organs and muscles think they are starving, even though there is abundant sugar around. This perceived starvation makes diabetics very hungry, but they lose weight, which are two of the main symptoms of diabetes. The high blood sugar results in high urine sugar, which makes diabetics urinate a lot, and then, in turn, makes them drink a lot, two other common symptoms of diabetes.
The body normally makes insulin after food has been eaten, so when the body is not making its own insulin, as in diabetics, we need to replace this with synthetic insulin, by injecting a synthetic insulin. Synthetic insulin lasts for 12 hours, so it should not be given multiple times a day, every time the pet eats, but rather, the meals need to be adjusted to fit this duration of insulin. A diabetic pet should be fed every 12 hours, and receive injections of insulin every 12 hours, for optimum diabetic control.
Diabetic control, or regulation, refers to having the right dose to keep the pet’s blood sugar steady, not too high, and not too low, throughout the day. This requires a combination of factors: feeding and giving insulin every 12 hours, giving the same dose of insulin, and figuring out the perfect dose of insulin for each individual patient. A prescription diabetic diet can also aid in diabetic regulation, and can help keep insulin dose needs as low as possible. If a diabetic is not well-regulated, their blood sugar is high most of the day, leading to many other problems, including weight loss, diabetes symptoms, decreased immune system, pancreatitis, urinary tract infections, and cataracts. Up to 90% of diabetic dogs will develop cataracts in the first year of being diabetic, and this causes blindness.
Finding each pet’s individual insulin needs involves a starting dose of insulin, home monitoring, and monitoring of this dose’s effectiveness with a blood glucose curve, done in the hospital over 12 hours, 2 weeks after starting the insulin, or changing the insulin dose. Home monitoring involves watching for the signs noted below for too much or too little insulin. With the help of your veterinarian, a diabetic dog or cat can be a happy, healthy dog or cat, and we can prevent many of the complications of diabetes.