Most of us, when we think of diabetes, tend to focus on older people, but this disease is not limited to this demographic. Although the causes may differ; the old, the young (even babies) and even our animal friends suffer from diabetes mellitus. Both cats and dogs are afflicted, most of them middle-aged or older. Many animals come to my office looking absolutely normal. Their owners have come because they are beginning to see signs of increased thirst and urination and perhaps the beginning of weight loss. They look normal because the blood sugar has not been high enough long enough to cause severe metabolic changes.
Diabetes is caused by the inability of the body to control blood sugar. While many factors are involved, the regulation of blood glucose (sugar) by insulin is the main one. Insulin allows the sugar in the blood to be absorbed by the cells of the body and sent all over to nourish all our body parts. This vital hormone is produced in the pancreas. In some animals there is actually insulin produced, but various factors don’t allow it to be absorbed properly. Sometimes just weight loss will alleviate this “insulin resistance” and some cats will actually get over their diabetes and not require any more insulin. However, most animals’ pancreases have lost their ability to produce insulin. (Similar to human juvenile diabetes.) The beta cells, where insulin is produced, are no longer able to make insulin. Scar tissue takes its place or severe inflammation from pancreatitis limits their insulin-making.
The elevation of blood sugar affects many diverse tissues. Peripheral nerve tissue, brain cells, the lining of the digestive tract, the eyes, kidneys and liver all show signs of dysfunction. Therefore we try to get higher levels of glucose back to normal to prevent severe complications.
The main treatment for diabetes is injection of insulin and a decrease of carbohydrates in the diet. There are a few diets available by prescription that are made specifically for diabetics. Food is given in equal amounts twice a day, starting after the first AM injection. There are many types of insulin and one size does not fit all. I’ve found that both cats and dogs need insulin twice a day. To determine the dosage, veterinarians start with a small amount per pound and do serial glucose determinations in a 12-24 hour period to see if the amount given lowers the blood sugar and, depending on the numbers, the dose is adjusted. Owners can do a rough estimate of efficacy by checking for sugar in the urine twice daily and adjusting the insulin dose depending on the number. Sometimes too much insulin is given and a low blood sugar event occurs (hypoglycemia). Depending on its severity, the symptoms can go from moderate weakness to coma and death. The owners of these pets must be vigilant to properly feed, give insulin and have awareness of the signs of high or low blood sugars. While many of my clients think they cannot manage a pet’s diabetes, most do well and are justifiably proud of their ability to extend their pet’s life.
Since my last column, my recovery from double knee replacement surgery has gone well. I’m skiing and snow-shoeing again and not tripping over Oliver and Tunie. Oliver is still sneaking out when we open the door to let Tunie use the backyard; he hides outside and will not respond to our efforts to find him. Last night I sent Tunie out with orders to find the cat and she led me right up to the bush he was hiding behind. I wonder if there is any money or need for an Oliver-sniffing dog?
I am enjoying this last year in Valley Cottage Tuesday thru Thursday at the Hudson Valley Animal Hospital. It’s a nice schedule to have in my twilight years.
Enjoy the beginning (hopefully) of the warm weather and bright flowers.
Dr. Segall can be reached Tues thru Thurs mornings at The Hudson Valley Animal Hospital, 4 Old Lake Rd Valley Cottage, NY (845) 268-0089 ex 3.