Spike, an Indie pup, was eating voraciously and urinating more often than is usual. Yet, he did not seem to be putting on any weight. Since he was just six-months-old, this worried his parents. When they brought him to me, he seemed like an underweight but happy dog. Assuming it may just be a urinary tract infection, we did a urine test and that’s when we noticed that his urine contained glucose, which is uncommon to find in puppies as young Spike. I immediately checked his blood glucose, which happened to be high. Spike was thus diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
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I often come across pets with diabetes, and when I confirm my suspicions and inform the owners, most of them are left aghast that dogs and cats can get it. Spike was lucky that the illness was diagnosed at an early stage. It’s apt we talk about it now, since November is observed as a diabetes awareness month in pets.
Most of us probably believe that when someone has diabetes, it means one cannot consume sugar. So, it’s natural to wonder how a pet might get this disease or what the best way of managing it could be. However, just like with humans, pets are diagnosed with diabetes when their bodies stop producing insulin or its not produced in sufficient quantity to utilize the glucose in the blood.
Apart from urinating frequently and eating voraciously like Spike was doing, symptoms of diabetes in older pets include drinking more water, recurrent skin and urinary tract infections, and sometimes even lack of appetite. Cats will start spending more hours sleeping, seem less playful, and may even urinate or defecate outside their litter tray. Cataract or a white cloudy opacity in your pet’s eye can also indicate that they may have the illness.
It is estimated that one in every 300 pet dogs and one in every 200 cats has the potential to have this illness in their senior years. In dogs, symptoms mostly show up after age seven, while cats above six years of age are more predisposed to diabetes. Besides obesity, any pet who has suffered from pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, is at higher risk of contracting diabetes.
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Certain breeds, like the Lhasa Apso and the Yorkshire Terrier are also more susceptible and genetically predisposed to this illness. Even gender-wise, research suggests female dogs are more likely to suffer from this ailment than males. Diabetes in young Indie dogs like Spike, however, is rare – unlike humans, juvenile diabetes is not as common in pet animals.
Since diabetes has no cure, all the pet parent can do is manage the progression of the illness. Many pets live long and comfortable lives on medication; some will need injections of insulin to keep the blood glucose in check. However, treatment always has to be tailored to individual pet needs. Pet parents should bear in mind that routine checks are required to keep adjusting the dose of medication depending on how well your pet is responding to the treatment.
It is also a good idea to monitor routinely, the blood glucose levels of your pet, at home. Learning how to use a glucometer, the same one that humans use, and keeping records of the readings, will help your vet treat your pet accordingly. Maintaining a good lifestyle with a good diet and exercise is a valuable aid in managing the illness. A high fibre, low fat, and low sugar diet is recommended for the diabetic pet. Fibre-rich food like papaya and carrots are a good addition to the meal. It is best to avoid including rice and bread in a diabetic pet’s diet. Depending on how severe the disease is, some pets may be put on prescription food made specially for diabetic pets.
Just like in humans, if the illness is left unchecked, it can lead to fatal consequences for your pet. Seizures and tremors often indicate a drop in blood glucose, and immediate first aid should be provided by giving them a small spoonful of honey before rushing them to the vet.
Due to the lack of awareness around diabetes in pets, many pets suffer with their illness going undiagnosed. If you have an older pet, it is advisable to get their blood glucose checked annually as a precaution. The right diagnosis at the right time, and starting on the right therapy can help your pet live a long and healthy life.
Dr Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai, who loves to play the piano in her free time and is ruled by her whimsical cat, Catbury, at home.