Diabetes

What is Diabetes?

Glucose (blood sugar) provides the cells in the body with the energy they need to live and function. Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in an organ called the pancreas. Sometimes the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body fail to respond to insulin properly, meaning that :

- the cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and

- too much glucose remains in the blood

This condition is called "diabetes mellitus", which is often shortened to just "diabetes". Diabetes is therefore basically caused by a lack of available insulin.

Diabetes mellitus is seen in cats and dogs of all ages, sexes and breeds. However, it is most often typically seen in neutered tom cats and bitches.

Can diabetes be cured?

Usually the underlying cause of the diabetes cannot be "cured" , but with the establishment of a regular routine and the use of an insulin preparation such as Caninsulin, yourt pet can lead a normal, happy life.  Diabetes in cats can be transient, and signs may disappear with weight loss.  Insulin administration is often necessary for a short while or longer.  Low carbohydrate diets are also beenficial.

What are the signs of diabetes?

When the blood contains a high level of glucose, some of it is able to 'leak' through the kidneys and it begins to appear in the urine (in healthy animals there should be no sugar in the urine). This then causes increased urinje production. To replace this fluid loss, the affected animal must then drink extra water.  So an owner may notice that their pet has an increased thirst and needs to go to the toilet more often or has accidents in the house.  Also, because an important energy source is being lost from the body, affected animals tend to lose weight, even though they often eat more than usual. Finally, there may be more general signs such as lethargy and poor coat condition.

Diagnosis

The signs listed above suggest that diabetes could be present, but they can also be caused by a number of other diseases. Therefore, your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis. A persistently high level of glucose in the blood is the most reliable indicator that a pet is diabetic.

Treatment

The main aim of treatment is to restore a good quality of life, not just for your pet but for you as well. We can do this by stopping the signs of diabetes described earlier.

An additional benefit of treatment is that it helps to reduce diabetic complications. Although pets tend to escape some of the more serious complications that we see in human diabetes, cats will have a higher incidence of problems such as muscle weakness/hind leg problems and high bloodpressure, and cataracts are also a problem in dogs.  Urine infections are a common complication due to the high level of sugar in the urine

Just as in people, diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of Insulin. In animals, this is generally given at a fixed time once or twice a day.

A regular routine, including not only the insulin injections but also feeding and weight control, is vital to the successful treatment of diabetic pets. The veterinary nurses can give you advice on these matters.

Starting Treatment

Each animal's requirement for insulin is different and your vet will need to tailor the dosage of insulin to your pet's needs. It can take several months to achieve full stabilisation, although improvements should be seen within a few weeks of starting treatment.

The starting dose of insulin may be worked out to your pet's weight and if its blood sugar concentration. Your vet may take further blood samples after the first injection to check that the dose is right for your animal. You will be shown how to draw up the correct dose of insulin using special syringes and how to give injection. It is surprising how easy it will become with a little practice.

Once insulin therapy has been adjusted to your pet's needs, he or she should improve rapidly. You will need to keep in close contact with your vet but the frequency of your visits should reduce once the optimum routine is found. You should never alter the dose of insulin given without consulting your vet.

You may be asked to test urine samples on a regular basis to check for glucose and toxins, using special sticks, supplied by your vet. These give an extra indication of how your pet is getting on. Small amounts of glucose in the urine may be acceptable, but he presence of ketones is usually an indicator of a problem. Always consult your vet if you are unsure what to do or if your are concerned at all.

Low blood Glucose (Hypoglycaemia)

One potentially dangerous complication that you should be able to prepared for is 'hypoglycaemia'; this is when the blood sugar level falls too low. This may happen if too much insulin given or if your pet refuses to eat. In this situation, the brain, which is very dependent on a supply of glucose, cannot get enough energy.

The early signs include unrest or lethargy, weakness and shivering/muscle twitching, progressing to fits and unconsciousness. The conditions is potentially life-threatening.

What to do if you see signs if hypoglycaemia

1) Give food immediately

2) If your cat doesn't eat straight away, syringe a glucose solution into the mouth and/or rub glucose powder on the gums and under the tongue. Take care not to get bitten.

3) Call your veterinary surgeon for advice

Summary

When you find that your cat is a diabetic it can be a daunting experience - there is a lot to learn in the first few weeks. However, in time, many owners establish a routine that becomes second nature to both them and their pets. Looking after a diabetic animal is a challenging, yet rewarding undertaking. It must be accepted that regular injections, fixed routine and frequent visits to the vet will become a way of life. However, with the right care, your pet can enjoy a full and happy life after the diagnosis of diabetes.