Diabetes in Pets

Your pet’s body uses glucose (sugar) as its main source of energy. If your pet has diabetes it can’t use glucose the way it should. Diabetes mellitus is the full name of the disease. There is another disease called diabetes insipidus. It is completely different and has nothing to do with sugar.

Diabetes in Cats

Who gets it

Diabetes is more common in male pets and in pets that are middle-age or older. However, any dog or cat can get it. Pets are more likely to have diabetes if they are overweight or have had pancreatitis several times.  Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas gland. 


Some drugs, like steroids (cortisone) and certain hormones, can cause diabetes in pets.  


Since there is not enough insulin, sugar in the blood builds up. The excess sugar also goes into the urine.  This extra sugar draws more water into the urine. This makes your pet urinate more. Because he’s urinating more, he needs to drink more water. This is the most common sign you will notice. Your pet will be drinking and urinating more than normal.


Your pet will feel hungry because there isn’t enough glucose in the cells. He may lose weight because the body isn’t able to use the sugar.  


Veterinarians can easily diagnose diabetes. There are high levels of glucose in the blood and urine. When pets are stressed, some will have a spike in their blood glucose. However, they won’t have glucose in their urine. The urine may show ketones if it’s advanced.  



Sick pets with diabetic ketoacidosis will be hospitalized.  They need IV fluids and insulin.  Fortunately, most cases are found before they get to this stage. 


Successful treatment of diabetes is a multi-step process that involves a change in diet, weight management or weight loss programs, and insulin treatment. With proper, aggressive treatment, pets can live normal lives and some can even lose the need for insulin.


Proper diet and exercise are important. A high protein and low carbohydrate diet is best for pets.   You can get a prescription diet from your veterinarian, but these are often still too high in carbohydrates for a diabetic pet. The lowest carbohydrate foods are canned foods that are available in retail stores.

Meals on a regular schedule are important, too. Because your diabetic pet will do best on a canned diet, gone are the days of free-feeding, since canned food cannot be left out for long periods of time. This method is better anyway, though, because it will allow you to control your pet’s food portions better and help overweight pets lose weight.

Giving Insulin

Treatment of diabetes usually requires insulin injections twice daily. While some veterinarians recommend set doses of insulin twice daily, others will practice a method of adjusting your pet’s dose based on the blood glucose level at the time the insulin is due (known as “tight regulation”). The latter method is, by far, the most effective.


Some pets can be treated with an oral medication. The drawback of oral medicine is that it can take 3-4 months to know if it is working, which is too long to allow a pet’s glucose to go unregulated. The sooner diabetes is controlled the better, so oral treatment is only used as a last resort.


Most people have a fear of giving their pet an injection or learning to test the pet’s blood glucose at home.  The needles used are very small and most pets don’t feel the “prick”. Almost everyone can learn. Your veterinarian will show you how.


Regardless of the treatment method chosen, your pet will need a “blood glucose curve” a week or so after insulin is started. Your pet is given an insulin injection and then has his blood tested every hour or two for 12 to 24 hours. If you have not learned to test your pet’s glucose at home to practice tight regulation, you’ll need to bring your pet to the hospital for a day to have your veterinarian conduct this test.

At Home

At home, it is important to pay close attention to how your pet is doing. Keep track of  your pet’s weight and appetite. Also notice how much he drinks and urinates.  How he does at home is an important clue to how well he’s regulated.  

Blood sugar too low

Any pet receiving insulin could possibly have his blood sugar level drop too low. This can be an emergency.  Initial signs are restlessness, acting hungry, twitching, nervousness, or even just more quiet than usual. Signs will progress to weakness, staggering or seizures.


This can happen if your pet vomits or doesn’t eat normally after receiving insulin. It can also happen if he needs less insulin. This is part of why learning to test at home is important as well. Your pet is at a much lower risk of having his glucose drop too low if you’re making sure he actually needs insulin before you give it. Regardless, pet parents must have corn syrup or honey on hand for emergency use if blood sugar drops too low.


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