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Diabetes Mellitus PDF Print E-mail

Diabetes is a disorder characterized by persistently high blood sugar. Affected animals are either lacking insulin (Type I diabetes - typical of many dogs) or do not respond to insulin (Type II diabetes - typical of many cats).

 In normal animals, blood sugar rises after ingestion of carbohydrate or sugar containing foods. In response, the pancreas releases insulin which allows cells to utilize the circulating sugar or glucose for energy.

 Diabetics are not able to efficiently utilize circulating blood sugar for energy. Over time, the body slowly starves. Noticeable symptoms include increased drinking and urination, weight loss despite an increased appetite, cataracts (dogs), and rear leg weakness caused by neuropathy (cats). Over several months, the body will eventually decompensate by attempting to utilize ketones for energy in place of glucose. As ketone levels in the body rise, the normal body pH is disrupted causing a keto-acidotic state. Keto-acidotic animals become extremely ill, usually developing vomiting, diarrhea, and anorexia. Death will occur if this state is not corrected within several days to weeks.

 Patients that receive an overdose of insulin will experience low blood sugar or hypoglycemia. Signs of hypoglycemia many include weakness, depression, blindness, tremors or seizures, even coma. A severe episode of hypoglycemia may be referred to as "diabetic shock." If this state is not corrected quickly, death can result in minutes to hours. In conscious animals, eating a meal may correct the condition. In semi-conscious animals, applying a honey or karo syrup to the lips or gums can quickly raise the blood sugar. Severely affected animals may require IV dextrose to correct the problem.

 Diabetes is typically managed through appropriate diet and once or twice daily insulin injections. Some cats may be treated with hypoglycemic medications such as Glipizide instead of insulin. Keeping a good routine is very important to regulate diabetic patients. Frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels and urine glucose levels is also important. Clients need to be familiar with the signs of high and low blood sugar and contact their veterinarian if their pet develops any of these symptoms.