In normal animals, glucose (sugar) from the diet is transported into the cells of the body with the help of insulin. Let’s ignore the Tappan Zee Bridge for a moment. If glucose is in Westchester and needs to get to Rockland, it needs to take the Insulin ferry to get there. In most dogs, and Type 1 diabetics (in people), there are no ferries to be had i.e. the pancreas is not producing any insulin at all. Most diabetic cats are like people with Type 2 Diabetes. Type 2 diabetics have the Insulin ferry but it is old, slow, never runs on time, and can’t meet the demand for service. The result of either type of Diabetes is a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream because it can’t get transported into the cells of the body, due to little or no insulin.
Typical symptoms of Diabetes include increased thirst, increased urination, and increased appetite accompanied by weight loss. The diagnosis is made by doing a blood glucose test. Cats that are stressed when a blood test is taken may have a temporary rise in blood glucose. A blood test called fructosamine gives an average of blood glucose over the prior 1-2 weeks and can help rule out an elevation in blood glucose that is from a single stressful episode.
If your pet is diagnosed with Diabetes your veterinarian may screen for additional problems, such as a urinary tract infection, which frequently accompanies diabetes. It is very important to treat and resolve urinary tract and dental infections, because these conditions can make regulating the insulin level much more difficult.
Unfortunately, there is just no substitute for insulin. Insulin must be provided to the patient, either by injection or by oral medication. Oral medication, such as Glipizide, can occasionally be used to increase the pancreas’ production of insulin. It will only work if the pancreas still has some ability to produce insulin (the ferry is there, but it is sluggish).
Oral medication is usually not an option in diabetic dogs since their pancreas doesn’t have the ability to produce insulin. A minority of cats are able to be stabilized with oral diabetic medication alone. Most pets will need insulin injections administered by their owners. Your veterinarian will use blood glucose curves and fructosamine levels to best determine the optimal insulin level to give to your diabetic pet.
Diet plays an important role in regulation of diabetes. Overweight cats can be difficult to regulate, so a medically supervised weight loss program may be beneficial. Diet recommendations differ for dogs vs. cats. The optimal diet for diabetic cats is a low carbohydrate high protein diet. Diabetic dogs generally do best with a high fiber diet.
Monitoring of your pet’s diabetic control can be done at home with dipstick testing of the urine. Some owners elect to purchase glucometer kits which allow blood glucose testing at home. The diagnosis of diabetes in your pet need not be a cause for concern. With the help and support of your veterinarian, you and your pet will get through it!
Co-owner of Valley Cottage Animal Hospital, Dr. Diane Tortorice was awarded her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 1991 from North Carolina State University. Dr. Tortorice joined the Valley Cottage Animal Hospital medical team in 1997 and became a partner in 1999. She is a member of the Westchester / Rockland Veterinary Medical Association and has served as secretary, vice president and president.
Dr. Diane Tortorice is a board certified Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners specializing in Canine and Feline Practice. The American Board of Veterinary Practitioners was established in 1978 to recognize excellence in clinical practice through the certification of species-oriented specialists.
Dr. Tortorice has served as a veterinary volunteer at both the World Trade Center and New Orleans animal disaster sites. She has been a member of the Rockland County Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) since 2004 and in 2006 served as the founding veterinary member of the County Animal Response Team of Rockland (CARToR). In 2008, the Westchester / Rockland Veterinary Medical Association awarded her with both the Past-President Award and the Merit Award for leadership and contributions to emergency and disaster preparedness for Rockland County.
By Diane B. Tortorice, DVM, ABVP