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Common Conditions - Diabetes - Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes Mellitus

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a common disorder in both people and pets, especially older pets.  It is caused by a lack of insulin in the body or a lack of response to insulin.  Insulin is produced in the pancreas and allows the body’s cells to utilise glucose from the blood for energy.  When an animal does not have enough insulin, glucose levels in the blood increase and glucose may be found in the urine.  Meanwhile, without insulin, the body is forced to use energy sources other than glucose.  Unfortunately, this is not optimal and leads to the build up of toxins in the blood.

How is Diabetes diagnosed?

Diagnosis of diabetes is usually straightforward.  A simple blood test to show the increased level of glucose is all that is required to detect this disease.  However, urine tests and further blood tests can help determine the severity of the effects of diabetes on the body.  Diabetic pets can be further divided on the basis of tests into those suffering “simple” diabetes mellitus, or those with a more serious condition called “ketoacidotic diabetes mellitus”

Clinical signs of diabetes will vary with the severity of the disease but can include the following:

  • Increased thirst and increased urination
  • Increased appetite with variable weight changes (often increase in early stages)
  • May be depressed and lethargic
  • May be vomiting
  • May have sweet “acetone” breath
  • May be dehydrated
  • May develop cataracts in the eyes

How is diabetes treated?

Treatments of diabetes depend on the severity of the disease.  Most pets with diabetes will require insulin injections once or twice daily. Once an animal is diagnosed as a diabetic, more tests to determine how the diabetes is affecting the body are necessary. 

“Simple” diabetics who are eating well will often start insulin injections straight away and spend only a short time in hospital for monitoring.  The pet can then go home for their owner to give regular insulin injections.  Often dietary changes are necessary and diabetics need to be fed at times suitable for their insulin levels.  Diabetic pets will also need to revisit the veterinary clinic for regular blood glucose monitoring.  This is important as insulin requirements can change over time and with changes in lifestyle.

Pets with more severe ketoacidotic diabetes will require more treatment, more monitoring, a longer period in hospital and have a poorer prognosis.  These pets usually require a longer period of hospitalisation with intravenous fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.  They also need very intensive monitoring as well as insulin injections.  It can take a long time to stabilise very sick diabetics, and some do not respond well to treatment.  Owners must be aware of the time, costs and possible poor outcome before treatment is started.

With regular monitoring and treatment, good control of blood glucose levels is possible in most cases.  This reduces the risk of long term side effects such as cataracts.  It is also important to rule out concurrent diseases that may effect glucose control.  Most pets with diabetes will need to have their blood glucose checked every few months.  This involves a day in hospital with several blood tests through the day, as blood glucose levels fluctuate.

If you have any further questions regarding diabetes, or any other health problem, always feel free to speak to our friendly staff.  Overall, with treatment, most diabetics can look forward to a happy, healthy life.

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