Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

Oct 30, 2015

Diabetes is a disease reaching epidemic proportions in humans, and diabetes in cats and dogs is also experiencing an increase in this often preventable condition. It’s important to understand the different types of diabetes in cats and dogs, the symptoms, and the standards of treatment as well as how integrative veterinary medicine can help manage the disease.


Diabetes Mellitus, Types I and II – Diabetes is a disease of the pancreas. The pancreas produces the hormone insulin which regulates the level of glucose (blood sugar) in the bloodstream and controls delivery of glucose to tissues throughout the body. Diabetes mellitus is the inability of the pancreas to regular blood sugar.

Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) is the total destruction of the pancreatic beta cells which produce insulin. Injections of insulin are necessary to regulate blood sugar. In people, type 2 diabetes, which used to be called “adult onset diabetes,” is now the form that is most common. With type 2 (non-insulin dependent), insulin-producing cells are present and functioning, but the amount of insulin produced is insufficient or the body tissues are resistant to the insulin. Diabetes mellitus is the most common diabetes in cats and dogs.

Diabetes Insipidus – This type affects the kidneys and their inability to filter the blood. The pituitary gland produces a hormone necessary for maintaining normal hydration. This hormone controls water excretion or resorption in the kidneys. Diabetes insipidus occurs if hormone production is too low or if the kidneys do not properly respond to the hormone. This type of diabetes is very rare in cats and dogs.

Diabetes mellitus affects cats of all ages and is more common in sedentary indoor cats. It is also obesity-petfitscalecommon in older dogs. Obesity is a critical risk factor in developing diabetes—especially in cats—so one way to avoid or manage this disease is through weight management. Proper nutrition and exercise or enrichment activities should be started in the pet’s first year and continued through the adult years.


Symptoms of diabetes in cats and dogs include increased thirst and urination, weight loss and increased appetite. For cats that spend a lot of time outside, symptoms may go unnoticed. Cats instinctually hide disease to protect themselves from predators which is why regular wellness visits with the veterinarian can uncover a medical condition before it reaches an advanced stage.

The diagnosis is confirmed with blood and urine samples. When cats experience stress, it may result in a temporary rise in glucose levels, so more than one blood sample taken over several days is often necessary. A blood test that can indicate the average level of blood sugar over the last few days is also available.

In the majority of cases, treatment will require insulin and dietary therapy. In cases of type 2 diabetes, remission is possible with dietary changes but is not always sustained over time, leading to insulin dependency. Dietary therapy includes weight loss if the pet is overweight or obese, a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and eating the same number of calories at regular times. Hospitalization during initial treatment may be required for cats and dogs in order to monitor and establish proper insulin levels, especially if the disease has reached a dangerous level.


The best way to manage diabetes in cats and dogs with alternative therapies—including holistic methods—is to find a veterinarian who is certified to practice integrative veterinary medicine. Diabetes can be a dangerous disease if blood sugar levels are not properly regulated, especially in insulin-dependent cases.

“An integrative medical approach to treatment focuses on a combination of traditional and non-traditional therapies best suited for the individual pet. Weight management is very important for pets with diabetes so proper nutrition plays a key role. Integrative veterinarians recognize that nutrition in animals is unique to the breed so it becomes a necessary component to resolving many medical problems,” explained Dr. David MacDonald, a veterinarian with Doylestown Veterinary Hospital who is certified in veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

Food therapy and herbal treatments are effective alternate therapies in helping to manage diabetes in cats and dogs. A change in diet is often necessary so food therapy is essential in helping the pet safely reach an optimal weight and control blood sugar levels by structuring a diet which takes the breed, lifestyle, and medical history into consideration. Herbal remedies can aid nutrient and pharmaceutical absorption, and the appropriate use of vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids can support the immune and digestive systems.54f5fdbbac854_-_01-dog-playing-fetch-lgn-58489584

With appropriate treatment and consistent monitoring, your pet’s health prognosis is good. A healthy lifestyle focused on diet and exercise is vital in maintaining optimal weight in hopes of either avoiding or successfully treating diabetes. Many people and pets with diabetes lead normal lives when the disease is managed properly.

If you are concerned about your pet’s health or have noticed a change in behavior or regular habits, call your veterinarian or call 215-345-6000 to schedule an appointment at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital.

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