Have you noticed that your dog or cat has become lethargic? Is your pet extremely thirsty, or does it eat often, but still seem to be losing weight? Dogs and cats can develop diabetes just like people, and it’s important to recognize these and other signs of the disease. Although it is treatable, you should seek out veterinary care for your pet sooner rather than later if you suspect it has diabetes.
Early Warning Signs
These early warning signs are all directly related to excess glucose (blood sugar) and your pet’s inability to produce or use insulin in order to process it. These symptoms include:
- Weight loss in spite of an increased appetite
- Excessive thirst (known as “polydipsia”)
- Excessive urination (known as “polyuria”)
Complications That Often Arise
In the earlier stages of the disease, a pet often remains active and alert with few signs of illness. As the diabetes progresses, however, complications often appear, such as:
- Frequent infections of the skin, bladder and kidney.
- Cataracts (in dogs).
- Weakness, abnormal gait and muscle loss, especially in cats, caused by neuropathy.
- Dehydration and vomiting due to ketoacidosis (high concentrations of ketones in the body). This can lead to coma and death.
Your Vet’s Evaluation
Early detection of a diabetic condition by a veterinarian is important for your pet’s continued health. Your vet will likely check your pet’s blood and urine for high levels of glucose, as well as look for other clinical signs. An initial evaluation for diabetes in a dog or cat typically includes:
- Checking the overall health of the pet through a health history, diet review and physical examination.
- Identifying any immediate complications associated with the disease, such as cataracts (in dogs) or neuropathy (in cats).
- Identifying common problems often associated with the disease such as urinary tract infections.
The laboratory tests that may be indicated include:
- A complete blood count (CBC) which measures and evaluates cells in the blood.
- A serum biochemical analysis plus electrolytes. This test evaluates various organ function as well as checks sodium, potassium and chloride levels. The blood glucose level is also included.
- Urinalysis (UA). This is both a chemical and visual analysis of a sample of your pet’s urine.
- Urine culture (UC). If there is evidence of a urinary tract infection, your vet will order a urine culture to identify any bacteria that may be present.
- T4, a blood test to check thyroid hormone (T4) levels.
- Blood pressure.
- For cats: FeLV/FIV which is a blood test for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (if the cat has not already been checked).
- For dogs: Serum progesterone which is a blood test to check the levels of progesterone.
Further blood tests can be done to check the levels of certain vitamins, hormones and enzymes. These tests help determine the health of the pancreas, thyroid, and adrenal glands, and include:
- Thyroid panel.
- Trypsinlike immunoreactivity (TLI): For testing exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (this means the pancreas is not producing the enzymes necessary to break down food and may not be making the insulin).
- Pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (PLI): For testing acute necrotizing pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
- Cobalamin/folate (for cats): If your cat is vomiting and has diarrhea and a pancreatic problem has been ruled out through other testing, your vet may run these tests to evaluate intestinal function.
- Low dose dexamethasone; ACTH stimulation: Both used to check adrenal gland function.
More specific labwork may be recommended if pancreatitis, hyperadrenocorticism (Cushings disease), hyperthyroidism (in cats) or hypothyroidism (in dogs) is suspected. Your veterinarian may also recommend additional diagnostic tests such as an abdominal ultrasound or chest radiographs.
Recognize the Signs, Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle