A sugary situation: understanding diabetes in pets

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Chances are you know someone with diabetes, but did you realize this condition is just as common in dogs and cats? While diabetes can be a complicated disease, understanding a few basic facts can help make sense of its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. First, let’s learn a few definitions:

  • Diabetes mellitus: This unusual-sounding term is derived from the Greek words diabetes (to siphon or to pass through) and mellitus (sweet). Together, they refer to excess sugar in the body and in the urine. 
  • Glucose: A simple sugar that the body utilizes for energy. 
  • Insulin: A hormone that delivers glucose to the body’s many different tissues. 
  • Pancreas: An abdominal organ that produces several important substances and hormones, including insulin. 

Similarly to humans, when pets eat, their bodies break down food into simple sugars, like glucose. These sugars enter the bloodstream and are normally picked up by insulin, which acts as a glucose delivery driver, taking the glucose where it needs to go so it can provide the entire body with energy to survive. 

When the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or there is a malfunction in insulin’s ability to do its job, glucose stays in the blood and can’t reach the tissues it needs to power. 

When blood glucose levels get too high, the excess sugar makes its way into the urine. This is when many pets begin developing some of the most noticeable symptoms, leading to an eventual diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. 

What pets are at risk for diabetes?
While diabetes can occur in virtually any pet, certain groups may be more susceptible, such as middle-age to older pets, female dogs or male cats. Additionally, pets that meet the following criteria may be at an increased risk of developing diabetes:

  • Overweight or obese: Excess fat can lead to insulin resistance, meaning that insulin is unable to do its job.
  • Pancreatitis: An inflammation of the pancreas that may alter its insulin production.
  • Cushing’s disease: A disorder of steroid overproduction, which may consequently affect blood glucose levels, too. 
  • Genetic predisposition: Certain breeds, such as Samoyeds, pugs, miniature Schnauzers, miniature poodles and toy poodles, may be prone to developing diabetes. 

Can diabetic pets live happy lives?
Absolutely, especially when they are diagnosed early and treated promptly. If you notice any common symptoms of diabetes in your pet, contact your VCA veterinarian. 


Still curious about diabetes mellitus? Find answers to the most commonly asked diabetes questions on AskVCA.com >>