Diabetes is the body's inability to control the normal level of glucose (blood sugar). Glucose provides the cells in the body with energy they need to live and function normally.
Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of the hormone insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Sometimes the pancreas becomes unable to produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body fail to respond normally to insulin. Therefore, the cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and too much remains in the blood.
When the blood contains a high level of glucose, some of it is able to leak through the kidneys and it begins to appear in the urine, causing increased urine production. To replace this fluid loss, the affected animal must then drink extra water. Also, because they are losing an important energy source, affected animals tend to lose weight. Because the body cells aren’t absorbing enough glucose for their needs, this sends a signal to the brain and the animal constantly feels hungry. There may also be other signs of low energy, such as lethargy and poor coat condition. The high level of sugar in the urine can cause intermittent or on-going urine infections.
- Excessive hunger
- Increased thirst
- Recurrent urinary infections
Some of these symptoms, such as an increased appetite, increased drinking, urine infections or lethargy, can also be caused by a number of other diseases. Therefore, your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis.
The main aim of treatment is to restore the body’s ability to control the levels of glucose in the blood. Just as in people, diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin. Providing the body with an easily accessible source of energy by modifying the diet, as well as keeping a stress-free day-to-day routine, is just as vital to the successful treatment of the disease as the administration of insulin. Some animals' diabetes is controlled purely through diet and routine alone.
When an animal’s treatment requires insulin, each individual requirement is different and your vet will need to tailor the dosage to your particular pet's needs. It can take several months to achieve full stabilisation, although overall improvements in your animal should be seen within a few weeks of starting treatment.
Insulin is given at least once daily by injection and this is something that most owners can learn to do for their pet at home. Whilst it feels very daunting at first, you will be shown how to draw up the correct dose of insulin and how to give the injection just under the skin. It is surprising how easy this all becomes with a little practice.
With well controlled diabetes, many animals can live for many years with a good quality of life.