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November is Pet Diabetes Month

What is Diabetes?

“Diabetes mellitus” is the term for “sugar diabetes.” In both dogs and cats, diabetes mellitus affects the concentration of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Diabetes occurs when there is a shortage of insulin, or the body has difficulty using insulin properly.


What is insulin?

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas which helps cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream.

When your pet eats, food is broken down and used by their body. Carbohydrates are one of these components. Carbohydrates are converted into different types of sugars including, you guessed it, glucose. Typically, the glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and then travels to other cells to be absorbed and used as energy. This process only occurs when there is insulin. Without insulin, the glucose remains in the bloodstream and builds up. Because of this, your dog or cat may always act hungry or constantly eat, but be malnourished and possibly lose weight.

Signs of Diabetes:

  • Polydipsia – drinking more water than usual
  • Polyuria – urinating more frequently, producing more urine per day, or having accidents in the house
  • Polyphagia – always acting hungry, but maintains or loses weight
  • Cloudy eyes (dogs)
  • Less active or sleeping more (cats)
  • Thinning, dry, or dull hair (cats)



Your vet will as about those signs and evaluate your dog’s general health to rule out any other conditions. They will test your dog’s urine for the presence of glucose and ketones (acid that appears in the urine when there is an insulin shortage). Then the vet will measure the dog’s blood glucose concentration.
A diagnosis of diabetes is definite only when there is glucose in the urine and when glucose is highly concentrated in the blood.

Your vet will ask about the signs and evaluate your cat’s overall health to rule out any other conditions. Their urine may be tested for the presence of glucose, ketones, and/or a urinary tract infection. If there is glucose present in the urine, your vet will test the cat’s blood for its glucose concentration and fructosamine concentration. Fructosamine is elevated when the blood glucose concentration has been higher than normal.
A diagnosis of diabetes is definite only when glucose is found at a high concentration in both the blood and urine.

Managing Diabetes

The goal of managing diabetes is to keep the glucose concentrations regulated, to avoid spikes and drops in the levels, and to reduce (or eliminate) the signs of diabetes, including excessive thirst and urination. Although diabetes cannot be cured, it can be successfully managed with daily insulin injections and diet and lifestyle changes.

Daily insulin injections are often needed to restore pets’ insulin level and manage the blood glucose concentrations. The insulin requirements are different for every pet, so you will need to work with your vet to determine the correct treatment regimen.

Some diabetic cats may no longer need insulin after a few weeks or months of treatment. This is called clinical remission. Although they may no longer need insulin, this does not mean that the diabetes has been cured. You must still maintain the diet and lifestyle changes to ensure that they remain healthy. Insulin may be required again at a later date.

If your pet does need insulin injections, you will need to learn how to administer them. Your vet can teach you this. While it may be nerve-racking at first, you will become more comfortable as you continue to do it.

Monitoring your pet’s blood glucose concentration is an important part of managing their diabetes. Your vet will work with you to determine which monitoring method is best for your pet. These methods include urine glucose and ketone test strips or blood glucose meters.

Just like with humans, diet plays an important role in managing your pet’s diabetes. Ideally, your pet should be fed the exact same diet at the same time every day.

Dogs – A diabetic dog’s diet should include a source of good-quality protein, complex carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. Their diet also usually has a low fat content.

Cats – A diabetic cat requires high levels of good-quality protein in their diet. They use this protein for energy. Their diet should also be low carbohydrate.

Overall, your diabetic pet’s diet should be nutritious, minimize fluctuation in blood glucose, and help them maintain a healthy weight. There are many different dog and cat foods that work for a diabetic diet. Your veterinarian is always available to guide you in the right direction when it comes to the best food for your pet’s needs.

Regular check-up with your vet will help you stay on track and make sure you are properly managing your dog’s or cat’s diabetes.

How common?

Canine and feline diabetes is relatively common. Anywhere between 1 in 100 to 1 in 500 dogs will develop diabetes. This is the same probability for cats.

Life Expectancy

With consistent and effective treatment and management, a diabetic cat or dog should have the same expected life span as a non-diabetic dog or cat of the same age.

If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes – don’t panic. It is a relatively common condition that is 100% manageable.

**All information for this blog is provided by Merck Animal Health at
Please visit their website for more information about pet diabetes.**