What is Diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus is a condition where the body does not produce enough insulin (Type 1 diabetes) or cannot make use of the secreted insulin properly (Type 2 diabetes). Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar in the body. It helps the cells of the body to use sugar or glucose for energy. Normally, when your pet eats, the food is turned into glucose and the pancreas secretes insulin to allow the body to convert the glucose into energy to maintain normal body functions. When an animal is diabetic their cells are essentially starving of the glucose they need to function.

In a diabetic animal:

  • the cells cannot receive glucose from the blood
  • the body is unable to detect the glucose in the blood and therefore thinks it’s starving
  • proteins, starch and fat break downs occur as if the body is starving
  • there is now a large excess of sugar in the bloodstream
  • the kidneys are unable to handle the large amount of glucose and it spills into the urine (normal kidneys would be able to prevent this loss)
  • glucose draws water with it resulting in a excess urination and drinking

Therefore the clinical signs of a diabetic animal are:

  • excessive eating
  • excessive drinking
  • excessive urination
  • weight loss

Risk Factors

Diabetes in dogs is usually Type 1, whether your dog develops diabetes or not is largely dependent on genetics and age. The median age for a dog developing diabetes is 8.6 years. A few breeds more disposed to developing diabetes are Samoyeds and Australian Terriers.

In cats, diabetes is almost always Type II, in which obesity is the major risk factor. When an animal is overweight, their cells become insulin resistant and are less efficient in making use of glucose. Maintaining our cats at a healthy weight is the number one thing you can do to prevent them from developing diabetes.


For both dogs and cats, treatment begins with giving Insulin injections. These are given twice per day, 12 hours apart.

Diet is as important as the insulin injections are for successful treatment of diabetes. In cats particularly, very effective canned diets that are low in carbohydrates are available at veterinary clinics. Since the development of these diets there has been a significant increase in the numbers of cats that achieve diabetic remission.


This involves measuring your pet’s blood glucose and urine glucose routinely and adjusting the insulin dosage based on these results. Owners can be taught to do these measurements very successfully at home themselves. At Amherst we will advise the owners what and when to take the measurements, evaluate the results and make recommendations on treatment based on these results. Periodically blood work and urine should be sent to our local laboratory for more comprehensive testing.

Although treating a pet with diabetes does require dedication from the owner, dogs can be managed very well with insulin injections and can have a great long term prognosis. In cats the prognosis is even better in that many will achieve diabetic remission after several months of treatment.

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