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Over 1.4 million pets in the U.S. suffer from diabetes mellitus, a condition in which the blood sugar (glucose) level is too high.
One in every 500 dogs and one in 200 cats develops diabetes. Certain breeds are predisposed to the condition, for example Samoyeds, Australian Terriers, Schnauzers, Toy Poodles and Burmese cats.
However, regardless of breed, the incidence of diabetes in companion animals is rising at an alarming rate, resulting in an unprecedented number of sick pets.
The condition of diabetes results from a shortage or misuse of insulin in your pet’s body.
The problem can be caused by either a reduced production of insulin (commonly known in humans as juvenile or Type I diabetes), or because your dog’s or cat’s body isn’t using insulin efficiently (Type II diabetes) due to insulin resistance.
Insulin is an anabolic hormone whose job it is to move not just sugar, but also amino acids, electrolytes and fatty acids into the cells of your pet’s body. A lack of insulin will cause these vital substances to remain outside the cells. This causes the cells to starve while surrounded by the very nutrients they need to survive.
If there is sufficient insulin being produced in your pet’s body, but the cells don’t use the nutrients they receive properly, the result is the same – cells starved for nutrients.
Juvenile diabetes is rare in pets. Most of the time, diabetes in companion animals is life-style induced. I’ll discuss this in more detail in part 2 of this series.
Adult onset diabetes typically shows itself when your pet reaches midlife, after she has encountered enough lifestyle obstacles to induce either decreased production of insulin or a diminished ability to use it efficiently.
The symptoms of diabetes can develop very gradually, and include the following:
Your pet’s kidneys become overburdened and the nephrons – the filters inside the kidneys – can’t handle the extra work of filtering sugar. The result is kidney dysfunction, which is diagnosed by your veterinarian either through blood work or urinalysis.
If your pet’s urine has what is known as low specific gravity, which means the kidneys are over-diluting urine, it is a potential symptom of diabetes. And of course if a urinalysis turns up sugar in the urine, diabetes is even more suspect.
So if your pet has decreased specific gravity (very diluted) urine, plus sugar in the urine along with a urinary tract infection or kidney failure, your veterinarian can be confident the diagnosis is diabetes mellitus.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this series in which I’ll discuss lifestyle-induced diabetes (Type II diabetes) and how to prevent your beloved pet from developing this very serious disease.