Diabetes Mellitus in Your Dog and Cat

By: Paula Plummer, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

TVMA Member
College Station, TX

Published June 2014

What is diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is an endocrineOf, relating to, or denoting glands that secrete hormones or other products directly into the blood. disease that affects both dogs and cats. It is caused by the loss of or an inability of specific cells in the pancreas to synthesizeMake (something) by synthesis, especially chemically. and/or release proper amounts of insulin or an inability for cells in the body to use insulin. Insulin is a hormone that is essential to regulating carbohydrate metabolism, the process that a body goes through to break down ingested carbohydrates into energy. When a body is unable to properly synthesize, release or use insulin, this results in high blood glucose levels. Glucose is one of the many carbohydrates an animal can use as a source for energy. High glucose levels in the bloodstream can have many negative impacts when left untreated.

Carbohydrate metabolism, blood glucose levels and insulin levels are all dependent on a system of balance in the body. In a non-diabetic animal, after it eats carbohydrates including glucose, the body goes into action to break down those carbohydrates into energy. Should the level of blood glucose be too high after an animal has eaten, the pancreas produces and releases insulin so that it may transfer the glucose into the body’s cells and store it for energy. The body will then use this glucose as fuel for typically eight to 12 hours after this process occurs. This process lowers the amount of glucose in the blood, and in turn, the body will lower the amount of insulin to bring the body back to equilibriumA state in which opposing forces or influences are balanced.. In a diabetic animal, the body either cannot produce enough insulin to transfer the glucose inside the cells or the body’s cells are resistant to absorbing the glucose. This allows high levels of glucose to continue to circulate in the blood stream, unusable to the body for energy.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus. Type I is caused by a failure of the pancreas to secrete or make enough insulin to support the body. This type will always need insulin supplementationA quantity added (e.g. to make up for a deficiency).. Dogs typically acquire Type I diabetes. Type II diabetes is caused by the body not responding appropriately to the insulin being released. This type of diabetes mellitus can be controlled by proper diet and/or insulin supplementation. Cats typically develop this type.

What are the symptoms of diabetes mellitus?

One of the first symptoms of diabetes that pet owners may notice in a dog or cat is a significant increase in the amount of water a pet is drinking and an increase in the amount of urine a pet is eliminating. Pet owners will frequently observe that a pet can no longer make it through a night without needing to go outside to urinate or a pet may have an increased number of accidents in the house. Cats may have larger amounts of urine in the litter box than normal. Another symptom seen in both cats and dogs is exceptional hunger and constant begging for food accompanied by weight loss.

How does a veterinarian usually diagnose diabetes mellitus?

Diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is typically made after a veterinarian completes laboratory tests on a pet’s blood and urine and obtains a history of the pet’s behavior from its owner, paying special attention to changes in habits or a display of some of the symptoms described above.

How does a veterinarian treat diabetes mellitus?

After diagnosis, it is very important to start treatment immediately. Dogs and cats will potentially need treatment with daily insulin injections and diet modifications to manage the disease. It is important to follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely because life-threatening complications can arise if a treatment plan is not followed.

Can diabetes be avoided?

Unfortunately, diabetes mellitus in most cases cannot be avoided. It is not yet understood completely why a patient will develop naturally occurring diabetes mellitus. However, it has been proven that some medications can cause diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats. In cats, obesity can be a contributing factor. Contact your veterinarian for a list of those medications.

Is there anything about diabetes mellitus that is specific to Texas?

Diabetes mellitus is seen in dogs and cats worldwide. This disease is not specific to Texas.

Are there any breeds that are more prone to developing diabetes mellitus?

Yes, please see the list below. Statistically, female dogs and male cats are more prone to diabetes mellitus.

Dogs and Cats

Miniature Schnauzers Burmese
German Shepherds
Golden Retrievers
Cocker Spaniels

Please note that any breed or sex of dog or cat can develop diabetes mellitus even if they are not listed in the chart.

If you feel that your pet is showing symptoms of diabetes mellitus, make an appointment with your veterinarian for a thorough physical exam.

Paula Plummer, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM), is a licensed veterinary technician who graduated from Murray State College in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. Ms. Plummer works in the Feline Internal Medicine Department at the Texas A&M University Veterinary Teaching Hospital in College Station, Texas.

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