Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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No Sugar for Your "Sweetie" if it has Diabetes

Pet Column for the week of June 22, 2009

Related information:

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Olivier Dossin
It's a habit that almost all pet owners fall into. We tend to equate human diseases with veterinary ones. Sometimes certain human diseases are just like certain animal illnesses, but diabetes is not one of them.

"Diabetes in humans is not exactly the same disease that we see in dogs and cats," says Dr. Olivier Dossin, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, "you can't do a direct transposition between the two." While people may look at their pet's diabetes and try to put it into the framework of either the more commonly-known type 1 or type 2 in humans, that's not really the way the disease is approached by a veterinarian. However, feline diabetes associated with obesity is close to the human type 2 diabetes.

Fortunately, diabetes in our pets is fairly easy to diagnose. Owners usually complain that their pet is drinking and urinating more frequently. They may also eat more than usual despite weight loss. It's also important to note that, "diabetes can be a life threatening disease," notes Dr. Dossin. This is because it can cause a condition known as ketoacidosis, which may cause the animal to fall unconscious.

Interestingly, cats can become hyperglycemic, or have too much sugar in their blood, just from stress. For example, when brought to the veterinarian's clinic and a urine test is performed, cats may have an increased amount of sugar in their urine because they are scared. But your veterinarian will take this into account before making a diagnosis of diabetes. Weight also plays an important role in preventing diabetes, especially in cats.

Although it is quite rare in veterinary medicine, dogs can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. However, Dr. Dossin says, "What is more likely is that during the diestrus phase of an intact female's estrus cycle, she develops diabetes." Not surprisingly, the illness may improve as the animal comes out of the diestrus phase. But as time goes on, if the animal is not treated, the disease will become more severe, and the patient more insulin resistant.

The good thing about an intact female dog developing diabetes during her estrus cycle is that a routine spay will help to better treat the diabetes or even sometimes fix it. While most female companion animals are spayed in the United States, in many European countries the statistics are quite the opposite. For example, Dr. Dossin has taught at a veterinary college in France where many owners did not spay and neuter their pets because doing so was not customary in that culture.

In reality, diabetes can manifest in many different ways in animals. It is very important that your pet receive veterinary care if it starts to urinate and drink more frequently. While increased eating and drinking is a classic sign of diabetes, it's not the only disease that has those symptoms. Because other illnesses may present like diabetes, "it is very important that we rule out any underlying disease, and if there is one it must be treated," says Dr. Dossin.

If you would like more information on diabetes in pets, contact your local veterinarian.