So, Your Pet Has Diabetes?

Don’t stress! You’ve come to the right place and I am here to help. My name is Kaitlyn and I am a Licensed Veterinary Technician here at Helping Hands. I have first-hand experience when it comes to diabetes but not because I work in the veterinary field but because I have a diabetic cat of my own. His name is Spaz. He is 12 years old and he was diagnosed with diabetes around the age of 5. He is a prime example that you can have a pet with diabetes that can also live a long and fulfilling life! After working with the doctors here to get him on the right plan for his diabetes, he is regulated and living fabulously! I want to give some basic information and tips for anyone who has a diabetic pet or anyone who is worried their pet may have diabetes. Managing diabetes can be stressful but we are always here to help ease your mind and to make sure your pet can live a long and fulfilling life as well.

What is diabetes exactly? Glad you asked. Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that occurs when the pancreas is unable to create enough insulin that meets your pet’s needs. Insulin is very important because it’s essential in transporting glucose through the blood and into the body’s cells for energy. If there is no insulin to transport glucose into the cells, then a build-up can happen which can cause dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood. This is not good. Damage to the other organs in the body is likely to happen. The pet’s body basically goes into starvation mode because the cells aren’t being “fed” the glucose. The body then breaks down fat and muscle to use as an alternative fuel option.

This brings me to the common symptoms you may see if a pet has diabetes. They are as follows:

  • An increased appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • An increase in urination
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

What now? How do we manage this? Since the lack of insulin is our problem, we will need to start giving insulin injections twice daily. This can seem a little scary to owners at first but that’s where I and many other technicians come in. We will teach you everything you need to know about giving injections at home. You will not need to learn how to find and give an injection in the vein. I get asked this all the time by owners followed by a very worried look on their face. Don’t worry! The insulin injection is called a subcutaneous injection because it’s given underneath the skin. It’s to be given twice daily, 12 hours apart and 30 minutes after a meal. It’s helpful to find the best times that work for your schedule to feed and give the insulin. For example, my cat, Spaz, gets fed around 7:30 am and 7:30 pm every day. I wait 30 minutes after I know he’s eaten and then I give the insulin – usually around 8:00 am and 8:00 pm. It’s vital that your pet eats before giving insulin because without any food in their system the blood glucose can drop and that’s not ideal either. Since there are so many insulin brands out there, your veterinarian will decide which once will be best for your pet.

Diet is a huge aspect of managing diabetes. This is often the toughest part. It was a huge lifestyle change for my cat because he used to be free-fed. Bowls were filled all hours of the day. So, I had to train him to be a 1 meal twice a day kind of guy. Believe me, this did not happen overnight. He still begs for food when he’s not supposed to eat. I also have a multi-cat household which isn’t easy. Spaz will try to eat my other cat’s food before he’s even eaten his own. They must be fed separately and in different rooms. Because my other cat is a grazer and doesn’t eat her food all at once, we put her bowl up so Spaz can’t get it and then bring it down to feed her throughout the day. There are many prescription diets out there that are formulated especially for the diabetic pet. This is what my cat is on and he loves it. We will work with you to find the best and tastiest diet for your pet. So, again this is a lifestyle change for not only your cat but you as well. Finding the best schedule for feeding and insulin treatments will be the key to success in managing the DIABEETUS. I find it helpful writing down on a notepad or a journal the times of feeding and insulin and if you’re feeling brave to do at home – glucose checks!

Glucose checks are going to be vital in making sure that your pet is doing well and is on the correct insulin dose. If owners feel up to the challenge, we can teach how to obtain a small blood sample to test the glucose at home in the same way that humans do it. You will need a veterinary glucometer since human devices aren’t calibrated for pets. We can always perform these checks in the clinic if collecting a blood sample seems too intimidating. After the initial diagnosis, the doctor will put your pet on a dose of insulin. Often times, the dose needs to be adjusted based on the glucose readings. About 2 weeks to 1 month after starting insulin, we will want to perform what is called a glucose curve. This is an all-day test so owners will often opt to have us do it in the clinic versus doing it at home. We will feed and give insulin in the clinic and take glucose readings every hour. Your veterinarian will then determine if the insulin dose needs to be adjusted or not based on the readings. It took a while to find the right dose for my cat. It was adjusted many times and plenty of glucose curves were performed. He’s been on a dose of 7 units for a few years now and he’s doing great!

Glad we got all that covered! But there is so much more! It is essential that you speak with your veterinarian about your pet’s diagnosis, the basics of diabetes, what to prepare for in terms of treatment and diet, etc. We recommend an exam and panel of bloodwork every 6 months to ensure that your pet’s health is at it’s finest. We are always here to help and answer any questions or concerns you may have. And if your pet has any questions, feel free to have them contact Spaz.

Written By: Kaitlyn Schurman-Darby