NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

September 13, 2013

Paw Prints: Pet diabetes becoming more common

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler
veterinarian

---- — Diabetes in pets and people is on the rise. Currently, one in every 250 cats is diabetic. The incidence is increasing, with a quarter-million new feline cases being diagnosed every year. And we’re seeing more diabetes in dogs, too.

Whether in a two-legged or four-legged creature, diabetes mellitus occurs when sugar in the blood cannot enter body cells to provide energy. It is usually classified as either Type 1 or Type 2. In both types, the result is high blood sugar and starvation of cells. Individuals feel thirsty and drink a lot.

Feline and canine diabetes have some similarities with human diabetes. But there are also distinct differences.

The latest clinical evidence suggests that Type 2 diabetes is the most common form in cats and people. The cause of diabetes in cats is believed to be a host of factors, including diet, obesity, genetics and pancreatic disease.

If you own a cat, you surely agree that kitties are special creatures. Not only are their outward antics funny, but they are different inside, as well. Cats are unique mammals and cannot process carbohydrate, or sugar, as many other mammals do. In fact, throughout evolution, cats have lost their sweet taste buds because consuming sweets has not helped their survival. The modern-day feline body, whether wild or domestic, is adapted to use protein, not carbohydrate, for energy.

Risk factors for diabetes in cats include living a lazy indoor lifestyle with a Garfield-like body shape and eating a high-carb diet. Genetics likely play a role, too; however, most pet cats have an unknown family medical history.

Sometimes, the early signs of diabetes in cats go unnoticed. Watch your kitty for a change in drinking or litter box habits. The first sign may also be an abnormal gait or difficulty jumping. Diabetes in cats can affect the nerves, especially in the rear legs.

If your cat is obese, you may want it screened every year for early diabetes. This is a simple blood test that tells whether his blood sugar has been elevated for the past three weeks. Obese pets are 20 percent or more above their ideal weight. For the average cat, 10 pounds is ideal, and being up only 2 pounds puts him in that risky obese category.

The good news is that if your Fluffy is diagnosed in the early stages of diabetes, there is a very good chance that the disease can be reversed. With diet change, weight loss and brief insulin therapy, most cats can be diabetes-free within a few months.

Unlike cats, dogs often present with Type 1 diabetes. These patients do not produce enough insulin and require daily insulin injections to survive.

Type 1 diabetes in dogs is often inherited. Certain breeds, such as golden retrievers, poodles and Cairn terriers are predisposed. These dogs have a disorder in which their body attacks and destroys cells in the pancreas, resulting in insufficient insulin production. Dogs with Type 1 diabetes are also prone to other hormone disorders, such as hypothyroidism. If you have an at-risk breed, ask your veterinarian whether your dog should be screened.

If your Fido develops Type 1 diabetes, he will require daily insulin injections for life. This is similar to people who develop Type 1 diabetes.

Dogs may also develop diabetes after a bout of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is a digestive disorder associated with inflammation of certain parts of the pancreas. The inflammation can spread to adjacent cells, preventing insulin production. If diagnosed early, pancreatitis may be controlled and the diabetes reversed.

Overweight, older dogs are at risk for developing pancreatitis. Sometimes, a trash-can smorgasbord can trigger the pancreatitis attack. Your dog’s symptoms may vary, from vague signs such as being sluggish and not himself, to overt lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Simple in-clinic tests can help diagnose pancreatitis. If your leftovers are missing and Fido doesn’t look well, ask your vet about pancreatitis.

To help keep your Fido and Fluffy diabetes-free, follow these do’s and don’t’s:

Don’t let your pets get obese. Abdominal fat is the big culprit here.

Don’t let Fido get into the trash.

Don’t ignore increased water consumption.

Do feed Fluffy a low-carb diet. It’s how Mother Nature designed his body.

Do pay attention to subtle signs, such as Fluffy’s shuffling gait or Fido’s sluggishness.

Do have an exercise routine with your pet. Ask your veterinary team for suggestions for your indoor cat. Exercising with your pet will keep you both happy and healthy.

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Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com). She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to heidibasslerdvm@comcast.net.