If you’re the kind of pet owner who pays attention to nutrition, maybe you’ve thought about your pet’s weight before. Maybe you’ve considered about carb intake, and how much processed food or sugar your pet is eating. In this situation, your pet developing diabetes mellitus might sound impossible.

But just like obesity, diabetes is sometimes hereditary and can lead to many other complications for your dog or cat. And just like obesity, one of the most salient factors in developing diabetes is your pet’s diet. Both Type I and Type II diabetes exist for pets, though Type II is far more common. Like other chronic pet illnesses, diabetes is sometimes covered by pet insurance providers, but buyer beware: diabetes will always be excluded if it’s a pre-existing condition.

In other words, if your pet has diabetes at the time you’re searching for pet insurance, you’re likely out of luck. But if your pet already has insurance, or doesn’t yet have diabetes, you might want to take a really good look at your contract’s fine print. If it’s a standard or non-premium insurance plan, it might still exclude diabetes from coverage. Moreover, your provider might stipulate that they’ll cover diabetes for a set amount of time or money, but after that time/cost is up, they’ll switch and regard diabetes as a pre-existing condition. Even if you’re paying top dollar for premium pet insurance, certain caveats could be the norm for chronic conditions like diabetes — so make sure you read closely.

Symptoms for Cats and Dogs

Because diabetes is an internal condition, it’s not always easy to tell it’s happening at first. Your pet’s skin or fur likely won’t look any different, and you won’t see any strange lumps or aberrations. But diabetes will likely mean big, noticeable changes in the way they interact with you and the environment around them. Here are the main abnormal behaviors you should be thinking about.

The most common symptoms are unrestrained thirst, higher-than-average urination, and sudden weight loss. If you notice your pet drinking an abnormal amount of water and it seems like they’re going to the bathroom constantly, in a never-ending cycle, it could be a sign of diabetes. Your pet may also be eating a lot of food, but still looking tired out and unenergetic despite their increased appetite. In extreme cases, your pet may even vomit.

Finally, diabetes are one of the most prevalent causes of cataract formation in dogs (but not necessarily in cats). So if your pup suddenly starts developing cataracts inexplicably or without a history of them, it could be worth getting their blood sugar levels tested. In cats, extreme cases of diabetes may cause a sudden change in gait due to nerve damage in the hind legs.

In short, the symptoms you should watch out for are:

  • Excessive thirst and drinking water constantly
  • Going to the bathroom more than average
  • Sudden or inexplicable weight loss
  • A lack of energy despite increased appetite and ravenous eating
  • In extreme cases, vomiting
  • Eye cataract formation in dogs, especially in dogs that are otherwise too young for vision problems

A sudden change of gait in cats, especially in the hind legs

Treatment Options and Symptom Relief

With proper treatment, diabetic pets can expect a similar life outlook to totally healthy ones! That said, “proper treatment” is the key term here. Left untreated, diabetes in pets can lead to depression, malnutrition, or even a coma and eventually death. The good news is, insulin injections for feline and canine diabetes are both readily available, and you can even administer them at home. Otherwise, watching your pet’s diet and exercise is the next best way to help them live a comfortable life in spite of diabetes.

In most cases, injected insulin is the best way to treat a diabetic pet — the oral medications humans sometimes use don’t always work as well in feline or canine diabetes (though oral treatment may be used if injected insulin isn’t an option, for whatever reason). There are many different kinds of insulin for dogs or cats with diabetes, and only your vet can tell you which one is right for your situation. The insulin you use may come from either porcine or recombinant human insulin. Vetsulin, for example, is based on insulin that comes from pigs. After designing a program that’s right for your pet, your veterinarian should teach you how to administer insulin so that you can do it at home.

Watching your pet’s diet very carefully might also be a part of a comprehensive care plan. Your vet might ask you to keep carbohydrates to a minimum or increase protein and fiber intake. Modifying your pet’s diet in such a way will help lower blood glucose levels, or at least keep them steadier and more manageable.

Moreover, obesity is a larger problem for diabetic cats or dogs than non-diabetic ones, so weight-watching is doubly important. It’ll be easier for your pet to keep their blood glucose at a relatively constant level if their weight is healthy and not constantly fluctuating. On the other hand, you also might have to make sure your pet isn’t underweight. If they’re diabetic, they might not be absorbing enough nutrition from their normal diet. And no matter what kind of diet your pet is on, moderate exercise will always do them good and help keep the weight down.

Cost of Treatment

Insulin for cats and dogs could cost anything from $30-$150, depending on how it’s made, whether it’s a brand name drug and where you’re buying it from. On Amazon, pet insulin ranges anywhere from $30 to above $60. As previously stated, if you’re the owner of a pet with diabetes you’ll have many options to choose from.

You’ll also have to buy needles to inject the insulin with, testing materials for your pet’s glucose levels, syringes and possibly even specialized food, if you’re keeping your pet on a specific diet plan. All said and done, caring for a diabetic pet can be significantly less expensive than caring for pets with other chronic diseases, but it still isn’t cheap. No surgery is necessary, and your biggest investment will probably be the time you put into monitoring your pet’s diet and behavior. But the costs can certainly add up over time, as diabetes isn’t really a condition that’s totally curable.

Prevention

Diabetes isn’t always preventable — if your pet is predisposed due to genetic factors, they could develop diabetes no matter what you do. If that’s the case, don’t blame yourself. But in the meantime, you can always minimize certain risk factors by looking at your pet’s diet, weight and exercise.

The most salient initial advice is to keep your dog or cat active. Regular exercise will help stave off obesity and keep blood glucose levels at a normal level for their weight. Even if you’re not giving your pet a vigorous workout, daily walks around the block or a couple small games around the house are better than nothing. The key is to burn off at least a couple calories per day.

You can also try altering your pet’s food to focus more on proteins than carbohydrates, which will help keep their glucose levels low. Try to avoid processed and “human” foods, and go easy on the dog/cat treats that they love (no matter how much begging you have to put up with). Don’t overfeed them, even if they ask.

Foods that are high in fiber are also a good choice–they’ll fill your pet up and release calories slowly without spiking their blood sugar. The end goal here is to keep your pet’s sugar intake low and match the amount of calories they get to the amount of exercise they’re doing per day. Diet becomes a risk factor for diabetes when pets have a huge surplus of daily calories, simple carbohydrates and sugary foods, without any exercise to make up for the bad diet.

Susceptible Breeds

According to the American Kennel Club, the dog breeds that are at the highest risk of diabetes are:

  • Miniature Poodle
  • Bichon Frise
  • Pug
  • Dachshund
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Puli
  • Samoyed
  • Keeshond
  • Australian Terrier
  • Fox Terrier

There aren’t as many statistics for diabetes in cats, and the disease doesn’t seem to be as heavily weighted towards certain breeds as it is in dogs. However, there is one cat breed that seems to suffer from diabetes at a much higher rate than all the others:

  • Burmese