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PetPourri: The Dangers of High Blood Sugar – Caring for a Pet with Diabetes

By Ashlee Verba

While human and animal worlds don’t always overlap, there is some common ground where illness is concerned. If your pet has an allergic reaction, Benadryl can often relieve them. For animal cold symptoms, human grade cough medicine sometimes does the trick. Sadly, diabetes is also something we have in common with our furry friends, and it can be difficult to care for a pet with a debilitating illness. But by knowing what symptoms to watch out for and what treatment options are available, you can make the battle easier for both you and your four legged friend.


What is Diabetes?

Diabetes in both humans and animals results from certain cells in the pancreas being unable to produce adequate amounts of insulin, resulting in high blood sugar and high levels of sugar in the urine. This can lead to much more serious problems down the road such as blindness and malnutrition. Thankfully, just as with humans, diabetes in animals is manageable and doesn’t need to affect your buddy’s quality of life.

Know the Signs

Any disease is best treated early, so it’s important to keep an eye on your animal’s behavior and notice when things are out of the ordinary. Some signs will also be more important than others.

Early Warnings

As a responsible pet owner, you know that it’s good to involve your vet where any odd behavior is concerned. Still, you also don’t want to pay a vet bill every time your dog or cat sneezes. Some diabetes symptoms may not be urgent, such as itchy paws, increased appetite or loss of hair. These could be signs of allergies, infection or other things, but don’t dismiss them too quickly.

Serious Symptoms

Animals that are likely suffering from diabetes will initially have increased appetites, but as malnourishment starts to set in, their appetite will drop significantly. If you’ve noticed this inconsistency in eating habits, your vet should know about it. Other symptoms that shouldn’t be taken lightly are frequent or abnormal urination, a seemingly constant thirst, and even cataracts. Again, these symptoms don’t signify a definite diagnosis, but they should not be overlooked.

Immediate Attention

Major signs of diabetes include severe weight loss, dehydration and vomiting. In more advanced cases, pets may be more lethargic, disinterested in food, dehydrated despite the amount of water drank, and overall just very weak. All of these symptoms are what most pet owners would consider severely abnormal behavior. If you notice them, you should call your vet right away.

Tender Loving Care

Once your pet has been officially diagnosed, it’s important to understand that they will require a lot of care, and it can be a challenge that many owners are not prepared for. Still, it can be a rewarding experience. Local pet owner Bernadette Villarreal remembers two things about when her cat Tuxedo was first diagnosed with diabetes: her unwavering dedication to his care and how much that loving attention lengthened her favorite companion’s life and enhanced their bond.

“After a while, we just formed a cool little system,” Villarreal remembers. “I’d put him on my lap and soothe him and he trusted me. I have no doubts that my commitment to his care prolonged his life by years and years.” Villarreal also emphasizes that caring for a diabetic pet essentially becomes a 24-hour job that can be hard to hand off to someone else. “Would they forget a treatment? Would they accidentally over feed him? It’s just a lot to ask someone.”

If you have decided to take it upon yourself to care for a diabetic pet, then more power to you. There are plenty of treatment options available to help maintain a healthy lifestyle for your companion. While there is no cure, diabetes can be successfully managed through a strict, daily regimen of insulin therapy and by paying attention to your pet’s dietary and exercise needs.

Administering Insulin

Insulin treatments are the most common form of diabetes maintenance. Before administering insulin to your pet, make sure you check with your veterinarian to ensure that you know the proper procedure. Once you feel comfortable, fill a clean syringe with insulin and make sure there are no bubbles in the liquid. Gently pinch some of your pet’s loose skin along their neck or back and insert the needle parallel to the fold. You want to be just beneath the skin, not penetrating muscle. If blood fills the syringe when you pull back the plunger, restart; if clear liquid fills the syringe when you pull back, gently depress the plunger to administer the insulin.

“It was definitely difficult,” says Villarreal, recalling the insulin treatment she administered to her beloved cat Tuxedo. “It was a rigorous schedule. Every twelve hours, he needed his shot. Every. Twelve. Hours. But, schedule aside, that cat was the love of my life, and once the vet said his life would revolve around this care, my life simply followed suit. There was no other option.”

If you aren’t sure that your animal got the full dose, do not try to make up the difference. Simply wait until their next treatment. Your vet can help you determine the right amount of insulin based on your animal’s weight and reaction to medication. You may want to try giving your animal his shot in different places in order to avoid scar tissue forming so that future shots are less painful.

The Proper Diet

What your pet eats can also be crucial in the treatment of their diabetes and overall well being. An ideal diet composition for diabetic pets hasn’t yet been determined as pet needs vary case by case, but most vets recommend a special diet higher in soluble fiber than commercially available foods. Diets such as the commonly used Hills w/d are available by prescription from your vet, while brands like Purina, Eukanuba and others also provide specialized eating plans. Your vet can narrow down the best choices for your pet and administer the best one for their situation.

According to Dr. Cori Gross, field veterinarian for Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), the key to holding the disease at bay is watching your pet’s weight. “The best thing an owner can do to prevent diabetes is to keep pets from becoming obese,” says Dr. Gross. “Don’t overfeed pets; ask your veterinarian for a feeding recommendation and keep pets active with regular exercise.”

Just as with humans, diabetes in pets is nothing to scoff at. But when it comes to the everyday enjoyment of your constant companion, the investment of time and expense is a small price to pay for the unwavering love of a loyal animal. The rewards can give both you and your animal a new perspective on being happy together. Bernadette Villarreal smiles when she remembers her time with Tuxedo: “That cat had such a great life! And, you know, he made my life great too.”





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