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Diabetes in pets

Just like humans, it’s possible for pets to get diabetes. It can affect cats and dog and can show up in subtle ways so you need to be alert for symptoms. Diabetes tends to affect dogs and cats that are overweight. And just like people, pets can suffer from both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes in dogs:

Diabetes is one of the most common hormonal diseases in dogs, with approximately 70% of diabetic dogs being female.

For dogs, diabetes can occur from the age of 18 months. However, the majority of dogs are aged between seven and ten when the diagnosis of canine diabetes is made.

Diabetes in cats:

Diabetes is less common in cats than dogs. However, feline diabetes can be more difficult than canine diabetes to regulate.

Diabetes can occur in cats of any age, although typically most are over six-years old.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is an incurable disease caused when the body stops making insulin or if the insulin is no longer sufficiently effective at controlling blood sugar. It is a relatively common condition and although it is costly to treat, pets can go on to enjoy full and happy lives. Left untreated however, diabetes can cause major problems for pets and they can suffer from other long-term health issues as a result.

Insufficient or ineffective insulin

Insulin is a hormone needed to absorb glucose from food into the bloodstream and carry it to cells around the body.

When pets develop diabetes their pancreas produces insufficient insulin or their body has an inadequate response to the hormone. A pet with diabetes cannot control the levels of sugar in its blood.

Look out for these main symptoms

Increased urination – Check whether your pet is weeing more frequently. This is because the glucose draws water with it into the urine. For dogs, increased urinating can lead to inappropriate urination such as in the house as the dog is unable to get outside as often or as quickly as it needs to.

Insatiable thirst – Is your pet drinking more than normal? They do this to top up the fluid levels caused by excessive fluid loss from the kidneys. This could be one of the first signs you notice.

Increased hunger – Is your pet always hungry, unusually begging and searching for food? This could be a sign of diabetes.

Weight loss – Despite eating more food, your pet may lose weight. If you increase their meal portions and they still lose weight get them checked by the vet.

Appearing run down– Even a well cared for pet can start to look shabby when they have diabetes. Their glossy coat can become dull and dry and they can suffer from dandruff.

Lethargy – A loss of interest in exercise, playing and walking can indicate that your pet could have an underlying health condition such as diabetes.

How is diabetes diagnosed?

A blood test will reveal high levels of glucose in the blood and the urine. However increased glucose can also be a result of stress so the test may need to be run over a number of weeks to see whether it remains consistently high.

How is diabetes in pets controlled?

Insulin – Pets often need injections twice daily after food. Your vet will show you how to:

  1. Give the insulin injections and check you are administering the correct amounts
  2. Carry out glucose tests at home that are done by taking a small swab of blood with a tiny pin prick.

Regular check ups are important to monitor your pet’s condition and see that it is being effectively managed.

Contact your vet immediately if your pet seems dizzy or groggy as this could be an indication of dangerously low blood sugar levels.


Diet can help regulate your pet’s blood sugar levels. Take advice from your vet on what to feed, when and how much. If your pet has diabetes avoid feeding them scraps from your meals, although you may see this as a treat for your pet, it can severely affect glucose levels.

Long term affects of diabetes on pets

Most pets with diabetes respond well to treatment, and pets with diabetes can enjoy a very good quality of life.

Diabetes in cats

Some cats will be insulin dependent and need life-long insulin therapy.

Other cats can be non-insulin dependent and only require insulin when stressed. These cats often regain their balance once the stressful event is over.

Long term diabetes complications in dogs

Cataracts – Many dogs eventually develop cataracts and these can cause quite rapid onset blindness. Fortunately these can be surgically corrected.

Urinary tract infection – Diabetic dogs are also more likely to suffer from urinary tract infections. The increase in sugar provides perfect conditions for bacteria to breed.

Teeth – It is very important to maintain mouth hygiene and clean the teeth of dogs with diabetes. The increased blood sugar levels in the mouth, means they are more likely to develop mouth infections and gum disease.

Breeds affected

Any breed can be affected. However, those at increased risk include dachshunds, miniature poodles, miniature schnauzers, pugs, cairn terriers, beagles and springer spaniels.

Conversely, diabetes is uncommon in cocker spaniels, shepherds, collies, and boxers.

Read more about diabetes in cats here; https://www.diabetes.co.uk/info/CatsWithDiabetes.html

Read more about diabetes in dogs here: https://www.diabetes.co.uk/info/DogsWithDiabetes.html


Emma Hammett
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