To better understand this condition, we must first introduce some background as to how the body regulates blood sugar levels.
For the body to function properly, tissues and cells require fuel, also known as sugar. Sugar is ingested through the food we eat, via carbohydrates and starches. These sugars are then converted into glucose to be absorbed and used by the body. Insulin, a hormone that is released by the pancreas, is needed to allow glucose to be stored and burned by the body. Without insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream to where it can reach extremely high levels.
When a pet is diagnosed with diabetes, it means that their pancreas is producing little to no insulin; therefore, glucose is not burned or stored by the body. One can think of insulin as the gatekeeper to body tissues and cells where glucose is granted entry. Without the presence of a gatekeeper, glucose cannot enter and engage with the cells on the opposite side.
What happens to the body?
Blood sugar levels will continue to rise and will not be removed from the bloodstream. Due to this, the kidneys will try to compensate by acting as buckets to conserve some of the vast amounts of sugar. However, it ultimately spills over into the urine as the kidneys can only handle so much. Glucose can act like a sponge and draw in large volumes of water, which in turn increases the pet’s thirst, and they urinate excessively. As well, urinary tract infections are common as the glucose in the urine provides a desirable growing environment for bacteria.
As the body is starving due to the lack of glucose to cells and tissues, fat stores are being utilized and breaking down muscle. However, fat does poorly without insulin. Therefore, pets have increased appetite and weight loss.
Typically treatment will include syringes and a bottle of insulin that the owner will have to administer. Many pet parents are apprehensive at first about giving their pet injections, however, it is quite simple and owners will be shown how to administer the medication.
The veterinarian will select the type of insulin and the initial dosing. It may be trial and error to see what works best for the pet and to decrease the risk of hypoglycemia. Most injections will be two doses per day, ideally 12 hours apart and administered after a meal. Insulin will need to be stored in the fridge as it needs to remain cool and rolled gently in your hands before each injection.
It is important the owner does NOT alter the dose! If adjustments need to be made or a different insulin type needs to be selected, then a glucose curve will need to be performed. The first few curves can be performed at your veterinary clinic where the pet will have their initial dose of insulin and meal at home before spending the next 12 to 24 hours where their glucose will be checked with a glucometer every 2 to 4 hours. After the completion of these readings, a veterinarian will evaluate the results and discuss any changes that need to be made with the owner.
If you suspect that your pet is displaying symptoms of increased thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, and weight loss, please contact your veterinarian to schedule an appointment.
Written by: Meghan Toope, RVT