It may be a shock to learn that your pet has diabetes mellitus. Fortunately, diabetes in dogs and cats can be managed successfully with daily, consistent care. This brochure will: describe what diabetes is; how your pet will be diagnosed; how your pet will be treated; what you need to learn and do; and possible complications or side effects of treatment.

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes Mellitus is the most common form of diabetes in pets and usually is seen in middle-aged to older pets. Some breeds are more susceptible, as are pets that are overweight.

Signs of Diabetes in Dogs and Cats:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Cloudy eyes/cataracts
  • Deterioration of coat

As with humans, diabetes is a serious medical condition where your pet cannot control its blood sugar levels due to problems with insulin production. Simply stated, diabetes results from a shortage of insulin.

Diabetes HAS to be treated: without treatment, severe problems such as liver and kidney damage – even death – can occur. The good news is that diabetes is a treatable condition, but it will require lifelong treatment.

How will Diabetes be Diagnosed?

There are signs that certainly suggest diabetes, but a diagnosis can only be confirmed by blood and/or urine test performed by your veterinarian. The tests look for elevated glucose levels.

Your pet should have a thorough examination to see if it is also suffering from other infections or diseases (in addition to diabetes) that may make treatment more difficult.

Un-spayed females may need to be spayed because the female sex hormones can interfere with the effectiveness of treatment.

How Your Pet will be Treated?

Your veterinarian will determine your pet’s optimum dose of insulin. Determining the optimum dose may take a couple of trips to the vet. These trips are to establish a “glucose curve” which tracts your pet’s sugar level throughout the day. This normally involves taking blood samples every 1-2 hours and is performed at your vet’s office.

During the first days/weeks of treatment, you will monitor the effects of insulin injections – is your pet drinking or eating less? More active?

Gaining or losing weight?

Based on the feedback you provide your vet will adjust the insulin dose, if needed, and continue to monitor your pet until the correct dose is established. This might take a couple of weeks or more.

Diet is Crucial: Nutrition is a simple way to better regulate diabetic patients. It’s important to feed your pet a specially-formulated therapeutic food that helps to regulate glucose in your pet’s system. The food should be low-fat/high-fiber. Eating a low-fat diet helps with weight reduction, and high-fiber adds complex carbohydrates that are digested more slowly, avoiding spikes in your pet’s glucose.

How to Administer Insulin — Preparing the Dose:

  • Wash your hands
  • Remove the insulin from the refrigerator and mix by gently rolling the bottle between your hands. DO NOT SHAKE THE BOTTLE.
  • Take the syringe and carefully remove the cap from the needle.
  • Turn the bottle and syringe upside down, making sure the tip of the needle is in the insulin. Withdraw the correct dose into the syringe.
  • Before removing the needle from the bottle, check the syringe for any air bubbles. If bubbles are present, hold the syringe straight up and tap on the side until the bubbles float to the top. Depress the syringe plunger to expel the air bubble, then withdraw the needle from the insulin bottle.

How to Administer Insulin — Giving the injection:

  • Injections should be given just under the skin, just behind the shoulder blade.
  • The injection sites should be alternated between your left and right side.
  • Using your free hand, pinch up a fold of skin, insert the needle into the center of the fold, and push the plunger in as far as it will go.
  • Pull out the needle and dispose of the syringe in an appropriate container.

Maintaining a Regular Schedule: Your pet should be fed twice a day at 12-hour intervals. Insulin injections are given AFTER your pet has eaten. If not all of the food is consumed, you will need to reduce the amount of insulin given by half. If your pet does not eat, do not give insulin, and contact your veterinarian.

Exercise: The usual amount of exercise your pet receives should remain unchanged. If your pet suddenly has a lot more energy, he/she will use up more glucose, which can result in low blood sugar, and create more health problems. It’s best to make any changes to your pet’s diet and exercise gradually.

Long-term Expectations: Although there is no cure for diabetes, regimented insulin use, coupled with a healthy diet and regular exercise, should lead to a happy, healthy life for your pet. In fact, the life expectancy of pets on insulin is similar to other healthy pets.

Possible Side-Effects or Complications

  • Giving too much insulin
  • Missing or delaying meals
  • Changes in food, diet, or amount fed
  • Increase in exercise
  • Infection or other illness
  • Interactions with other drugs

Signs of hypoglycemia include:

  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Behavioral changes
  • Muscle twitching
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety

What to do if you suspect hypoglycemia: If your pet is conscious, rub a small amount of corn syrup or honey on the gums. When able to swallow, feed its usual meal and contact your vet. If your pet is unconscious, this is a medical emergency, and you need to take your pet to an emergency hospital.

Other possible side-effects:

  • Excessive water consumption for more than three days
  • Excess urination
  • Reduced or complete loss of appetite
  • Weakness, seizures, or severe depression
  • Constipation, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Swelling of the head or neck

Monitoring Your Pet’s Glucose Level

Monitoring your pet’s glucose level is an important part of the overall therapy for diabetes and can be done in 2 ways:

  • Check your pet’s urine for the presence of glucose and ketones (a chemical produced by the body when it burns fat for energy). This is not as accurate as measuring glucose in the blood but can be done at home easily.
  • Measuring glucose levels in your pet’s blood. This is the most accurate method and is done either by your veterinarian in the clinic or at home with a portable glucometer and blood test strips.

Discuss how to monitor your pet’s glucose level, as well as how frequently to test, with your veterinarian.

Helpful information can also be found at:

The Bottom Line

Dogs and cats with diabetes can lead normal, healthy lives when their diabetes is controlled. Owners must understand that accomplishing this will require some extra medical expenses and patience.