What does diabetes look like in a dog or cat? Diagnosing diabetes in our pets is relatively straightforward. Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and laboratory tests.
Clinical signs of diabetes
See your veterinarian if you notice the following clinical signs.
Frequent urinary tract infections
As we learned in the first part of this series, diabetes causes excess blood sugar. When there is so much sugar that the kidneys can’t reabsorb it, the sugar is excreted in the urine. The sugar brings a lot of water from the body along with it. This causes your pet to drink more to compensate for the loss of body water. Your pet may even become dehydrated. Sugar in the urine makes an excellent environment for bacteria to grow, and urinary tract infections are common in diabetic animals.
Losing weight in spite of good appetite
Decreased activity or even lethargy
Because the cells of the body can’t utilize sugar for energy in a diabetic animal, the brain will continue to send hunger signals even after a full meal. Your pet may eat more. However, your pet may still lose weight as the body uses proteins and fats to produce energy. The process of breaking down, or metabolizing, fats may lead to a build up of certain types of chemicals, ketones, in the body. Veterinarians refer to this condition as “ketoacidosis.” Ketones in the body may be excreted in the breath. You may notice that your pet’s breath smells sweet or fruity. Lack of fuel, breakdown of body fats and proteins, and ketoacidosis can lead to an obvious decrease in your pet’s activity level. In some cases, you may even notice that your pet seems lethargic. Ketoacidosis may also cause your pet to vomit, and your pet’s appetite may decrease.
Increased sugar in the blood also causes increased sugar in the fluids of the eye. This sugar acts to cause clouding of the lens. Your pet’s pupils will seem less transparent and even gray or white. A majority of dogs with diabetes may develop cataracts within 4-6 months of diabetes diagnosis (Beam, 1999). Cataracts are rare in cats with diabetes.
Frequent Skin Infections
The increased blood sugar and debilitated state of pets with diabetes can lead to increased infections. Often, dogs with diabetes have other problems at the same time that may cause skin issues or a decreased immunity to infection.
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Cats with diabetes may develop a problem with the nerves in their lower legs, most often the rear legs. The legs may be weak and the cat may walk in a crouched position instead of on the toes.
Diagnosing diabetes with laboratory tests
If your veterinarian suspects that your pet has diabetes, she will recommend laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include bloodwork for sugar levels. Bloodwork will also rule out ketoacidosis or other diseases. Your veterinarian will also test your pet’s urine. In order to be considered diabetic, your pet must have elevated sugar in both the blood and the urine. Your veterinarian may ask for a urine culture to make sure your pet does not have a urinary tract infection. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical for the diabetic pet, so make sure you see your veterinarian as soon as possible when you notice clinical signs.
In Part 3 of this series, we will look at treatment options for cats and dogs with diabetes.
Beam S. et al, A retrospective cohort study on the development of cataracts in dogs with diabetes mellitus: 200 cases, Veterinary Ophthalmology, 1999; 2:169-172
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