Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

Vet Tech Tips All Animal Tips Advise Dog Diabetes

Diabetes in cats and dogs can usually be prevented.

1. Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

2. Things That Can Cause Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

3. Medications That Can Cause Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

4. If Your Dog or Cat is Diagnosed with Diabetes

5. Cats and High Blood Glucose

6. Ketones

7. After Being Diagnosed with Diabetes

8. Low Blood Glucose

9. How to Prevent Low Blood Glucose

10. Giving Insulin

11. When to Give Insulin

12. Preventing Diabetes

Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

Have you ever wondered when and how to look for signs that your dog or cat may have diabetes and what to do if your pet is diagnosed with diabetes?  Below you will find the symptoms of diabetes, things that can cause diabetes, and how to prevent your cat or dog from getting diabetes.  For cats, there is a possibility that you can reverse the symptoms and get the cat off insulin but unfortunately, it is not the same for dogs.  If you have a dog diagnosed with diabetes, they will most likely never get off insulin. Typically, dogs tend to get more Type 1 diabetes like humans and must be on insulin for the rest of their lives since their body stops making enough insulin, whereas cats get Type 2 diabetes like humans, and with a lot of work, some cats can come off insulin.

Things That Can Cause Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

If your dog or cat is overweight, they are more likely to develop diabetes since they have more calories coming into their system than their body can handle.  When there are more calories than the body can handle, the body must produce more insulin than normal, and the body can only make so much insulin.  This also causes a lot of strain on the pancreas and diabetics are more likely to develop pancreatitis than non-diabetics.  This can happen when the pancreas gets inflamed, which can happen from eating a fatty meal or receiving corticosteroids or steroids.  Once the insulin is used up there becomes more sugar in the bloodstream than the body can handle and your cat or dog can develop signs of drinking more water than normal, urinating more than normal (called polydipsia, polyuria), being more tired than normal or lethargic, losing weight even though they seem hungrier than normal, and/or decreased appetite.  If you have noticed multiple of these symptoms, you should talk to your veterinarian about it and get blood work done to make sure there isn’t anything serious going on.  These symptoms can also be signs of other hormone problems including Cushing’s disease, kidney disease, and in cats hyperthyroidism.  Knowing which disease your pet has is important to help them feel better and the treatments for each of these diseases are very different.

Medications That Can Cause Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

If your pet is on certain long-term medications such as corticosteroids or immunosuppression drugs it can cause diabetes by causing the liver to not work as well as it should which allows more glucose or sugar into the bloodstream with not enough insulin to be released to allow the sugar to go into cells and be used up.  This process causes the body to become insulin-resistant.  These drugs include but are not limited to prednisone, prednisolone, cyclosporine, Temaril-P, dexamethasone, and hydrocortisone.   If your pet is on any of these medications long-term, monitor your pet for the symptoms described above.

If Your Dog or Cat is Diagnosed with Diabetes

If your pet is diagnosed with diabetes your veterinarian will more than likely prescribe an insulin injection and a prescription diet to help lower your pet’s sugar in the bloodstream. Diabetic diets are normally higher in fiber and lower in carbs than regular pet food.  Some of the foods are weight loss diets as these diets are also lower in carbs and higher in fiber.  If you can get your dog or cat off kibble that will help with the carb content as well.  There are many products available now that are not kibble and you can home-cook for your dog and cat.  If you do home cook for your pet make sure you have the correct vitamins and minerals to add to the food or consider adding in a supplement.  There are also supplements that you can add that can help keep the liver functioning well and help keep the blood glucose where it should be.

Vet Tech Tips All Animal Tips Advise Fresh Food
Vet Tech Tips Fresh Food

Cats and High Blood Glucose

Cats can have higher than normal blood glucose or blood sugar if they are stressed during or before the blood draw.  Make sure your vet also checks the pet’s urine for ketones and sugar/ glucose.  This will give a better picture if the pet has diabetes or not.  If you know your pet was stressed before the blood draw, make sure to get additional tests done and/or have the blood glucose done later to double-check.  You know your pet better than anyone else so if you think your pet was stressed, let the vet staff know.


If your dog or cat is diagnosed with diabetes and they have ketones in their urine and/or blood this normally requires hospitalization with IV fluids, multiple insulin injections, multiple blood glucose tests, multiple urinalyses or testing the urine for ketones, and anything else that is needed to help the pet get better as quickly as possible.  This is called diabetic ketoacidosis and can be life-threatening.  It is common for cats and dogs to develop this when first diagnosed with diabetes due to their blood glucose being high for long periods of time.  Once a pet is started on insulin and gets its blood glucose under control, it is less likely they will develop diabetic ketoacidosis. However, if their blood glucose stays high again for long periods of time they can start getting symptoms again and have another episode.

After Being Diagnosed with Diabetes

Make sure you have written instructions on how to give insulin so you can reference it at home if needed, and when the vet office is closed.  Also, make sure they show you how and where to give the insulin, so you understand when to give the insulin, how much to give, how to store the insulin, how often and how much food to feed, and when to come back for repeat blood work.  Your pet may have to come back for an all-day blood glucose curve (the pet will stay at the vet most of the day and will get multiple blood draws to check the blood glucose. Make sure to follow all the instructions that the clinic gives you regarding feeding and giving insulin will change for each pet and each situation) or come in for just one fructosamine test at a specific time after the insulin is given.  Fructosamine tests blood glucose over a few weeks and is not affected by stress sometimes making it a better choice for cats.  Which test is done depends on how long the pet has been on insulin, how the pet is feeling as in not showing signs of being a diabetic such as not drinking as much water and therefore not urinating as much, having more energy, and eating regularly, and cost.  The first few months of a pet being diagnosed with diabetes is expensive and time-consuming.  The pet needs to go to the vet every few days or weeks until their blood glucose or fructosamine tests are within normal range and this time is a big change for the pet and their caregiver.

Vet Tech Tips All Animal Tips Advise Measuring Blood Glucose
Vet Tech Tips Measuring Blood Glucose

Low Blood Glucose

With pets, a serious side effect of giving insulin is low blood sugar. Make sure the pet eats before getting insulin, make sure the pet is getting insulin at the correct intervals between doses, and giving the correct dose are important to help prevent low blood sugar.  It is normally 12 or 24 hours apart depending on the type of insulin and how the insulin affects the pet.  Signs of low blood sugar include lethargy or low energy, not wanting to eat, vomiting, seizures or muscle tremors, weakness, and/or coma.  To make sure this does not happen if your pet does not eat or does not eat its full meal make sure to contact your vet before giving insulin.

How to Prevent Low Blood Glucose

To make sure their blood sugar does not get too low, have corn syrup and stage 2 baby food that has just chicken and chicken broth or turkey and turkey broth in it.  If you notice any of the above signs you can rub the corn syrup on the pet’s gums and if possible, get them to eat the baby food.  Corn syrup gives the body a quick increase of sugar and the baby food helps to keep it up for a while until the pet can eat regular food.  If your pet is having muscle tremors or seizures make sure to take them to the vet right away to get checked out.  Sometimes they need IV sugar and be monitored.  Make sure to talk to the vet about how much insulin to give for the next few days after a low blood sugar episode to make sure they do not get low blood sugar again and will more than likely need to come back for more tests once feeling better.  For dogs and cats, the goal is to keep blood glucose between 100 and 200 to make sure it does not get too low.

Giving Insulin

Vet Tech Tips All Animal Tips Advise Giving Insulin
Vet Tech Tips Giving Insulin

For pets that like to hide after eating or who do not like to have injections given sometimes it is easier to give the injection while they are eating but make sure to give it toward the end of the meal.  This way you know they ate, and you can make sure they get the medication.  To give the medication you need to make sure to mix the bottle (make sure to have the vet staff show you how to do this) and either store it in the refrigerator or in a cabinet (it will depend on the type of insulin).  Insulin injections should be given under the skin by making a tent in the skin around the neck. Make sure to give it in different spots around the neck to prevent scar tissue from building up where you are giving the injections.  Make sure you know the above things before you leave the vet hospital when getting insulin prescribed.  To give the injection mix the insulin and pull up how much you need (make sure you use the correct insulin syringe.  There are different units used for pet insulin and human insulin and it will depend on which insulin is prescribed for your pet and which syringe you should use.  Human insulin syringes use U-100 units and have an orange cap and pet insulin syringes use U-40 units and have a red cap.)  Dogs and cats can use human insulin.  Make sure you know which you are using and know which color cap the syringe has for refills.  If you use a U-40 syringe when normally you use a U-100 you can overdose your pet with insulin and cause low blood sugar or if you use a U-100 syringe and normally use a U-40 syringe you can underdose your pet and their blood glucose will be too high.

When to Give Insulin

Make sure to give insulin as directed and use a time of the day and night that works best for your schedule so you can be consistent with the times you give the insulin.  If you give insulin too far apart from the last dose, then the pet’s blood glucose level can get too high and if you give them too close together, they can get low blood sugar.  If you give it twice a day then it needs to be given every 12 hours, then it is best to give it close to the time you wake up regularly and then 12 hours after that.  If you give it once a day, it should be given every 24 hours.  The pet should only be fed twice a day at 12-hour intervals to make sure their blood glucose does not get too high at times they are not getting insulin.  Make sure you talk to your vet about what type and how many treats you can give since too many will cause their blood glucose to get too high.

Preventing Diabetes

Preventing diabetes is much easier than having to give injections, check blood glucose (whether you do them at home or have the vet team do them), it is cheaper not to have to buy prescription food, pay for the insulin and syringes, pay for the vet visits and hospitalization if the pet gets ketonic or ketones due to high blood glucose for long periods of time which causes the body to start breaking down fat (this causes ketones in the blood and urine), non-diabetics are less likely to get pancreatitis, and if the pet gets an infection or has a wound it may take longer to heal than normal which can mean more hospital visits, longer time on medications, and multiple types of medication.

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