What is Diabetes Mellitus in Canines?

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is characterized by a chronic increase in blood sugar (glucose) in the blood, which is called "hyperglycemia". It is the result of poor glucose utilization by the body cells because of a deficiency of the hormone insulin, which is secreted in the body by the pancreas.

(Another type of Diabetes exists, diabetes insipidus, which is unrelated to diabetes mellitus.)

Animation of the origin of the insulin secretion:

Are there different types of diabetes in dogs and cats as in humans?

YES, there are three types of diabetes in animals:

Juvenile diabetes, or Type I diabetes: It is the result of an early and serious lack of insulin secretion by the pancreas. It affects young dogs though it is quite a rare condition. It is regarded as so-called insulin-dependent diabetes.

Diabetes "fat" or Type II diabetes: In these cases, insulin levels in the blood may be normal or increased. The development of the condition is a consequence of a deficiency in action of insulin, and often occurs in overweight pets. Hence, so-called non-insulin-dependent diabetes.

Diabetes "lean" or Type III diabetes: This time, insulin levels in the blood are lowered. Most often in pets this is the end-result of the evolution of Type II diabetes, in which, eventually, the cells responsible for the secretion of insulin become "exhausted" impairing the supply of insulin. It may also be a consequence of disease of the pancreas itself (e.g. due to infection, inflammation, fibrosis, cancer etc. etc.)

Animation of the insulin mechanism of action:

What are causes that may lead to diabetes mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is 2-3 times more common in females than in males. Obesity is undoubtedly a very important predisposing cause. DM often affects animals between 6 and 10 years. Certain administered medications (corticosteroids, various hormones, etc.) can also predispose an inpidual to the later development of DM. Additionally, endogenous abnormal secretion in the body itself, of various hyperglycemic hormones such as cortisol, thyroid hormones, and growth hormone, may occur, encouraging the development of DM.

Are there any specific breeds that are predisposed to DM?

Some dog breeds in which the condition may be seen more commonly include:

  • Beagle
  • Cairn terrier
  • Poodle
  • Keeshond
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Dachshund
  • Australian Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier

What are the symptoms that may indicate that my pet has diabetes mellitus?

The symptoms which may draw your attention: Increased thirst or hunger; increased volume and/or frequency of urination, "sticky" urine.

Other more serious manifestations may be present later in the course of the condition, requiring emergency medical attention: loss of appetite, dehydration, abnormal and slow breathing, vomiting, and coma.

Animation of the clinical signs of diabetes in dogs & cats:

How is the diagnosis of this disease made?

Various tests will help confirm the suspicion of diabetes mellitus and in particular blood and urine tests. Of course, hyperglycemia (increased blood sugar in the blood) is an important part of diagnosis but one episode of hyperglycemia alone does confirm a diagnosis of DM.

What is the treatment for diabetes mellitus?

A special diet (either commercial or home-prepared) is essential. Such a diet aims to limit fluctuations in the rate of blood sugar after meals, maintain the pet's normal weight and reduce the risk of diabetes complications.

Medical treatment is based in most cases on insulin injections, which can be given under the skin, as instructed by your veterinarian once or twice daily. In a number of cases, hospitalization periods of 1-3 days may be necessary to stabilize your pet, and/or better adjust insulin therapy (dose, insulin type, number of injections, meal distribution and type, etc.) to optimize successful management of the case.

Animation of insulin injection technique:

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