There are many human diseases that our pets can suffer from too, one such illness is diabetes. It is a common long-term condition in both cats and dogs, with 1 in 200 cats being affected (O’Neill et al, 2016) and 1 in 300 dogs (Mattin et al, 2014).

What is diabetes?

Different types of diabetes have been identified in pets including Diabetes Mellitus (DM) type I and II and Diabetes Insipidus (DI).

DM is the most common form of diabetes seen in our pets. It is an endocrine disorder that leads to high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood. This is caused by your pet either not producing enough insulin, producing no insulin at all, or not being able to utilise or respond to insulin effectively.

Diabetic patients often drink and urinate more than usual (to help get rid of the extra sugar in the bloodstream). They can also appear lethargic, lose weight and develop other health problems.

Type 1

Type I diabetes is also known as insulin-deficient diabetes. It occurs when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are damaged or destroyed and stop producing insulin. It is caused by an autoimmune disorder and is mostly seen in dogs.

Type 2

Type II diabetes is more commonly known as insulin-resistant diabetes. It happens when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. In addition, the cells around the body become resistant to the insulin and stop responding to it. This type of diabetes is more commonly seen in cats.

Risk factors

There are many factors that can contribute to your pet developing DM including genetics, hormone and inflammatory disorders (such as acromegaly and pancreatitis), diet and obesity.

Female dogs over 6 years old are at higher risk of developing diabetes. There are also several breeds that are more likely to suffer from this disease, such as Bichons, Labradors, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Pugs and Yorkshire Terriers (Nelson, 2010).

In cats, males over 7 years old are at higher risk, in particular Burmese cats (Reusch, 2010).

Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes and the condition often requires lifelong care, but don’t worry – with appropriate treatment and monitoring it is possible for your pet to live a long and happy life.

Twice-daily insulin injections are the main form of treatment for DM in pets with regular monitoring of their blood glucose levels. The key to managing diabetic pets is to keep their blood sugar levels stable and avoid fluctuations which can be life-threatening.

There are additional lifestyle changes that will also need to be made to help manage their condition, including dietary changes and a strict exercise routine.

Potential costs

The cost of caring for a pet with DM falls broadly into two categories, home care and veterinary care.

Home care costs include:

  • Insulin
  • Syringes for administration
  • Glucose metre (to measure blood sugar levels)
  • Urine testing strips or indicator cat litter (to measure glucose in the urine)
  • Diabetic diet

Veterinary care costs include:

  • Regular examinations
  • Blood tests
  • Urine analysis
  • Diagnostic imaging (e.g. ultrasound)
  • Emergency treatment (if your pet develops a diabetic complication)

These costs may seem a little daunting, especially if your pet has only recently been diagnosed as diabetic. However, if you have pet insurance this may help you to cover the costs associated with long-term conditions like diabetes.

Insurance cover

There are two types of pet insurance policies that are likely to cover your vet bills for an ongoing medical condition such as diabetes.

The first are lifetime policies. These policies will cover your pet for the rest of their life as long as you continue to pay the premiums each year.

The second are maximum benefit policies. These policies this will cover the costs of an ongoing illness up to certain amount (as specified by your policy). If your pet is still unwell once that limit is reached, unfortunately you will not be able to make any more claims for that condition.

If you do not already have lifetime cover or a maximum benefit policy and your pet develops diabetes, it might not be possible to insure them, as it will be classed as a pre-existing condition. Therefore, please check your insurance details carefully.

We recommend purchasing pet insurance while your pet is still young to make sure that you and your pet are protected if they develop diabetes or an ongoing medical or surgical condition later in life.

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