Diabetes affects 1 percent of dogs
Integrative Pet Vet
Diabetes mellitus is a common disease in dogs. It affects an estimated 1 in 100 dogs, and the incidence has tripled over the last 30 years. While the exact causes of diabetes are not known, there is speculation that autoimmune disease, genetics, obesity and chronic pancreatitis could be important predisposing factors.
Certain dog breeds like Australian terriers, standard and miniature schnauzers, dachshunds, poodles, keeshonds and samoyeds are more commonly affected. Occurrence in female dogs is twice that in males. The peak age for onset of diabetes is 6-9 years in dogs. Fortunately, diabetic dogs that receive treatment, and have their blood glucose controlled, have the same average lifespan as dogs of the same age and gender that are not diabetic.
There are two types of diabetes. In the dog, almost all diabetic patients are type 1; type 2 rarely occurs. Type 1 diabetes requires insulin administration and occurs because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Lack of insulin is a significant problem because insulin plays a critical role in controlling blood glucose. Insulin signals cells to take in glucose to be used for energy, and when there is sufficient energy, insulin signals the liver to take in glucose and store it. When blood insulin is low or absent, as with diabetes, glucose is not taken up by most body cells. When this happens, the body uses fat as a source of energy. In addition, blood glucose increases because liver production is not switched off. Altered metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins occurs.
Without enough insulin, the altered carbohydrate metabolism leads to elevated blood glucose and glucose in the urine once the blood glucose rises high enough. This elevated glucose results in increased urination and drinking. Cataracts can also form. Alterations in fat metabolism can lead to increased fat in the blood and liver changes. Reduced ability to use glucose, proteins and fats can lead to lethargy, weight loss, hunger, poor hair coat, reduced immunity and recurrent infections when the diabetes is not treated.
Diagnosis of diabetes is based on elevated levels of glucose in the blood. This is important because the signs associated with diabetes — increased or excessive drinking, increased urination, weight loss, increased appetite and recurrent infections — can be caused by other health problems. A thorough history, physical examination, and blood and urine testing are all important parts of a complete evaluation.
In uncomplicated diabetes, treatment involves injection of insulin along with careful regulation of feeding time and use of specific diets. Consistent amounts and frequency of exercise are also important. Therapy is lifelong and tailored for each individual dog. There are a number of different types of insulin grouped by how long they work in the body. There are also individual responses to the insulin. Your veterinarian will provide advice on the proper selection of insulin.
Some dogs are more sensitive to insulin and will need less for optimal control of the blood glucose. These factors make monitoring of the blood glucose a critical component of establishing the optimal insulin dose initially. Periodic blood glucose measurement can be valuable to ensure that the correct insulin dose is continuing to be given. For some dogs this is a relatively straightforward process, while for other dogs, it is very challenging and sometimes frustrating. Management of diabetes can be complicated when there are concurrent disorders such as those that involve the adrenal or thyroid glands, when infections are present, when poor kidney, liver, or heart function occurs, with obesity, or if there is cancer. Urinary tract infections are common in diabetic dogs. In addition, diabetic dogs are also more susceptible to developing infections in the mouth.
Integrative care involves, in addition to insulin, nutritional or herbal support of organs that have reduced function such as the liver or kidneys. Probiotics can be used to improve the intestinal flora and have a beneficial impact on the immune system. This is especially important if antibiotics are being used to treat infections. Opinions vary on the best commercial or prepared foods to use. For example, many advocate the use of high-fiber diets while others argue that many dogs do well on moderate fiber diets.
Successful management of diabetes in dogs is based on consistency. This includes consistency with monitoring, dosing of insulin, types and amounts of food, the amount of daily exercise, and control of any concurrent problems. If you have concerns that your pet may have diabetes, contact your veterinarian for a complete discussion of this important issue.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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