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DiabetesDiabetes mellitus occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin. Insulin is required for the body to efficiently use sugars, fats and proteins.

Diabetes most commonly occurs in middle age to older dogs and cats, but occasionally occurs in young animals. When diabetes occurs in young animals, it is often genetic and may occur in related animals.

Typical signs of diabetes in dogs/cats:

  1. polyuria - urinating too much
  2. polydipsia - drinking too much water
  3. weight loss despite polyphagia - increased appetite
  4. lethargy

The body needs insulin to use sugar, fat and protein from the diet for energy. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the blood and spills into the urine. Sugar in the urine causes the pet to pass large amounts of urine and to drink lots of water. Levels of sugar in the brain control appetite. Without insulin, the brain becomes sugar deprived and the animal is constantly hungry, yet they may lose weight due to improper use of nutrients from the diet. Untreated diabetic pets are more likely to develop infections and commonly get bladder, kidney, or skin infections.

Poorly managed or untreated diabetes mellitus may result in diabetic ketoacidosis a serious condition. This must be treated as an emergency requiring prompt treatment.

The diagnosis of diabetes is made by finding a large increase in blood sugar and a large amount of sugar in the urine. A blood screen of other organs is obtained to look for changes in the liver, kidney and pancreas. A urine sample may be cultured to look for infection of the kidneys or bladder.

Diabetes is managed long term by the injection of insulin by the owner once or twice a day. Some diabetic cats can be treated with oral medications instead of insulin injections, but the oral medications are rarely effective in the dog.

The insulin needs of the individual animal are determined by collecting small amounts of blood for glucose (sugar) levels every 1-2 hours for 12-24 hours. This is called an insulin-glucose-response curve. When insulin treatment is first begun, it is often necessary to perform several insulin-glucose-response curves to determine:

  • which insulin type to use
  • how much insulin to give
  • how often to give insuli
  • nwhen is the best time to feed the animal

The animal's insulin needs may change over time requiring a change in insulin type or frequency of injection. Insulin- glucose- response curves are usually performed several days after a change in insulin is made.

Before you give insulin injections to your pet, your veterinarian will show you how to:

  • handle insulin
  • use a syringe
  • draw insulin from the bottle in the correct amount
  • give your pet the insulin shot

Insulin is fragile and will become less effective or even inactive if it gets too hot or cold, or is shaken vigorously. Pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle. Discard insulin that is outdated

Insulin injections are not as perfect as the insulin produced by the pancreas. Blood sugar levels will not always be normal in diabetic pets. The goal of treatment is to reduce the signs of diabetes. When diabetes is well controlled with insulin, the pet should drink, eat and urinate normal amounts. They should have a good appetite, without becoming fat and should have normal activity.

Insulin needs are closely related to the type of food eaten by the pet. Your veterinarian will recommend a specific diet and feeding regimen that will enhance the effectiveness of insulin.

There is always some risk that a diabetic patient will develop low blood sugar. Signs of low blood sugar include weakness, staggering, seizures, or just being more quiet than usual. You should keep sugar/honey on hand to rub on the animals gums if they have signs suggestive of low blood sugar.

In diabetic dogs, the following emergency situations may arise:

  1. Hypoglycaemia - extremely low blood sugar
  2. Diabetic ketoacidosis

It is important to be prepared for the above situations if you own a diabetic dog.

CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY for possible adjustment of the insulin dose or treatment of additional medical problems if your diabetic dog shows any of these signs:

  • Excessive drinking for more than 3 days
  • Excessive urination or inappropriate urination in the house for more than 3 days
  • Reduction in or loss of appetite
  • Weakness, seizures or severe depression
  • Behavioural change, muscle twitching or anxiety
  • Constipation, vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Signs of a bladder infection (passing frequent small amounts of urine, straining to urinate, blood in the urine)
  • Swelling of the head or neck

Once a diabetic dog has been stabilised on insulin, it is usually able to lead a happy, healthy life. The life expectancy of your diabetic dog stabilised on insulin is similar to that of other healthy pets of the same breed. Good communication between you and your veterinarian, and adherence to the treatment regime, will help keep your pet healthy. Both of you can continue to enjoy life together for many years.


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