Veterinarians: Excess weight often responsible for dog, cat diabetes

Diabetes in dogs and cats occurs with regularity and may be more preventable than some think, according to area veterinarians. The condition is especially preventable in cats, said Dr. Gail Hartman, of Cedarville Veterinary Clinic in Front Royal.

“With cats, it’s highly associated with obesity like with humans,” Hartman said. “… Diet certainly can contribute when it comes to cats and getting obese.”

Certain diets can put pets at risk for the condition, Hartman said.

“In general, you’ll find that dry food – the kibbled foods – are higher in carbohydrate calories, so feeding a canned food diet will tend to give them less carbohydrates and can sometimes be the ticket for getting successful weight loss, especially when it comes to cats,” she said.

Hartman said that when it comes to dogs, obesity is less likely to be the culprit.

“It’s not so much associated with obesity in dogs,” she said. “Dogs can acquire diabetes through injury or inflammation of the pancreas. They can also get diabetes through an auto-immune disease, which destroys the islet cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.”

Hartman explained that there are some dog breeds that seem more likely to have diabetes.

“In dogs, we see it more commonly in dachshunds, poodles and mini schnauzers,” she said. “It might be genetics.”

In order to diagnose a pet with diabetes, normal lab work is conducted, said Dr. Amy Wright, doctor of veterinary medicine at Warren County Veterinary Hospital in Front Royal.

“With diabetes you can typically get that off of screening lab work,” she said. “Your initial lab work, which will typically consist of a CBC, which is a cell blood count, a chemistry and probably a urinalysis, you will find diabetes on that lab work.”

Hartman said that treatment, like the diagnosis, of pet diabetes is very similar to that of humans.

“You put them on insulin and there are many different types and it’s very common for us to use a human type of insulin,” she said. “Some owners learn how to do it themselves, just like people do it on themselves — they learn how to do it on their pet. Some people do it on the paw – it’s more commonly done on the ear. Most people would use a reader like those used with humans.”

Both doctors Hartman and Wright said that human insulin is regularly used to treat pets, and is effective. Wright said one such brand, Lantus, is the best insulin on the market for cats. It enables better control, said Wright. The tradeoff, however, is the price, at $200 a vial.

Both doctors Wright and Hartman said that more affordable insulin brands, such as Novolin ($30) and Vetsulin ($60) will do the job, but recommended Lantus, if feasible, because of its effectiveness for cats.

The symptoms of pet diabetes are almost indiscernible from those of the human version of the condition.

“They would be drinking a lot of water, urinating a lot more and losing weight despite a good appetite,” she said.

However, these symptoms could also be indicative of something else entirely, said Wright.

“There are other diseases that can cause similar symptoms,” she said. “Other diseases that we might think about, and it’s going to depend on whether you’re looking at a cat or a dog. With dogs, if they’re drinking a lot and peeing a lot, we might think about Cushing’s disease, which is another endocrinopathy. We might think about kidney disease as well – they may have a chronic kidney infection. There are lots of things that can cause what we call PU/PD, which is drinking and peeing a lot.”

With cats, especially, proactivity and early intervention are crucial.

“With cats that are fat, we warn the owners that they are potentially a diabetic in the making and counsel them on slowly getting the weight off their cat,” Hartman said. “(We recommend) feeding a little bit less, maybe putting them on a weight control diet that’s lower in calories and higher in fiber or we can put them on basically the Atkins diet, which is higher in protein and fat and lower in carbohydrates.”

Contact staff writer Nathan Budryk at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or nbudryk@nvdaily.com