My Pet Was Diagnosed with Diabetes

Diabetes in Pets

Diabetes is a disease that affects both dogs and cats when the body is no longer able to produce its own natural insulin. The pancreas is responsible for the natural production of insulin.  Insulin is very mportant in the body because it is the transport carrier to store sugars (glucose) in the body.  Insulin resistance and secondary diabetes can be linked in pets, particularly dogs that exhibit hyperadrenocorticism (cushing’s syndrome) or are treated chronically with glucocorticoids or progestins.  Obesity also predisposes pets to diabetes.

Pet owners may notice their pet eating (polyphagia), drinking (polydipsia) and urinating (polyuria) more.  They may also note weight loss, vision issues (bilateral cataracts mostly in dogs) and weakness.  Normal blood glucose levels in both dogs and cats is 75-120mg/dL.  Once glucose levels reach the threshold level in the body they begin to spill out into the urine.  Threshold levels for dogs is 180mg/dL and cats is 240mg/dL.  Cats are unique in that they can cause themselves to become diabetic due to stress levels (transient diabetes).  This is why it is very important for veterinarians to check blood levels using such tests as fructosamine to properly diagnose a pet as truly diabetic.

Weight loss, diet and insulin are all standards in treating diabetes.  Pets and their owners should work alongside their veterinarians in properly and safely achieving weight loss goals for the pets. Cats are usually prescribed high protein low fiber diets, whereas dogs are typically prescribed high fiber complex carbohydrate diets.  Hills Science Diet W/D is one commonly used diet in dogs with diabetes due to its high fiber content.  Insulin is a very integral part of treatment and once the pet owner and veterinarian decide on which insulin is best to treat the pet, successful management is literally in the hands of the pet owner.

There are 4 main types of insulin used to treat diabetes in pets.  Regular, Neutral Protamine Hagedorn (NPH), Protamine Zinc (PZI) and glargine.  The veterinarian will choose either Regular, NPH, PZI, or Glargine to regulate your pet, each type of insulin is effective at treating diabetes.  Depending on the parameters that the veterinarian is working with will determine the insulin type that is selected for the patient. Below is a chart designed to highlight the differences between the 4 types of insulin.  There are also different types of insulin syringes your veterinarian may select U-40 or U-100 insulin syringes for your pet.  1/2 inch needle length is recommended to properly assure that you are injecting into the subcutaneous space and not into the patients fur.


Insulin Chart

Action Length:  Short

Peak:  1 – 5 hours

Duration:  4 – 10 hours

Action Length:  Intermediate

Peak:  2 – 10 hours in dogs, 2 – 8 hours in cats

Duration:  4 – 24 hours in dogs, 2 – 3 hours in cats

Action Length:  Long

Peak:  4 – 14 hours in dogs, 5 – 7 hours in cats

Duration:  6 – 28 hours


Action Length:  Slow Release

Peak:  16 – 24 hours in cats

Duration:  24+ hours

Giving Insulin Demo

Administration of insulin by owners is the biggest key to success for the pet.  Insulin must be kept refrigerated at all times and should always be rolled, never shaken, to redistribute the settled insulin product.  Shaking the insulin can cause the insulin to be broken down rendering it nonfunctional.  Once you have reconstituted the insulin by rolling the vial you can draw the prescribed amount of insulin into the syringe, taking care to draw past the prescribed amount and pushing the excess back into the bottle expelling any possible air bubbles.  Insulin is given subcutaneously between the layers of muscle and dermis (skin).  It is very important that insulin is always given subcutaneously and not intradermal (in the skin layer) because this will severely affect the pets response to the insulin treatment.

To properly administer the insulin to the pet, using your non-dominant pinch and pull up a small amount of skin on the back of your pet.  This will create a “tent” basically it will look like the base of a 3D triangle where the insulin needle can safely be inserted to reach the subcutaneous space.  Once the needle has been inserted into the subcutaneous space it is recommended to pull back on the plunger of the insulin syringe to ensure that you have not accidentally hit a small blood capillary in the skin.  If you do pull back on the plunger and see blood fill into the syringe, remove the syringe from the area, discard the syringe and start with a new syringe in a new location.  Once you are sure have have not hit any capillaries you can safely depress the plunger on the syringe injecting the insulin into the pet.

Owners should try not to become daunted when they first start the management of their pets diabetes.  Giving injections at home does not need to be stressful on both you and your pet.  Confidence comes with time and with confidence comes success!  Owners should never feel “out in the cold”.  It is important that you know that you have the support of the GVH team dedicated to their success at their veterinary hospital.  Successful management of the diabetic patient needs to come from everyone involved in the pets life, owner, veterinarian and veterinary staff alike!

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