When cats or dogs get diabetes, the signs of the illness map closely to the symptoms people experience with the onset of diabetes. Recognizing the early symptoms is helpful because diabetes is a treatable disease for pets, controllable with a combination of insulin and dietary changes. Without this treatment, however, your cat or dog’s health will deteriorate and the diabetes can become life-threatening, affecting all of a pet’s organs. Be mindful that the symptoms of diabetes do not show up overnight - the development of the basic symptoms happens at a fairly slow speed, generally over the course of several weeks.
The main symptoms that cats and dogs show when they have diabetes are:
- Excessive Urination: Frequent urination occurs in response to elevated levels of sugar in the bloodstream.
- Extreme Thirst and Dehydration: Both the sugar in the bloodstream and the increase in urination leads to pets drinking more than usual, yet finding it impossible to quench their thirst.
- Loss of Weight: Cats and dogs may lose weight as their bodies start to use up stockpiled resources of fat and protein in place of the energy they’d usually get from glucose.
- Increased Appetite: Pets may start eating more in an attempt to counteract their weight loss and replenish the stored-up fat their body is now using.
- Lethargy, poor grooming, matted fur: Difficulty getting the amount of food and water that they require, as well as a depletion of glucose, can lead to lethargy and a general malaise.
- Urinary Tract Infections: Overly sugar-filled urine can make it quite likely for pets to experience UTIs.
If the diabetes is not treated, even more extreme symptoms and associated diseases can develop including:
- Cataracts: This very common symptom is only seen in dogs, and not cats. Cataracts occur because of excessive glucose levels.
- Ketoacidosis: A life-threatening condition that occurs as a result of diabetes and your pet’s inability to handle the transformation of body fat into energy; watch for a sweet smell on your pet’s breath.
- Diabetic Neuropathy: This disorder causes a weakness in your pet’s hind legs; you may spot it from a change to your pet’s gait when he walks around.
Recognizing and treating diabetes is quite important, since without treatment, the disease can have an impact on all of your pet’s organs. Eventually, your pet could fall into a coma or die as a result of diabetes.
Nearly any cat or dog can get diabetes, but some pets have predisposing genetic factors that make diabetes more likely, and obesity and age increase the likelihood of diagnosis. Diabetes is relatively unusual in young cats. The most likely candidate to have diabetes is a middle-aged male, neutered cat. In fact, male cats have almost twice the risk of getting diabetes as female cats. In contrast, female dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than male ones.