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What Is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes Mellitus is a disease where there is either a shortage of insulin (Type I or insulin dependent) or there is an incorrect response by the cells of the body to the insulin that is being produced (Type II or insulin resistant). In either case the muscles and organs of the body are prevented from converting glucose (sugar) to energy which results in an excessive increase of the amounts of glucose in the blood. This is referred to as hyperglycemia.

Basically diabetes is a disorder of the metabolism of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. This means that there is an inherent defect in how the body digests and uses food for general growth and energy. A process which is largely dependent on having a sufficient amount of insulin in the body.

What is insulin:? This is a type of hormone which is produced by the pancreas and released into the cells in response to the digestive conversion of carbohydrates and protein into glucose in the bloodstream. Most of the food that we, and animals, ingest is broken down into glucose which is a type of sugar found in the blood and the main source of energy for the body.

When there is appropriate insulin function in the body the liver and muscles absorb the glucose from the blood cells and converts it into energy. This allows our bodies to do physical work.

Diabetes is a common disease of both humans and domestic animals such as dogs. Type I diabetes results when the pancreas has stopped producing insulin completely. In this case those affected by Type I diabetes become dependent on daily injections of insulin. This is called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus or IDDM and is the most common form of diabetes in dogs.

In Type II diabetes the pancreas is usually still producing insulin but the body does not respond to it as it should. In this case the animal can develop insulin resistant diabetes or IRD.

Dogs that are affected with diabetes are hungry all the time. This is because glucose is not making it to the brain so that the brain is unable to register that it is receiving food.

When glucose is not giving the muscles and organs a signal to convert glucose to energy any excess glucose in the blood will be eliminated from the body in the urine. This interferes with normal urine concentration that ultimately leads to an increase in the animal's urination. As a result, the animal then becomes dehydrated because of the abnormal water loss which is indicated by an increase in thirst.

Diabetes adversely affects the liver, they eyes, and the kidneys. Animals affected by diabetes are at an increased risk of infections, cataracts, and many forms of dental disease.

The Insulin Dependent form of diabetes can affect animals of any age. The Insulin Resistant form is usually seen in older, de-sexed, and obese animals. Although it too can occur at any age in certain circumstances.

Types and Symptoms of Diabetes

There are two stages to diabetes: early and late. Each carries its own symptoms.

Early signs

  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive thirst
  • Hunger
  • Weight loss even with normal appetite
  • Elevated blood glucose
  • Glucose in the urine

Later signs

  • Anorexia – complete loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and depression
  • Vomiting
  • Cataracts
  • Worsening weight loss
  • Recurrent infections

As diabetes progresses and if it is not diagnosed early a condition known as Ketoacidosis will develop. This is a life threatening condition when diabetes is unregulated. It is basically a metabolic acidosis that is caused by the breakdown of fat to ketones in the liver as a response to starvation. The animal usually suffers from the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Collapse
  • Coma
  • Death

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes mellitus has many possible causes. One likely cause is genetic predisposition as some breeds of dogs tend to have a higher risk factor of contracting the disease. And, as with humans, dogs that have parents or grandparents that have had diabetes are also at a higher risk.

There are also some medical conditions that may predispose a dog to developing diabetes mellitus. The most common conditions that have been associated with diabetes are Cushing's Disease, obesity, and pancreatitis.

There are also certain breeds of dogs that have a higher risk of developing diabetes mellitus:

  • Keeshond
  • Puli
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Samoyed
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Poodle
  • Dachshund
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Beagle

Diagnosing Diabetes in Dogs

The first step in diagnosing diabetes is for the veterinarian to take a detailed medical history of your dog's health prior to the onset of the symptoms. He will also need to know the exact symptoms to determine what type of diabetes the dog has. In addition to this the veterinarian will perform some standard tests. These will include a complete blood count, chemical profile, and urinalysis.

The results of the test performed by the veterinarian will usually indicate an unusually high concentration of glucose in the blood and urine. The may also be higher than normal levels of enzymes in the liver and electrolyte imbalances. Severe cases will also show evidence of high levels of ketone bodies. There may also be a number of other abnormalities found.

Your veterinarian may also do radiographic studies to diagnose any concurrent diseases and complications that may also be present due to diabetes. Animals suffering from diabetes also usually suffer from kidney stones, inflammation of the pancreas and liver, and other associated diseases and conditions. Radiographic studies will help to diagnose these problems as well.

If there is an indication of liver disease your veterinarian may take a sample of the liver tissue to send off for further diagnostic evaluation.

Treatment and Care of Diabetic Dogs

The first step in treating diabetes in dogs is to get the blood glucose levels into a normal range. This is often done by administering twice daily injections of insulin. The veterinarian will also outline a daily diet plan and exercise regimen. During the first few months of treatment it is often a trial and error period. All dogs react differently to the disease as well as the treatment. Many adjustments to the amount of insulin prescribed will be done. Regular blood test will also be ordered to keep an eye on how treatment is going.

Obesity is a major risk factor of diabetes. This is something that needs to be handled carefully and brought under control slowly and with great care. It is possible to bring this under control in 2 to 4 months. Your veterinarian, however, will most likely give a different timeline to accomplish this which is usually long. Perhaps 6 months to a year. If your dog has actually lost weight due to diabetes, you will need to work with your veterinarian on a plan to increase your dog's weight to normal levels.

When changing the type of dog food you feed your dog that has diabetes you must consult your veterinarian first. The diet plan must be well thought out and strictly adhered to. This plan will be developed around your dog's needs. You will also have to make certain lifestyle changes in the dog's life to accomplish this.

Since all dog's react differently to this disease your veterinarian will make an individual treatment and management plan for your dog. This will be based on the current disease status as well as the individual needs of the animal. You will be informed on what to look for in the case of either hypoglycemia (low levels of glucose) or hyperglycemia (high level of glucose), both of which can be seen in diabetic dogs. You will also need to keep detailed records on your dog's diet, daily insulin dosages, weekly body weight, and glucose test results. This will help your veterinarian recognize when there is a deviation from its regular pattern. This will ultimately help your veterinarian select the appropriate type of insulin to treat the diabetes.

If the condition is serious enough your veterinarian will most likely recommend a hysterectomy for a female dog. When a female dog is in heat there is an associated surge in hormone levels which can cause complications to an animal with diabetes.

Unfortunately, diabetes is an incurable disease. But with proper management your dog's health can be kept stable. Many dogs do lead a long and fully enjoyable life with the proper management of this disease. But it is up to the pet owner to stick to the plan. For this disease practicing careful maintenance of the disease is the best preventative from complications.

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