Pets at high risk for diabetes

Posted on 26 Jan 2006 at 8:02pm
By Tammye Nash Senior Editor

American Diabetes Association to hold America’s Walk for Diabetes on Katy Trail; organization includes components focusing on pets’ needs

For many gays and lesbians, the dogs and cats that live with them are more like members of their family than pets. But many of those doting pet owners many not realize that their beloved furry friends are just as susceptible as humans to a growing health threat diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association, in an effort to raise awareness about the disease and to raise money to fight it, will hold America’s Walk for Diabetes from 9 a.m. to noon on Nov. 4 on the Katy Trail at the American Airlines Center. A spokesman for the walk said the organization includes components focusing on diabetes in pets.

Dr. Kelly Nitsche, a gay veterinarian with the Animal Diagnostic Clinic, said this week that diabetes is a life-changing disease for pets, just as it is for humans. Nitsche and the clinic are part of the Veterinary Referral Center of North Texas, a network of veterinary specialists.

Nitsche said that diabetes is “probably the second most common hormonal problem in cats, and probably the second or third most common hormonal problem in dogs.” It is most common in older, unsprayed, small-breed female dogs and in older, neutered male cats.

He said early symptoms in pets mirror the classic symptoms of diabetes in humans: increased thirst, increased urination and increased appetite coupled with weight loss.

Diabetes in both dogs and cats is usually a straightforward diagnosis, Nitsche said, made when tests show high sugar levels in blood samples taken when the animal has not eaten, with sugar showing up in the urine at the same time.

But after diagnosis, the treatment paths for dogs and cats go their separate ways, Nitsche said.

Dogs almost always have what in humans is known as Type 1 or insulin-dependent or juvenile-onset diabetes. Treatment usually involves insulin injections once or twice a day along with changes in diet.

Since diabetes usually shows up in older dogs that often have other health problems as well, managing their diabetes is often more difficult, Nitsche said. He added that life expectancy for dogs diagnosed with diabetes is usually about two to three years. But, he said, the fact that these dogs are usually older and have other health problems plays into the life expectancy as well.

Age and obesity are probably factors among cats who develop diabetes, also. But cats are very different in most ways from dogs in terms of how the disease develops and how it is treated, Nitsche said.

Cats are more likely to mimic what is known as Type 2 diabetes in humans diabetes that is caused by obesity and poor dietary habits and can sometimes be controlled without insulin, the veterinarian said.

“Cats will flip-flop back and forth,” Nitsche said. “They might need insulin injections for awhile, and then they won’t need the medicine. It can be controlled with diet. And then they might go back to where they need the medicine again,” he said.

Nitsche said both dogs and cats with diabetes are usually treated with insulin developed for human patients. Only one insulin has been developed specifically for use in dogs, he said, adding that a new product called Lantus has shown great promise in inducing a high rate of remission for pets.

The insulin needed to treat diabetes in pets is not especially expensive, Nitsche said. “But what can get costly is the frequent monitoring and testing that is necessary to make sure the treatment and dosages are correct,” he said.

“Human diabetics can easily be taught how to monitor their own blood sugar. But to monitor a pet’s blood sugar, you have to take it to the veterinarian for tests, and that can be expensive,” Nitsche explained.

Just as in humans, diet plays an important role in controlling diabetes in animals, Nitsche said.

“Dogs are omnivores, like people. They eat a combination of meat and vegetables. The best thing for dogs to control diabetes is a higher-fat, carb-restricted diet with more fiber,” he said. “But cats are carnivores. They don’t use carbs as an energy source the way dogs and people do. They use protein, instead. So they need a diet with higher protein, moderate fat and lower carbs. Diet can have a profoundly positive impact on the disease, especially in cats.”

The best thing pet owners can do, Nitsche said, is to be attentive to symptoms in their pets. Look for those classic, early clinical signs and if those symptoms show up, get them treated as soon as possible. As in humans, diabetes is controllable, but the earlier it is caught, the better, he said.

For more information on America’s Walk for Diabetes, go online to www.diabetes.org/walk.

E-mail nash@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 27, 2006.

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