So your pet’s been diagnosed with diabetes. Don’t panic! As veterinarians, we understand how distressing this diagnosis can be but, with proper treatment, exercise, nutrition, and monitoring, your pet can still lead a long, happy, and primarily healthy life. It does take commitment on your part as the pet parent, however, so we want you to pass along to you as much information as possible to make sure the treatment of your diabetic pet does as smoothly and stress-free as possible. We’ve gathered some basic information about cat and dog diabetes as well as tips on how to store insulin and give injections below. Armed with knowledge, a close relationship with your vet, and the ability to give your pet as much love as possible throughout this process, you and your fur baby will be just fine.
Demystifying Pet Diabetes
Just as in humans, there are two types of pet diabetes.
The two types of pet diabetes are as follows:
- Type One: The body no longer produces insulin
- Type Two: The body does produce insulin, but the body doesn’t recognize it and can’t use the insulin it produces
What is Insulin, And Why Is It So Important?
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to regulate the amount of sugar uptake by the cells. It’s the key that unlocks the door of the blood cells to let the sugar inside. Without insulin, the cells of the body begin to starve and look for other sources of energy and nutrition to use, and, ultimately, they break down critical fat and muscle tissue. This breakdown causes a serious illness called ketosis and can make the patient extremely ill.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes, so our treatment goal is to manage the symptoms as best as possible.
The following are some symptoms of diabetes in your pet that you might notice at home:
- Increased thirst
- Increased urination
- Increased hunger
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss even though the patient seems to be ravenous all the time
Other conditions can cause similar symptoms, so vets will run a full blood panel and urinalysis. We may also conduct additional testing, such as fructosamine levels. If we determine your pet has diabetes, we’ll start treatment.
Most dogs have Type One diabetes. If the body is no longer producing insulin, the insulin must be supplemented by injections, usually twice daily. The veterinary staff will teach you how to give insulin injections at home and go over other treatment details, such as diet, exercise, and feeding routines. Feline diabetic patients can sometimes be controlled with diet and exercise changes alone, although other times, insulin injections are necessary.
A Diabetes Treatment Routine is Key
Because diabetes is not cured but managed, it requires a commitment to a routine. One person should be the pet’s primary caregiver and effectively communicate with other family members to prevent double feedings and possible double dosing of the pet’s injections.
Maintain a chart to keep your family and veterinarian abreast of what’s happening with your pet’s treatment, and consider including the following information:
- Feeding times
- Insulin doses
- The time you gave the insulin to your pet
- Any physical and behavioral changes
Everyone needs to be committed to this routine. Any changes like increased urine, thirst, or appetite could indicate that the insulin needs to be adjusted but only do so under your veterinarian’s guidance. Your vet may also have your pet come in on a routine basis to reevaluate and test insulin levels. This is a critical part of treatment that you shouldn’t ignore because insulin levels may need to be adjusted depending on test results and the pet’s overall health. We understand that life gets busy, and cats, in particular, can be challenging to get to the vet, but please bear in mind what a crucial role these vet visits play in your pet’s treatment plan. It may take some time for your pet’s insulin level to be controlled, so this step is essential.
Storing and Preparing Your Pet’s Insulin
Because the routine is so critical to your pet’s health, please always read directions on the insulin and adhere to the schedule.
Here are some tips on insulin storage:
- Keep it in the fridge
- Know the type of insulin you use
- Mix insulin before drawing it up into the syringe
- Again, read the directions carefully, as some brands need to be rolled in the hands while others need to be shaken
Never preload syringes for future use. Insulin bonds to the plastic and the rubber and the syringe, which means a preloaded syringe that sits in the fridge will not give a full dose of insulin. There are U40 and U100 concentrations, and it essential for you to know what concentration yours is, as there are different syringes for different concentrations. Switching syringes can cause underdoses or overdoses.
Both types of syringes hold 3/10 of a milliliter. U40 has a red cap and smaller demarkations. U100 has an orange cap and has larger demarkations. Use the syringe only one time. Needles get less sharp with each use and a dull needle can hurt your pet because of difficulty penetrating the skin. Dispose of the insulin syringe in the proper provided container. When the container is full, seal it and return it for proper disposal. Never put a used syringe directly into the trash.
Administering Insulin To Your Pet
Giving insulin to your pet isn’t difficult. You may be able to administer it by yourself but it’s never a bad idea to have someone around to help, especially until you gain confidence and your pet gets used to the process.
Make insulin a happy time. Also, ensure that your pet has eaten at least most of their pre-insulin meal, as you never want to give a pet insulin on an empty stomach.
Draw the recommended dose into the syringe using the proper size of syringe. Give cuddles and love. To give the injection on a dog, gently pull a pinch of skin on the side of the pet's chest or abdomen. The skin in the middle of the shoulders is thicker and may not absorb the insulin as effectively. Rub the injection site after, if you like. Try to change the location of the injection each time - for example alternate side of the pet each day. Again, give lots of praise, as this will make the process easier each time!
Words of Caution About Pet Insulin Injections
Never change your pet’s insulin amount without veterinary consultation and, remember, it’s vital that you maintain a schedule for feeding and injections. Your veterinarian can help you come up with a good one for you and your pet.
If your pet didn’t eat their meal, consult with a veterinarian because insulin should be always given with a meal unless directed otherwise. If you can’t reach your vet, attempt to feed your pet again at the next scheduled injection time. If it happens again, reach out to your veterinarian once again, as this could be cause for concern, and they will likely want you to bring your pet in for an exam.
If you miss a dose of insulin, again, consult with your veterinarian. Do not give an extra dose unless instructed to do so! If a pet's blood sugar gets too low, they can have serious consequences. If it’s after business hours, give the dose at the next scheduled time.
As with anything, the process of treating your pet for diabetes will become second nature and, dare we say, even easy. However, never hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns. And if you’d like to do further research on the topic, the AVMA has a guide to treating and monitoring diabetes in pets.