Friday, November 8, 2013

Diabetes in dogs and cats: Wading through the science

How many of know someone with diabetes? I'm betting most of us do.

For me, it's my Dad and some people at work right now. In the past it included my grandfathers and one of my great-grandmothers.

So we all think we know what diabetes is. We've seen the glucose meters and the sugar free treats in the candy aisle and the little diabetic recipe magazines in the checkout aisles in the supermarkets.

But diabetes in pets, while at its heart not a different animal, is a whole lot more complex.

I'm going to try to break it down for you in a few easy parts.


Courtesy of VCA Hospitals.
 Essentially, diabetes is when your body is not producing enough insulin to break down the sugar (glucose) in blood. So the blood sugar level is higher. That leads to all kinds of problems in the body.

There are two major types of diabetes:
  • Type I: The body (specifically the pancreas) is no longer able to produce insulin. Dogs typically get this form of diabetes, though cats can too.
  • Type II: The body can still produce some insulin, but whatever is produced is no longer able to lower the blood sugar level. You sometimes here this called borderline diabetes. Cats often get this type of diabetes first. Dogs very rarely get this type.

That's a very good question. And right now there is no definitive answer.

Could it be obesity? According to Dr. Lorie Huston, DVM, certainly in cats.

"Fat tissue is actually part of the [feline] endocrine system and secretes a number of different hormones, some of which affect the regulation of glucose," Huston said. "One of these hormones, adiponectin, increases sensitivity to insulin. In overweight cats, less adiponectin is secreted, leading to a decrease in sensitivity to insulin."

So decrease the sensitivity to insulin, the less effective it will be in breaking down sugars in the blood.

But what about Dogs?

Dr. Joe Bartges is the Acree Endowed chair of small animal research at University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine. He says there's an effect, but not a direct one so far.

"Obesity plays a role in type I diabetes but does not necessarily directly cause it," Bartges said. "Obesity does induce some insulin resistance, but not pancreatic burn out."  

Could it be genetics? Some dogs are predisposed to it. According to Dr. Joe Bartges of University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, these breeds seem to be at a higher risk:
  1. Miniature schnauzers
  2. Toy and miniature poodles
  3. Samoyeds
  4. Pugs
At lower risk?
  1.  German shepard
  2. Golden retriever (but they have another problem -- cancer)
  3. American pit bull terrier
PetMD, however, adds the following breeds to the high risk list:
  1. Keeshond
  2. Puli
  3. Miniature Pinscher
  4. Cairn terrier
  5. Poodle (no specification)
  6. Dachshund
  7. Beagle
 And there are diseases that can lead to diabetes. Cushing's Disease and pancreatitis can both tax the system, so that pet eventually gets diabetes.

So what about prevention? We'll talk about that on Monday.


  1. Excellent article! I had no idea that Dachshunds were at an increased risk of developing diabetes. Good to know considering mine just turned 6- definitely going to be on the look out for that at his check up in March.

  2. Great post! My mom's Fox Terrier had diabetes and required insulin.

  3. Great post! Thank goodness we have never had to deal with diabetes. Knock on wood!

  4. with kitties, often it is because the kitties were fed an inappropriate diet. Cats who are diagnosed as diabetic often do so well with diet change alone that they do not even need insulin. or if they do often they can come off it which is why home testing is so darn important.

    btw, do you know you have word verification on on your comments?


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