Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Nov 3, 2014 | General Health, Pet Obesity

Diabetes in Cats and Dogs

Information about diabetes in cats and dogs is available on Pet Health Library found on the DVH website.

Pets can experience many of the same diseases that affect humans, and diabetes is one. It’s important to understand the difference in types of diabetes in cats and dogs, the symptoms, and the standards of treatment as well as how integrative veterinary medicine can help manage the disease.


Diabetes Mellitus, Types I and II – This is a disease of the pancreas. The pancreas produces enzymes necessary for digestion and the hormone insulin which regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream and controls delivery of glucose to tissues throughout the body. Diabetes mellitus is the inability of the pancreas to regular blood sugar.

Type I (insulin dependent) is the total destruction of the beta cells which produce insulin. Injections of insulin are necessary to regulate blood sugar. With Type II (non-insulin dependent), insulin-producing cells are present, however, the amount of insulin produced is insufficient, there’s a delayed response in secreting the insulin, or the body tissues are resistant to the insulin. Diabetes mellitus is the most common diabetes in cats and dogs.

Diabetes Insipidus – This type affects the kidneys and the inability to filter the blood passing through the organ. The pituitary gland produces a hormone necessary for maintaining the level of water in the body either through re-absorption or excretion. Diabetes insipidus occurs if hormone production is too low or if the kidneys do not properly respond to the hormone. This type of diabetes is very rare in cats and dogs.

Diabetes mellitus affects middle-aged to older cats and is more common in males than females. It is also common in older dogs. Obesity is a factor in developing diabetes so one way to avoid this disease—and manage the disease—is through weight management which includes proper nutrition and exercise or enrichment starting in the first year and continuing through the adult years.


Symptoms include: increased thirst and urination, weight loss and increased appetite. For cats that spend a lot of time outside, symptoms may go unnoticed—and cats instinctually hide disease to protect themselves from predators—which is why annual wellness visits with the veterinarian can uncover a medical condition before it reaches an advanced stage.

Diagnosis is confirmed with blood and urine samples that will show a high level of glucose in the blood and presence in the urine. When cats experience stress, it may result in a temporary rise in glucose levels, so more than one blood sample taken over several days is often necessary.

In the majority of cases, treatment will require insulin injections and dietary therapy. In cases of type II diabetes, short-term remission is possible with dietary changes but is not always sustained over time, leading to insulin dependency. Dietary therapy includes weight loss if the pet is overweight or obese, a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates, and eating the same food and regular times. Hospitalization during initial treatment may be required for cats and dogs in order to monitor and establish proper insulin levels, especially if the disease has reached a dangerous level.


The best way to manage pet diabetes using alternative therapies—including holistic methods—is to find a veterinarian who is certified to practice integrative veterinary medicine. Diabetes can be a dangerous disease if blood sugar levels are not properly regulated, especially in insulin-dependent cases.

“An integrative medical approach to treatment focuses on a combination of traditional and non-traditional therapies best suited for the individual pet. Weight management is very important for pets with diabetes so proper nutrition plays a key role. Integrative veterinarians recognize that nutrition in animals is unique to the breed so it becomes a necessary component to resolving many medical problems,” explained Dr. David MacDonald, a veterinarian with Doylestown Veterinary Hospital who is certified in veterinary acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

Food therapy to treat diabetes in cats and dogs


Food therapy and herbal treatments are effective alternate therapies in helping to manage diabetes in pets. A change in diet is often necessary so food therapy is essential in helping the pet safely reach an optimal weight and control blood sugar levels by structuring a diet which takes the breed, lifestyle, and medical history into consideration. Herbal remedies can aid nutrient and pharmaceutical absorption, and the appropriate use of vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3 fatty acids can support the immune and digestive systems.

With appropriate treatment and consistent monitoring, your pet’s health prognosis is good. A healthy lifestyle focused on diet and exercise is vital in maintaining optimal weight in hopes of either avoiding or successfully treating diabetes. Lots of people and pets with diabetes lead normal lives when the disease is managed properly. If you are concerned about your pet’s health or have noticed a change in behavior or regular habits, call your veterinarian or call 215-345-6000 to schedule an appointment at Doylestown Veterinary Hospital.