Q: Lately my 7-year-old pooch has been drinking a lot more water than usual, then urinating more often. She also doesn't seem to have as much energy she used to. What do you think could be wrong with her?

A: What you've described are three classic signs of diabetes, a serious but treatable disease.

During digestion, food is broken down into very small components that can be used by the body. Carbohydrates, or starches, are converted into sugars including glucose. Glucose is absorbed into the blood and provides energy to the body's cells. In order for the cells to absorb the glucose, a hormone called insulin is needed. Insulin is produced by specific cells in the pancreas. When the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, or the cells don't respond to the insulin, diabetes occurs.

A diagnosis of diabetes is confirmed through analysis of blood and urine.

Treatment involves finding the right dosage of insulin which is injected daily to restore a pet’s insulin level and control blood glucose levels. Many owners feel anxious about giving injections, but it’s easier than you think, and you can quickly master doing it with minimal stress for you and your pet. Your vet will develop a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that provides energy without the extra carbohydrates that can turn into excess sugar. Regular exercise, maintained consistently each day, is also important.

Diabetes can occur in both dogs and cats, usually in middle-aged or older pets, although it affects them differently. Cataracts are common to both species, but they develop much slower in cats. Dogs who develop cataracts are sometimes blind within a year.

Middle-aged and older dogs who are obese, including females who are not spayed, are at higher risk, and some breeds are at risk because of genetics.

Risk factors for cats include age (older cats are more susceptible), obesity, and physical inactivity. Indoor cats, neutered males, and cats with other insulin-resistant disorders such as pancreatitis and hyperthyroidism are at greater risk.

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Some of the common signs of diabetes are: excessive thirst; increased urination—your pet urinates more often or has “accidents” in the house (dogs) or outside the litter box (cats); excessive hunger while losing weight; lethargy (less activity, sleeping more); cloudy eyes (dogs); not grooming (cats); thinning, dry, and dull coat.

Diabetes is on the rise in both dogs and cats, so pet owners need to do everything they can to prevent it. Keep your pet's weight at an appropriate level, make sure they get enough exercise, see your vet at least twice a year, and learn the warning signs. With proper management, dogs can have an excellent quality of life and live long healthy lives with diabetes.

Q: My cat has just been diagnosed with diabetes. I feel overwhelmed with all the information my vet gave me. What should I do first?

A. Follow your vet's advice. If you haven't already, talk with him or her about the right diet for your cat making sure to keep any carbohydrates in her food at a minimum. If you are feeling unsure about injecting the insulin or are afraid of hurting your cat, schedule some time with one of the vet techs to practice injecting. Open communication is vital, so don't be afraid to express your concerns.

Although diabetes is a serious disease and there is no cure, it is not a death sentence. It can be managed successfully with insulin therapy, the correct diet, a consistent exercise routine, and regular check-ups. So don't panic! With patience and diligence, you and your vet can get your pet's diabetes under control and keep her healthy for years to come.

Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at drmiller@canyonpet.com.

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Chris Etling is a copy editor and paginator at the Arizona Daily Sun. He's worked for the Daily Sun since November 2009.

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