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Pet Diabetes: Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Did you know that pups and kitties can get diabetes too? For many pet parents, this comes as a complete surprise. And just as shocking is the underlying cause, which in many cases comes down to loving your pet a little too much via overfeeding or giving them the wrong food.

That’s why the number of dogs and cats suffering from this debilitating disease is on the up, says Michelle Le Long, Chief Operating Officer of pet insurance specialist PD Insurance.

Pet parents should take note with November being National Pet Diabetes Awareness Month.

“You really want to avoid pet diabetes. It can cause a whole range of issues, including joint, heart and eye problems - even loss of eyesight - plus recurring skin and urinary tract infections and more. While treatment is possible, cure is not, and managing diabetes is inconvenient and unpleasant for furbaby and pet parent alike. It can also be very costly,” Le Long stresses.

With around 1 in 4 of all cats and dogs nationally being overweight, it’s little wonder Vetsource estimates 1 in every 300 dogs and 1 in 230 cats will develop diabetes during their lifetimes - statistics that keep rising as pet parents unknowingly indulge their beloved animals.

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When you consider NZ has over 2 million cats and dogs, that’s a lot of diabetic pets.

What causes pet diabetes?

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases characterised by the body’s inability to regulate sugar levels in the blood. The biggest cause, for humans and fur kids alike, also has the easiest solution: overeating and/or eating unhealthy foods. The next biggest cause is inactivity. The use of steroids (e.g. prednisone, often used for skin irritations) is also linked to diabetes.

This means responsible pet parenting must include a commitment to exercise and a controlled diet of appropriate foods. While gifting high-fat human food is tempting, it's unsuitable for cats and dogs. Canines are particularly susceptible to pancreatitis after wolfing down too much fatty food – and this (inflammation of the pancreas, a key digestive organ) can lead to diabetes.

“The simple solution is avoiding food 'kindness’ that leads to unintentional harm,” says Le Long. “Instead, manage your pet’s diet and weight by avoiding high-salt or high-fat foods like beef drippings or BBQ leftovers. These foods are unhealthy for both cats and dogs.”

Watch for the signs and symptoms

Spotting diabetes in your pet can be tricky because many signs and symptoms can be mistaken for something less serious. As diabetes is a chronic disease – that is, it is persistent and doesn’t go away over time – you should notice some permanence in the tell-tales.

These can include:

  • Excessive thirst and frequent urination.
  • Weight loss.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Cloudy eyes, especially in dogs.
  • Chronic or recurring infections.

The key is simple: if in doubt, have the vet check it out. “Even if it isn’t diabetes, your pet might be suffering some other disease. A checkup brings reassurance either way,” notes Le Long.

Living with pet diabetes

If diabetes is diagnosed, it’s a case of ‘sooner the better’. Early detection, appropriate medical care and swift treatment help give affected pets the best quality of life. Careful lifestyle management, particularly around food and exercise, also enables diabetic pets to live happily.

Le Long says living with a diabetic pet is the best demonstration of the importance of helping your pet avoid the disease. In addition to providing a specific diet, you will regularly monitor blood glucose levels (with pinprick tests), inject insulin, and monitor symptoms. Not to mention potentially having to test for, treat and manage other conditions that arise along with it.

“Then there’s the cost,” she says. “Routine treatments for a diabetic cat or dog – just for their diabetes – can add anywhere from $40 to $100 to monthly pet bills.”

“Protect your pets and your pocket with pet insurance, as it can make accessing quality medical care an easy, affordable decision. It’s another good reason to get your pets insured before a condition like diabetes arises and becomes a pre-existing condition,” Le Long notes.

Read more about diabetes in dogs and cats.

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