Diabetes isn't just a people problem. Dogs and cats are being diagnosed at alarming rates—in the past 5 years alone, the number of diabetic dogs has increased by 32%; cats, by 16%. But a diagnosis of diabetes is completely manageable, and your animal can live a long, healthy life if you know what steps to take.
Do Right by Your Dog A genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes is the biggest risk for your pooch (dogs rarely develop type 2), and beagles, dachshunds, poodles, pugs, and Samoyeds top the list of breeds most at risk, with symptoms usually showing up at age 7 or later. However, all dogs are vulnerable: "You could unknowingly have a dog of any breed who is predisposed, and if he gets fat and lazy…well, the scale can tip toward diabetes," says Karen Halligan, DVM, author of Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know. Here's what you need to watch for.
The symptoms: If your dog is having blood sugar problems, he'll become excessively thirsty and urinate more frequently. You'll be refilling the water bowl more often, and he might start having accidents in the house, even if he's been trained for years. Look out for any sudden weight loss or ravenous appetite (a big red flag if it happens at the same time as the weight loss). And don't ignore a strange-smelling mouth when he kisses you—diabetic dogs can develop breath that has an odor like nail polish remover. Finally, any major behavioral changes—irritability, hiding, or sleeping a lot—could all be his way of telling you that he's not feeling right.
If you see any of these signs, head to the vet. A simple blood and urine test will give you a diagnosis, and you'll have results in 24 to 48 hours.
The treatments: If your dog is diagnosed, three lifestyle changes will help keep him healthy, according to Amy DeClue, DVM, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine: insulin therapy, regular exercise, and diet adjustments.
Inject insulin. Just as humans with diabetes need insulin injections, so do pets. Two doses daily, 12 hours apart, are usually enough to keep blood sugar stable. And don't quail at the prospect of giving shots—dogs learn to tolerate them quickly. Ask your vet to help you through a few practice sessions (using saline) until you and your pet are comfortable with the new routine.
Encourage exercise. Increasing the amount of lean muscle in his body will improve your dog's response to insulin therapy. Start incorporating more activity into his regimen, building up to 30 minutes twice a day (the goal could be more or less, depending on the breed—ask your vet) to make sure he stays fit and vigorous.
Fix his feed. A moderate-protein, high-fiber diet is best. Diabetic-specific foods can be purchased by prescription through your vet, or the two of you can work together to create balanced, homemade meals. Treats should make up no more than 10% of your dog's diet, and you'll want to look for choices that have a protein listed as the first ingredient and avoid any that list carbohydrates (such as rice or wheat) or sugars early on the label. Finally, be extra diligent about ignoring puppy eyes that beg for scraps at the kitchen table—human food doesn't fit his diet.
Last, be consistent. Maintaining a regular food, exercise, and insulin schedule will help your dog stay healthy.
Care for Cats More proof that cats land on their feet—you can reverse their diabetes prognosis
Cats are mainly diagnosed with lifestyle-induced type 2 diabetes—that is, stemming from being overfed and underexercised—and most often over the age of 6. Symptoms include excessive thirst and urination; diagnosis comes from tests at the vet; and treatments include insulin injections, amped-up physical activity that totals 15 to 30 minutes a day (for ideas to get your cat moving, see prevention.com/exercisewithyourpet), and a new diet. While prescription foods are an option for cats, they're often not necessary—instead, opt for canned fare, which has more protein than dry pellets do and helps your cat stay hydrated. Check that turkey, chicken, or fish (not meat by-products) is listed as the first ingredient, and avoid carb-filled additions such as sauce, gravy, and rice.
The best news is that in cats, it's possible to reverse diabetes completely with proper care—closely monitored insulin therapy, along with keeping the weight off—and this turnaround can last a lifetime.