What is the SNAP Combo Test for Cats?

Many of you have probably visited the veterinarian’s office where a SNAP combo test was recommended to check for infectious diseases in your cat or kitten. You may have wondered what this test is and why it is important. These tests are usually recommended in your kitten’s first year of life, but can be done at any time if you adopt an adult cat or if your cat becomes ill.

A SNAP combo test checks for Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which are both lifelong diseases that cause immunosuppression. They are not overly common, but it is best to diagnose these diseases early on since they are contagious and can spread to other cats in the household.

FeLV

Feline Leukemia Virus is considered a “friendly cat” disease because it is most commonly transmitted through saliva when cats are grooming each other or drinking out of the same bowl. It can also be spread through bodily fluids, such as urine, or from the mother during nursing. It is most common in younger cats but can occur in any age. This virus infects the bone marrow resulting in immunosuppression and anemia. Cats infected have a higher risk of developing lymphoma and leukemia.

FIV

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is equivalent to HIV in humans. It is highly contagious and is known as the “mean cat” disease since it is spread most commonly through bites. This disease is most prevalent in young, outdoor male cats. It also causes immunosuppression and predisposes those affected to secondary infections.

There are no effective treatment options for either virus, but supportive care and maintenance of good health can help improve your cat’s quality of life. Both diseases become progressively worse over time. Most FeLV-infected cats succumb to the disease within 2-3 years; however, some cats live much longer with the proper veterinary care. The prognosis for FIV-infected cats is much more guarded, and usually cats succumb to the disease just months after diagnosis.

Vaccination against at-risk cats is important to reduce the prevalence and spread. Cats that are infected should be kept separate from other cats within the household and be strictly indoors for the duration of their lives. Your veterinarian may recommended repeating this combo tested yearly or as needed for at-risk cats.

Why is My Pet Coughing?

Coughing can be caused from a variety of medical conditions. We will discuss the most common reasons why you may have noticed a cough develop in your dog or cat recently.

Heart Disease

Let’s first discuss heart disease, which can be congenital or acquired. Hearing a heart murmur can provide the first clue that heart disease is present. Murmurs occur when there are valvular abnormalities within the heart. Over time, the heart can become progressively damaged and lead to congestive heart failure. If the left side of the heart is affected, fluid may back up into the lungs and produce a wet or productive cough.

Heartworm Disease

Dogs and cats that have contracted heartworm disease may also develop a cough. This can be due to an anaphylactic reaction to heartworm microfilaria or progressive damage to the pulmonary artery and right atrium, where heartworms become lodged.

Lung disease

Parasites and inflammation are a few lung issues we can see in our patients. Coughing may worsen during spring and summer when environmental allergens cause inflammation within the bronchioles (bronchitis). In cats, asthma is fairly common and results in difficulty breathing and a non-productive cough likely secondary to environmental allergens as well. In addition, primary lung tumors or metastatic disease can reduce lung capacity and lead to breathing abnormalities and coughing that may expel blood.

Infection

Dogs and cats can contract bacterial, fungal, or viral infections that may lead to upper respiratory signs. Pneumonia results in lung consolidation and a productive cough, whereas many viruses result in a dry cough. Unvaccinated dogs are at risk for contracting kennel cough or distemper by coming in contact with a virus and/or bacteria. Cats may also develop upper respiratory tract infections due to underlying viral or bacterial disease.

Upper Respiratory Disease

Older, large breed dogs can develop laryngeal paralysis, which is a nerve defect that causes the larynx to become partially closed. This results in noisy breathing and a dry cough. In contrast, small breed dogs are predisposed to tracheal collapse where the cartilage within their tracheas weakens and the lumen becomes smaller. A “honking” cough is characteristic of this disease and can often be elicited upon tracheal stimulation.

As you can see there are many possible causes of the coughing that is occurring in your pet. Your veterinarian can perform diagnostics, such as bloodwork and chest radiographs (x-rays) to determine the underlying cause and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

What is Feline Hyperthyroidism?

Middle-aged and geriatric cats are frequently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Pet parents often first notice a change in their cats’ behaviors or significant weight loss, which can be clues that this disease may be present. With early detection, we can begin necessary treatment and prevent secondary complications.

What is it?

Hyperthyroidism occurs when your cat’s thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone (T3 or T4). Usually, a benign enlargement of the thyroid gland, commonly referred to as an adenoma, is the cause. Rarely, a malignant thyroid tumor may be present. It is unknown what causes this enlargement to occur.

Thyroid hormone affects many of the organ systems, especially the heart and kidneys. If too much thyroid hormone is secreted, your cat’s metabolic state kicks into overdrive and can cause systemic damage.

What are the clinical signs?

Weight loss despite a ravenous appetite is often the first sign that pet parents notice. Hyperactivity, increased thirst, increased urination, and an unkempt hair coat are also common. When your cat presents to the veterinary hospital, he or she may have an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and a palpable enlargement of the thyroid gland. If the thyroid hormone is increased severely, some cats may also have abnormal heart rhythms.

Hyperthyroidism causes increased perfusion of the kidneys (due to the high blood pressure), so kidney disease can also be masked in untreated hyperthyroid cats.

How is it diagnosed?

If your cat’s veterinarian suspects that hyperthyroidism is present based on a thorough physical exam, he or she will listen carefully to your cat’s heart and take a blood pressure measurement. Blood will be collected to check overall health, including a serum chemistry panel and T4 levels. A urinalysis may also be submitted to check for any concurrent illnesses. If an abnormally high T4 level is detected, hyperthyroidism is diagnosed. In rare instances, some hyperthyroid cats have T4 levels within the normal range. If your veterinarian still suspects hyperthyroidism based on appearance and clinical signs, additional diagnostic testing may be warranted in this case.

How is it treated?

There are several treatment options to consider, including a diet change, medications, surgery, or radioactive iodine therapy. Sine iodine is essential in producing thyroid hormones, switching your cat to a low-iodine diet may decrease their T4 levels. This is usually reserved for very mild cases of hyperthyroidism or in patients where other treatment options are contraindicated. Most often, cats are started on a medication known as methimazole, which prevents the thyroid from producing hormones.  Less commonly, surgery to remove the thyroid glands or radioactive iodine treatments to destroy the thyroid gland is used. Your veterinarian can work with you to choose the best course of treatment.

Are there any complications?

Cats with hyperthyroidism are at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. If high blood pressure is left untreated, cats can develop retinopathies that may lead to blindness. Treating hyperthyroidism may unmask kidney disease in some patients, which may require additional treatment. With surgery and radioactive iodine therapy, some cats may actually become hypothyroid and require thyroid hormone supplementation. Regular bloodwork and monitoring, despite the therapy chosen, is recommended to ensure cats are well-managed and living happy, healthy lives.

Understanding Feline Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus typically affects overweight, middle-aged to older cats. Unlike their canine counterparts who develop insulin-deficient diabetes, cats develop insulin-resistant diabetes primarily. This means that either an insufficient amount of insulin is being secreted by the pancreas or the body is not using secreted insulin appropriately to maintain normal blood glucose. The result is persistent hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). There may be a couple reasons why this occurs.

In diabetic cats, a type of protein hormone known as amylin is concurrently secreted with insulin. When there is insulin resistance, even more insulin and amylin are secreted. As a result, amyloid plaques can build up within the pancreas and cause significant inflammation which further reduces effective insulin secretion. The resulting inflammation can actually be so severe that the pancreatic beta cells become damaged and cease to secrete insulin altogether. This is quite rare, however. The other phenomenon that is likely occurring includes inability of target tissues within the body to respond appropriately to insulin. These target tissues are usually muscle, liver, and adipose. They use glucose for energy, maintain glucose homeostasis, and ensure appropriate lipid metabolism.

Clinical Signs

Cats tend to be stoic and therefore, many of the clinical signs associated with diabetes may not be obvious. Having to change the litterbox more frequently is one of the first signs that a pet parent notices. This is due to polyuria (frequent urination) that results from the body trying to get rid of the excess glucose in the blood. Naturally, a cat will also develop polydipsia (excessive thirst) to compensate for fluid loss in the urine and to dilute the high glucose concentration within the blood. Polyphagia (increased appetite) may also accompany these signs.

A very obvious sign unique to undiagnosed diabetic cats is something referred to as a plantigrade stance. This is a late manifestation of diabetes where persistently increased blood glucose causes nerve damage in the rear legs. Instead of the cat walking only on the rear paws, the entire bottoms of the back feet will be touching the ground. This neuropathy usually resolves after blood glucose returns to more normal levels.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing diabetes in cats may be more challenging than in dogs. Cats tend to be stressed during their veterinary visits, which results in a mild hyperglycemia in an otherwise healthy patient. For this reason, an essential part of an office visit for a suspected diabetic cat is a fructosamine test. This test provides information as to what the blood glucose levels have been over the past 2-3 weeks rather than at one point in time. An increased fructosamine level with a high blood glucose would confirm diabetes. However, a normal fructosamine level with a mildly increased blood glucose is probably just indicative of a stress response. Your veterinarian will be able to further explain these tests and their significance.

Although a urine sample is important in the diagnosis of diabetes, it can be quite difficult to obtain these samples from cats. Cats need to have urine collected via cystocentesis, which is a minimally invasive procedure where a small needle is inserted through the abdomen directly into the bladder. Abnormalities within the urine such as glucose, white blood cells, bacteria, and protein can be detected using a microscope. Cats have a high renal threshold for glucose, which means it takes more glucose in the blood for it to spill over into the urine. With mild hyperglycemia or early diabetes, glucose may not yet be present in the urine. Many diabetic patients that have glucose in the urine are at increased risk of developing urinary tract infections. Your veterinarian may recommend a urine culture if test results are not obvious.

It can also be useful to complete full bloodwork to assess the overall health of the cat. In diabetic cats, it is common to see hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) and hypertriglyceridemia (high blood triglycerides). With chronic undiagnosed diabetes, kidney and heart disease can also develop. It is important to check the blood pressure of a suspected diabetic cat as hypertension (high blood pressure) can occur and lead to additional complications.

Management

Although the majority of cats will require daily subcutaneous insulin injections, some cats can be managed with weight loss and a diet change. A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet can help diabetic cats maintain better control of their blood glucose. With time, some cats may actually return to a non-diabetic state. There are certain diets specifically formulated for diabetic cats with the proper carbohydrate and protein ratios. Some common diets to choose from include Hill’s Feline w/d, Purina Veterinary Diets DM, and Royal Canin Feline Diabetic Diet. Using a wet food formulation can also provide an extra source of hydration for diabetic cats and increase palatability. A veterinarian can recommend the best diet to meet your cat’s individual needs.

When your cat is initially diagnosed, you will likely need to visit your veterinarian every 3-4 weeks until the diabetes is well-regulated. Bloodwork and urinalysis every 6 months thereafter is necessary while managing this chronic disease.

Complications

Because glucose regulation is important for normal physiology, diabetes can result in damage to many bodily systems, including the heart and kidneys. As mentioned above, it is very common to see hypertension in diabetic patients as well as protein loss through the kidneys. Other complications include nerve damage, damage to the eyes, and other infections.

Lastly, diabetic ketoacidosis is a severe complication that occurs in an energy-starved state when fats are broken down for energy in the absence of insulin instead of glucose. When kidneys do not filter these ketones out, they build up within the bloodstream and cause an acidic state. This metabolic disturbance is a medical emergency and requires overnight hospitalization with appropriate fluid therapy and electrolyte monitoring.

Prognosis

With the proper diet change and weight loss, some cats can revert back to a non-diabetic state. However, recurrence of diabetes can occur in these patients. Diabetes care requires a life-long commitment and regular veterinary checkups to ensure glucose regulation and the best quality of life for your cat. It is important to note that diabetes can increase the chance of secondary complications and risk of developing infections over time. Overall, most cats will maintain a good quality of life despite diabetes so long as the proper management and care is provided.

Leptospirosis in Dogs & Zoonotic Risks

When you take your dog to the veterinarian for vaccines, you may wonder why he or she needs a leptospirosis vaccine. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, which means it can transfer from animals to people and cause similar sickness in both species.

What is it?

Leptospirosis is an infection caused by a type of spirochete bacteria. Dogs most commonly contract this disease by coming into contact with infected urine of other dogs and wildlife. It may be transmitted by contaminated surfaces in the environment as well. The spirochetes cause infection by penetrating mucus membranes or damaged skin and then spreading to tissues via the bloodstream. They replicate rapidly within many different organ systems, and serum antibodies will typically clear the infection. However, even when antibodies are present, the spirochetes can persist and replicate within the kidneys for several years, remaining infectious when eliminated in the urine.

What are the clinical signs?

Infected dogs often have fevers early in the disease process. Other clinical signs may include muscle pain, lack of appetite, vomiting, uveitis (eye inflammation), hematuria ( blood-tinged urine), fever, increased thirst and urination, or petechia (small skin hemorrhages). In advanced stages, outward signs of liver and kidney disease may be seen, including the presence of icterus (yellowing of the mucus membranes and sclera) and poor perfusion or inflammation of the blood vessels.

How is it diagnosed?

When leptospirosis is suspected, dogs should be placed in isolation to avoid the spread of disease while a diagnosis is confirmed. Your veterinarian will want to perform bloodwork and check the urine for signs of infection. We may see increased kidney and liver values, changes in white blood cell counts, and low platelets depending on the stage of disease. A SNAP test or serum titers can be performed to check for exposure to and antibodies against leptospirosis, respectively. However both of these tests do not tell us whether your dog has an active infection. They simply tell us that exposure has occurred at some point in his or her life. Performing PCR on the urine can detect an active infection and is most useful in diagnosis.

How is it treated?

Penicillin can be administered to eliminate the acute phase of infection for 3-5 days. This treatment is followed by an additional antibiotic, such as doxycycline, for 3-5 weeks to eliminate the bacteria that remain within the kidneys. In some cases, your dog may need to be hospitalized on fluid therapy to help flush the kidneys and to replenish any fluid losses that may have occurred through increased urination or vomiting. Infected dogs will need to be isolated until the infection has fully cleared.

Is it zoonotic?

Leptospirosis is zoonotic, which means it can be transmitted from infected animals to humans. This mode of transmission is less common than people becoming infected from environmental exposure, but it is still possible. The infection may cause fever, joint pain, and other flu-like symptoms in humans. It can also cause abortions in pregnant women. Treatment is largely supportive care with hospitalization on intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and liver protectants.

Is it preventable?

Since there is a zoonotic risk, it is important to vaccinate your dog against this infection to protect both of you. Vaccinations should be updated annually for full protection in at-risk dogs. In addition, reducing your dog’s exposure to puddles or other areas where wildlife or canine urine may be present can help prevent this infection.

Why is My Dog Squinting?

You may have noticed your dog’s eye appears a little red or maybe there is some discharge present. Maybe he or she has started squinting recently and you aren’t sure what the problem is. There are a number of reasons why these clinical signs may have developed, but we will discuss the most common in these post, which include allergies, infection, foreign material within the eye, or a corneal ulcer.

Let’s start with the least severe cause. Allergies can result in clear, serous discharge from the eyes and mild redness on the sclera (the white part of the eye). Usually these signs are seen bilaterally. Your dog may paw at his or her eyes frequently to itch them, similar to how we itch our eyes when dealing with environmental allergies. Unfortunately, allergies are difficult to treat since it is hard to pinpoint exactly what the culprit is within the environment. Allergy testing can be performed, but is often inconclusive. However, administering an anti-histamine to your dog during a flareup can provide some relief. Just be sure to always consult with a veterinarian before giving your dog any medications.

An eye infection is usually bacterial in nature and will cause green-yellow discharge from the affected eye. This clinical sign is referred to as conjunctivitis. Infections can arise from close contact with another pet, a foreign object within the eye, or immunosuppression by another pathogen. It is common to see redness and squinting in some cases as well as frequent pawing.

Corneal ulcers are the most severe of these issues, and they can result in extensive damage to the eye if not treated promptly. Sometimes a foreign object can penetrate the corneal epithelium and expose the underlying tissue layer. These lesions can also develop from scratches on the cornea that continue to worsen.

Whenever a dog presents with squinting, it is important to check for scratches on the cornea by using a fluorescein eye stain prior to prescribing any topical medication. Often these conditions require an ointment containing a steroid for pain relief and to reduce inflammation; however, using steroids in dogs with corneal ulcers can make the condition worse. Infections usually require twice daily application of the topical medication for 7-10 days. Corneal ulcers often need to be treated for much longer, and in severe cases, surgery may be required.

If you are concerned about an eye problem in your dog, it is best to schedule a visit to see your veterinarian. He or she can perform testing and determine an appropriate treatment to help your pup feel better!

Why Does My Pet Need Wellness Exams?

We recommend wellness exams every 6 months to one year depending on the age and condition of your pet. At these visits, we perform a thorough physical exam and take a history on how your pet has been doing since his or her last visit and see if any new concerns have developed. During the physical exam, we check your pet’s eyes, ears, nose, mouth and teeth, lymph nodes, skin and coat, heart, lungs, abdomen, joints, and temperature. A thorough exam allows us to catch any abnormalities that may have developed and inform you of our findings. Based upon these findings and the history, we may recommend additional testing.

Ideally, bloodwork should be performed at least yearly and within a month of any anesthetic procedures. Bloodwork can tell us a great deal of vital information about the health of your pet. There are two large blood panels that are commonly performed during a wellness visit if we deem them appropriate. You may have heard of a Complete Blood Count (CBC) or a serum chemistry panel.

A CBC provides information on your pet’s cell counts, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This test allows us to detect signs of infection, anemia, low platelets, dehydration, stress, and blood parasites, just to name a few. A serum chemistry panel provides a look at internal organ function, including kidneys and liver. We can see the levels of electrolytes, detect muscle damage, diagnose endocrine dysfunction, and recognize kidney or liver disease with this test.

Heartworm antigen tests are also a common component of wellness visits. Heartworm disease is a preventable disease and identified with a few drops of blood. This test is done at least yearly but preferable every 6 months. This is because it takes about 6 months for an adult heartworm to produce the microfilaria that we detect using this test. This is more useful in dogs where disease can be identified and treated. Cats have more occult infections that may be difficult to detect. This is why year-round heartworm prevention is extremely important in both cats and dogs.

Urinalysis may also be performed at a wellness visit, especially for geriatric patients. We can detect urinary crystals, urinary tract infections, and signs of endocrine or kidney dysfunction with this test. We can also test the acidity and detect blood, bilirubin, hemoglobin, or myoglobin in the urine.

You can see that a wellness exam provides a wealth of information and establishes a relationship between you, your pet, and your veterinarian. Because your pets cannot speak to us and tell us something is wrong, wellness and preventative care is essential to catch any abnormalities early on and treat them to help your pets live long, healthy lives.

10 Things You Can Do as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine

After letting people know I was moving from research to clinical practice, someone said to me “Oh, you’re going to be a vet?” I just sat there a little confused because I am a veterinarian, but then I realized how often I come in contact with people who think vets only work in that local practice seeing cats and dogs. It is amazing what you can do with a veterinary degree beyond the “traditional” route, and I think many people are surprised to hear all the opportunities that this degree can bring. Here are a few options if you are looking for a change!

  1. Private Practice: This route is what most vet students choose following graduation. Whether large or small animal, veterinarians in private practice diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform surgeries and dentistry, provide wellness care, and perform euthanasia. They have the opportunity to create long-term client relationships and develop strong bonds with their patients. Usually new graduates will want to choose a practice with strong mentorship and support as they transition from student to doctor.
  2. Internship & Residency: If veterinarians want to specialize in certain areas of medicine or surgery, they must complete at least one internship (sometimes two!) followed by a 3-year residency. Areas of specialty include internal medicine, soft tissue or orthopedic surgery, dermatology, cardiology, clinical or anatomic pathology, theriogenology, emergency and critical care, anesthesia, ambulatory medicine, dentistry, neurology, oncology, behavior, radiology, nutrition, lab animal medicine, equine medicine or surgery, zoo medicine, avian medicine, food animal medicine or surgery, ophthalmology, shelter medicine, and rehabilitation. These programs require strong dedication as they usually include long hours, on-call shifts, and low pay.
  3. Practice Ownership: Experienced veterinarians interested in business and management often elect to buy or build their own practices. This provides greater flexibility in scheduling and ability to practice their own styles of medicine. Some may also open their own mobile practice and spend time traveling to client homes to treat pets.
  4. Research: Veterinarians can complete postdoctoral fellowships, earn a PhD degree, or do clinical research at veterinary or medical schools. This is a route that allows veterinarians to impact both animal and human patients through new developments in medicine and science.
  5. Industry: Opportunities in industry are plentiful for DVMs. These jobs are at pharmaceutical companies where vaccine or drug development is done. Professional service veterinarians can also act as reps for companies like Zoetis or Merck in educating animal hospitals about new products and speaking to veterinary students.
  6. Government: Veterinarians ensure food safety and appropriate treatment of animals in the food chain. They usually work for USDA or CDC and perform accredited duties, such as reportable disease testing, health certificate management, or disaster response.
  7. Shelter Medicine: Veterinarians in shelter environments typically perform high volume spay and neuter surgeries, treat medical conditions, develop policies and procedures, and manage disease outbreaks.
  8. Public Health: For DVMs interested in zoonotic and infectious disease management, this is a popular route. The majority of veterinarians pursuing this area of medicine also have Masters in Public Health degrees.
  9. Writing: Veterinarians have a vast knowledge of medicine and the ability to communicate well with clients. Creating a blog, developing a writing business, or volunteering for a local newspaper are all options for those that enjoy writing.
  10. Teaching: Those that like teaching others can find jobs at veterinary schools, vet tech programs, or other academic institutions. Some positions may require another graduate degree, but the opportunities are plentiful.

SO many options exist for those holding a DVM degree. I think it is the most versatile medical degree and will open many doors to pursue whatever interests you! Veterinarians often take advantage of many of these different paths throughout their careers. Don’t be afraid to try something new! That is the only way to know what works and what doesn’t.

What is Feline Respiratory Disease Complex?

Feline Respiratory Disease Complex is very common among cats, particularly those that are immunocompromised or unvaccinated. This disease is highly contagious and can spread rapidly in shelter environments or in multi-cat households. Although it is typically self-limiting, disease progression can occur and lead to pneumonia in some cases.

What is it?

Feline Respiratory Disease Complex refers to several viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections. These include herpesvirus, calicivirus, mycoplasma, chlamydophila, and bordetella. Although the majority of feline upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, secondary bacterial infections commonly worsen clinical signs. The disease is spread via droplets in the air or close contact with contagious cats.

What are the clinical signs?

The most common clinical signs include sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, and conjunctivitis.  Eye discharge can range from serous to thick in consistency. Thicker, white discharge usually indicates a bacterial cause, whereas serous discharge is more common with viruses. In some cases, mouth lesions are seen depending on the causative agent. If the disease is chronic or has progressed to pneumonia, respiratory changes and a fever may be present.

How is it diagnosed?

Usually the disease is diagnosed based on clinical signs consistent with an upper respiratory infection. However, virus isolation and bacterial culture may be done to determine the exact cause to better target treatment in non-resolving cases.

How is it treated?

Treatment depends on severity of disease. Even if a viral agent is suspected, antibiotics to protect against secondary bacterial infections are often prescribed. Eye ointment or artificial tears may be applied. In severe or chronic cases, cats may need to have subcutaneous fluids administered to counteract dehydration. It may take up to two weeks for clinical signs to full resolve.

It is important to note that cats infected with herpesvirus and calicivirus will have latent lifelong infections. If the cat becomes immunocompromised or stressed, they may begin shedding the virus and become contagious to other cats. They will also have recurrence of clinical signs throughout their lives.

Is it preventable?

A core vaccine for cats called FVRCP is the best protection against upper respiratory disease. FVRCP protects against Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis is actually caused by herpesvirus as mentioned above. Although cats who have received this vaccine are still susceptible to infection, the risk is greatly minimized. If a cat who has been previously vaccinated comes into contact with these causative agents, the respiratory infection is not nearly as severe and does not last as long compared to unvaccinated cats. This is why it is important to keep your cat up to date on core vaccines!

Understanding Diabetes Mellitus in Your Dog

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that most commonly affects middle-aged dogs. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce the insulin that is needed to regulate blood glucose levels. Therefore, your dog’s blood glucose will be persistently high, which increases the risk for additional complications. Although the exact mechanism of this disease is not known, it is thought to be an inappropriate attack on the pancreas by the patient’s own immune system. Thus, it is referred to as an autoimmune disease.

Clinical Signs

The most common clinical signs include increased thirst, excessive urination, and weight loss despite an increased appetite. You may notice you are refilling the water bowl more frequently or that your dog needs to be let outside more often.

Diagnosis

Your veterinarian will first obtain a thorough patient history. If diabetes is a likely diagnosis, blood and urine samples will be collected to check for evidence of increased glucose levels.

Management

Diabetes management consists of daily insulin injections. These injections are given with a meal in order to reduce the risk of an episode of low blood glucose. Typically dosing occurs twice daily, but the dosage and frequency will vary based on individual needs. Your veterinarian can provide guidance on injection techniques as well as how to check blood glucose at home using a glucometer. A specially formulated high fiber diet may be recommended which can also help glucose regulation. It is important to ensure your dog always has access to clean water to meet his or her increased consumption.

Complications

Persistently increased blood glucose levels can have negative effects on many body systems, including the kidneys, heart, and eyes. It is not uncommon to see diabetic dogs experience hypertension that may need additional management. Most diabetic dogs will also develop cataracts within two years of diagnosis, which can lead to blindness.

Prognosis

Proper insulin dosing at home coupled with regular veterinary checkups can help manage your dog’s diabetes and prevent additional complications. It is important to know that it may take several months after initiating treatment for your dog’s glucose to become regulated. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine an appropriate type of insulin and dosing schedule to meet the individual needs for you and your dog. Managing diabetes requires strong vigilance by the pet parent, but most dogs can go on to live long, happy lives with appropriate treatment and monitoring.