Diabetes in Dogs and Cats

Middle aged to older dogs are the more prone to developing diabetes. Even though cats of all ages are susceptible older cats are more prone to developing cat diabetes. Good nutrition is necessary to keep their weight under control and stabilize blood sugar levels.

In general, most dogs and cats with diabetes will get insulin injections at home. Vets recommend high fiber, low carbohydrate food which also has added chromium to boost the effects of the insulin. Chromium is effective in improving the effectiveness of insulin. It is also helpful in balancing cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Humans have more in common with man’s best friend than they probably realize, according to an assistant professor of clinical sciences at Kansas State University.

Pets such as cats and dogs are just as susceptible to diabetes as their human counterparts are, said Thomas Schermerhorn of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

He said warning signs of diabetes in pets include excessive drinking, or polydipsia; excessive urination, or polyuria; and weight loss. In more severe cases, Schermerhorn said, symptoms include vomiting or diarrhea.

“It’s not until pets have made an accident in the house or lose weight, for instance, that owners come in,” Schermerhorn said. “The symptoms are pretty straightforward. Owners can bring their pets in, and we’ll do blood and urine tests.”

Schermerhorn said that the types of diabetes in dogs and cats vary but are similar to those detected in humans. Dogs with diabetes, he said, are most comparable to humans who have Type I diabetes, which Schermerhorn characterized as being typically insulin-dependent. Cats, meanwhile, show more characteristics of a Type II diabetic, in which the human’s diabetes usually is linked to obesity.

Schermerhorn said the only way a cure can be found is through years of laboratory and clinical research, not simply through clinical practice, where veterinarians make deductions through their textbooks and individual patients.

“The disease will never be addressed until we do species-specific research,” he said. “The cure will come years down the road but probably will come in the form of transplantation.”

Until the day when the research produces a cure, Schermerhorn said, diabetes in pets is treatable in a similar manner to humans.

“In general, most dogs and cats with diabetes will get insulin injections at home,” Schermerhorn said. “Some pet owners are scared to do it at first but become good at it.”

Thomas Schermerhorn, assistant professor of clinical sciences, is involved in research that may be applied to diabetes in dogs and cats, as well as humans.

“We know what goes wrong in diabetes, but we don’t know why it goes wrong. Our approach looks at what is normal and compares that to an abnormal cell to find out where the problem is,” Schermerhorn said.

Schermerhorn’s research focuses on the functions of the beta cell, the cell in the pancreas that secretes insulin. There are thousands of beta cells, each one with tiny granules containing small amounts of insulin. The granules go to the cell membrane and stay there until receiving the proper stimulus, Schermerhorn said.

“Each granule has a tiny amount of insulin, each one secreting insulin resulting in a normal response after eating a meal. This lowers blood sugar and keeps it under control,” Schermerhorn said.

The beta cells Schermerhorn studies are altered so they are capable of reproducing outside the body yet can still secrete insulin. These cells act exactly like beta cells that live inside normal animals and humans, Schermerhorn said.

Schermerhorn began by looking at inhibitors of insulin and found that once the beta cell was stimulated to secrete insulin, it could then be modified by inhibitors. The inhibitors tend to decrease cell response to glucose, the principal nutrient in a diet that stimulates secretion.

Norepinephrine, an inhibitor sometimes called noradrenaline, can inhibit secretion profoundly and has direct effects on the proteins in the final stage of granule release, Schermerhorn said.

“Norepinephrine somehow alters or impairs three crucial proteins from coming together. This either disables the granule from being secreted, or prevents the granule from coming to the membrane and forming a protein complex,” Schermerhorn said.

Diabetes is the second most common endocrine problem of older cats and one of the top three endocrine problems of older dogs.

Weight loss, excessive water consumption and excessive urination are common symptoms in dogs or cats indicating they may need to be tested for diabetes, Schermerhorn said.

“Usually, the dog or cat maintains an excellent appetite although they do not gain weight, but instead they may lose weight,” Schermerhorn said.

“We’re hoping to use a physiological approach to learn about beta cell function and provide a basis for the study of abnormal beta cell function that might contribute to the development of diabetes,” Schermerhorn said.

Schermerhorn’s research is in collaboration with Geoffrey Sharp, department of molecular medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, and Philine Wangemann, department of anatomy and physiology at K-State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

The research project is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

K-State Media Relations, K-State’s news service.

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