Common Health Problems affecting Dogs and Cats

Veterinary advice from John Burns BVMS MRCVS

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There are two types of diabetes, which can affect both humans and animals: Diabetes Insipidus and Diabetes Mellitus. The most common form in animals is Diabetes Mellitus, also known as 'sugar diabetes'.


Symptoms include: excessive thirst, increased urination, increased appetite, loss of weight, lethargy and weakness.


Diabetes Mellitus occurs when (a) the pancreas doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin (perhaps due to damaged cells) or (b) when there is insulin but the body is unable to use it properly.

Glucose is the energy source derived from food. Usually it travels in the blood to body cells, where it is utilised. If there is a lack of insulin the glucose cannot enter the cells and accumulates in the blood. The body then burns fat for energy instead of glucose; hence the common associated weight loss.


Older, obese animals are more at risk. In dogs the age of onset is about 7 years.

In dogs, breeds such as Miniture poodles and Cairn terriers are more likely to develop diabetes.

Research suggests that there is a higher incidence of male cats with diabetes and female dogs. Unspayed bitches are subject to large variations in blood-glucose levels, especially when in season.

Hormonal imbalances and long term use of certain medications may also lead to diabetes.


Diabetes cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be managed by controlling the blood-glucose level so that it remains as 'normal' as possible.

Semi-moist foods should be avoided for cats and dogs. They contain fructose (a simple sugar) which they cannot metabolise. This can cause dramatic variations in the blood-glucose levels; it may even lead to renal (kidney) damage.

Foods high in fat should be avoided as they may lead to other related health problems.

Exercise should be constant from day to day as variations in your pet's activity level can affect the blood-glucose level.

Depending on the stage of diabetes the owner may have to inject their pet daily with insulin. We recommend injecting twice a day. Your vet will be able to advise you on injections, although common mistakes include: not inserting the needle far enough in (causing insulin to leak out) and not removing air bubbles from the syringe before injecting.

As well as injecting, owners may be asked by their vets to keep a chart of body weights, monitor their pets body condition, urine glucose and ketone levels (a ketone is a type of acid found in the blood if your pet does not have enough insulin, ideally none should be present).

Food should be offered just before injecting with insulin, however there is some debate on this and other vets may recommend feeding after injecting so that the effect of the insulin on the body is at full peak.

Small frequent meals are more beneficial for dogs and cats e.g. about 6 per day.


Fibre helps to slow the absorption rate of food so there is not a peak in the glucose level immediately after eating.

Many pets with diabetes are also overweight; a high fibre diet helps with weight loss.

Complex carbohydrates e.g. oats are better than simple ones as they are also digested at a slower rate.


Nettles, garlic, onion (in small doses), fenugreek, olive bark, olive root and haricot bean pods.

NB these should be used in conjunction with conventional management for diabetes mellitus, not on their own.


Common pet health problems
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John Burns can be contacted at 99 Ferry Road, Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, Wales, SA17 5EJ -
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