Just like their human owners, dogs and cats are increasingly likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. And more and more, veterinarians are turning to tools developed for use by diabetic humans to help out our canine and feline companions.
Human drugs have long been used to treat the disease in animals, but now vets are using another human tool, the continuous glucose monitor, to develop treatments for Fido and Mittens. The monitor, which is surgically implanted under the skin, tracks the concentration of a sugar called glucose in the blood. As in humans, pets with high blood glucose levels experience extreme thirst, frequent urination and fatigue. Left untreated, high blood sugar can cause blindness and kidney failure.
Diabetes is on the rise in animals, veterinarian Amy DeClue of the University of Missouri-Columbia wrote in March in the journal Clinics in Laboratory Medicine. Like people with the disease, animals with diabetes have trouble regulating blood sugar on their own, because their bodies do not produce enough insulin, a hormone that lowers blood glucose. Diet and insulin injections can help, but blood sugar levels have to be carefully monitored to make sure the treatments are on track. [Is Fido Fat? Human Diet Tricks Could Help]
Tracking Fido's blood sugar
With a continuous glucose monitor, doctors and their human patients can get a more detailed understanding of how insulin levels respond to drugs, meals and exercise. The same is true of pets, said DeClue and her fellow researchers.
Previously, veterinarians would keep a diabetic dog or cat in the clinic for a day, testing their blood periodically and using the data to determine how much insulin to prescribe. Because veterinary clinics can be stressful for animals, and because insulin levels respond to stress, those numbers were often inaccurate.
"Continuous glucose monitoring [CGM] is much more effective and accurate than previous glucose monitoring techniques and has revolutionized how veterinarians manage diabetes in dogs," DeClue said in a statement. "The CGM gives us a complete view of what is happening in the animal in their natural setting. For example, it can show us if a pet's blood glucose changes when an owner gives treats, when the animal exercises or in response to insulin therapy."
Growing problem for pets
Diagnoses of diabetes have been increasing recently for both cats and dogs, though no firm numbers are available for felines. A 2003 study published the Veterinary Journal found that dog diabetes cases comprised 19 of every 10,000 vet hospital admissions in 1970. By 1999, that number had jumped to 64 out of 10,000. However, fatalities from diabetes have dropped in that time period, plummeting from deaths in 37 percent of cases to deaths in only 5 percent of cases.
In cats, the disease is linked to obesity, but the connection is not well-established in dogs, which appear to develop a version of diabetes that looks like human Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to produce insulin. In Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes, the body may produce enough insulin, but the cells fail to recognize the hormone. Cats can get either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. [Type I Diabetes: Symptoms and Treatment]
Miniature poodles, bichon frises, keeshonds, Alaskan malamutes and miniature schnauzers are the breeds most at risk for canine diabetes, the researchers wrote.
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Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.