Diabetes mellitus doesn’t just affect people. The disease is, in fact, one of the most common endocrine-related illnesses found in dogs and cats.
Using the human diabetes classification scheme, dogs most resemble Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes, while diabetic cats are most often Type 2 or non-insulin-dependent. Diabetes in pets, as in people, is a serious condition and can lead to complications such as blindness and even death.
Symptoms of dogs and cats with diabetes are like those in people. They include excessive water consumption, increased urination, or unexplained weight loss. Typically, older female dogs and older male cats are most prone to the condition. For dogs, treatment usually involves insulin shots twice a day. Dogs get complications from diabetes, but they are not as severe as human complications. In cats, like people, diabetes has been linked to obesity, but not in dogs.
The good news is that diabetes in pets can be effectively managed with a regimen of insulin and diet. The bad news? Monitoring the disease—as with people—requires repeated blood sampling to monitor glucose levels. Drawing blood can cause stress, and sometimes pain, for furry friends who, despite promises of treats and reassurance, can’t understand why they’re getting repeatedly poked with a needle.
People with diabetes have for several years benefited from “continuous glucose monitoring devices,” systems that reduce the need for painful pin pricks by employing a glucose-detecting sensor temporarily inserted under the skin. Now, thanks in part to the innovative work of MU veterinary scientists, other animals can too.
“Our research has found that continuous glucose monitoring devices can be used in dogs, cats, cows and horses,” says Charles Wiedmeyer, an assistant professor of clinical pathology in MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Use of this system alleviated the need for multiple blood samples. It also reduces the stress associated with obtaining those samples.”
The sensor works by reading glucose levels in tissue fluid, then transmitting the data it collects at five-minute intervals to a wireless monitor; a continuous flow of information allows real-time measurement of glucose levels. These can be uploaded to a computer, where a software package analyzes the data and charts trend patterns over the four to seven days during which the devices are typically implanted.
“Dogs and cats with diabetes are similar to children with diabetes,” Wiedmeyer says. “Both rely on caregivers to manage their disease and have little control over their diet or when they receive insulin.
In that regard, they can be difficult to manage.” The ultimate goal is to help pet owners and their veterinarians more easily and painlessly manage a diabetic pet’s insulin and diet.
Wiedmeyer’s research was conducted using a device from Medtronic, a medical technology company based in Minneapolis. He presented his findings this summer at the Friends for Life: International Children with Diabetes conference in Orlando, Fla.