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Caring for a pet with diabetes can be daunting. Fortunately, the key to successful diabetes management is simple: a consistent, established daily routine.
A healthy diet is essential, and feeding your pet the same amount of food at the same time every day will help make blood sugar easiest to control. Your pet will usually also need twice-daily insulin injections, which should be given at the same time every day. (The easiest way to do this is to coordinate shots with mealtimes.) Routine daily exercise and regular at-home monitoring of urine and/or blood sugar round out a plan for good diabetic regulation.
Even if you are following a consistent routine, a diabetic pet may occasionally experience an emergency. A number of different things can cause an emergency, but the most common is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. In this case, it is important that you be prepared in order to avoid a life-threatening situation.
Hypoglycemia most often results from accidental overdosage of insulin, but it can also occur if a pet is not eating well, misses a meal or vomits after eating, or if the type and amount of food he is being fed changes. Hypoglycemia may become a problem with very vigorous exercise; for this reason, regular daily controlled exercise is best.
Hypoglycemia can also result if the body’s need for insulin changes. This scenario is particularly common in cats who often return to a non-diabetic state once an appropriate diet and insulin therapy start.
The signs of hypoglycemia may occur suddenly and include:
If your pet is showing signs of hypoglycemia and is able to eat, feed him a meal. If he is not alert, hand-feed him corn syrup or honey until he is alert enough to eat his normal food. At that time, feed a meal of his normal food.
If your pet is unconscious, rub a tablespoon of corn syrup or honey on his gums. If he regains consciousness, feed him and get him to your veterinarian for continued observation. If he remains unconscious, this is a medical emergency and you should seek veterinary help immediately!
Hypoglycemia is a life-threatening emergency. When you get to the vet's office, your pet’s blood glucose will immediately be checked to determine if intravenous sugar solutions are necessary or if he is stable enough to be managed by withholding insulin and giving food.
If an insulin overdose or missed meal is not to blame for your pet’s hypoglycemia, your veterinarian will need a complete history from you and will perform a full examination to determine how to adjust his insulin in order to prevent a future hypoglycemic crisis.
Most often, dogs and cats will recover from hypoglycemic episodes; however, these episodes can be life-threatening and should be treated as emergencies.
Cats are unique in that many revert to a non-diabetic state (called diabetic remission) within the first four months of beginning appropriate diet and insulin treatment for diabetes. When remission occurs, a cat becomes non-diabetic and no longer requires insulin therapy. If an owner is not monitoring blood or urine glucose levels routinely, diabetic remission can go unnoticed, and if insulin injections are continued, hypoglycemia may occur.
Although less critical than hypoglycemia, other symptoms that could indicate an impending emergency include:
It is always best to contact your veterinarian if you are concerned about any changes in your diabetic pet. Make sure to see your veterinarian every three to four months even if your pet’s diabetes is stable, and make sure you have a plan for how to handle any after-hours emergencies.
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