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Diabetes in Pets: Manageable With Proper Monitoring and Treatment

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A disease of the pancreas, diabetes mellitus occurs when this small but vital organ near the stomach stops producing insulin, doesn’t produce it well, or doesn’t produce enough of it to regulate glucose (blood sugar). Diabetes can also develop when a pet can’t effectively use insulin in the first place (a condition called insulin resistance).

Glucose is the primary source of energy for the cells of the body, and insulin is the hormone that regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream and controls the delivery of glucose to the rest of the body. When a dog or cat has diabetes, blood sugar is elevated, but without insulin to tell the cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, they become starved for glucose. This causes the body to begin breaking down stores of fat and protein for energy instead.

If diabetes isn’t treated or remains uncontrolled, the pet may become very sick, requiring hospitalization.

Pets at Risk for Diabetes

Both cats and dogs can get diabetes, and the disease can begin at any age. However, diabetes does tend to more commonly affect pets who are older, with the disease typically diagnosed in middle-aged dogs and older cats.

Certain dog breeds are at higher risk, and female dogs tend to get diabetes more often than male dogs. The opposite is true in cats, with diabetes being more common in male cats than in female cats.

Causes of Diabetes Mellitus

Major risk factors for diabetes are obesity and long-term use of medications that contain corticosteroids. Other conditions can also make a pet more likely to develop diabetes or can make it more difficult to effectively treat diabetes; these include heart disease, hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), hyperadrenocorticism (an overactive adrenal gland), kidney disease, pancreatitis, skin infections, and urinary tract infections.

Health Effects of Diabetes Mellitus

Untreated or poorly managed diabetes can make pets more prone to developing other diseases or conditions, such as bladder stones, cataracts (which can lead to blindness), hypertension (high blood pressure), kidney failure, pancreatitis, and urinary tract infections. Diabetes can affect every organ system in the body if the disease isn’t treated or managed properly.

Another potential complication is diabetic ketoacidosis, a medical emergency in which the amount of insulin in the body becomes extremely low. This condition can be life-threatening and can occur before diabetes is diagnosed or even during treatment.

Diabetes is becoming more common in both dogs and cats because the number of overweight and obese pets is on the rise.

Clinical Signs of Diabetes Mellitus

The main symptoms of diabetes in pets are:

  • Increased thirst/excessive water consumption
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss

These symptoms can also be signs of other diseases or medical conditions, so it’s important that we examine your pet to determine what’s causing them. If your dog or cat shows any of these signs, please let us know.

If your pet with diabetes stops eating and drinking, it may be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is an emergency and requires hospitalization. Other signs of ketoacidosis include:

  • Sweet-smelling breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lack of energy/weakness
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing Diabetes Mellitus

Your St. Francis veterinarian will diagnose diabetes based on the classic clinical signs, as well as through the results of blood and urine tests that show a persistently high glucose level in the blood and the presence of glucose in the urine. Pets with diabetes have excessive amounts of glucose in the blood. This excess glucose is removed by the kidneys and then flushed out of the body in the urine. Glucose in the urine is a primary indicator of diabetes.

To confirm the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, your veterinarian may run a serum fructosamine test, which shows average blood glucose levels over a week or two.

Treating Diabetes Mellitus

Fortunately, diabetes mellitus can be managed in dogs and cats. It typically requires long-term treatment with daily insulin injections and careful monitoring of glucose levels.

Monitoring pets with diabetes is crucial to ensure that they are responding well to insulin therapy and other aspects of the diabetes management plan.

A well-balanced diet is an essential part of effective diabetes management. If your pet has diabetes mellitus, your veterinarian will likely recommend a dietary change to help manage the disease. A lot of factors go into deciding what nutrition is needed for a pet with diabetes; your veterinarian will select a diet that will work best for your individual pet’s needs.

Managing Your Pet’s Diabetes at Home

If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, you play an incredibly important role in helping to manage the disease. Giving insulin injections and monitoring glucose levels quickly becomes routine for most pet owners. We will make sure you understand how to give insulin and how to monitor your pet’s blood sugar so you become comfortable with the process.

Even more important than what your pet eats is feeding your pet consistently. Along with making sure your pet gets insulin at the same time each day, feeding your cat or dog a consistent amount of the same food (and the same treats) at the same time each day is also essential to helping keep your pet’s glucose under control.

Exercising your pet consistently and minimizing stress will also be important.

In addition, you’ll want to keep an eye on any new developments, such as changes in:

  • Appetite
  • Energy level
  • Grooming habits (particularly in cats)
  • Water consumption
  • Urine output
  • Weight

Preventing Diabetes Mellitus

Most pets who develop diabetes are predisposed to the disease, so preventing diabetes isn’t usually possible. However, because obesity seems to play a role in the development of diabetes in some dogs and cats, keeping pets at their ideal weight may help or at least make it easier to treat the condition.

Removing potential causes may lead to resolution of diabetes in certain cases. For instance, some medications may make pets more likely to develop diabetes; your veterinarian may recommend stopping these drugs to see if that helps. Do not stop giving your pet any previously prescribed medications without first checking with your veterinarian.

Cats with diabetes may go into diabetic remission, a condition that occurs when a cat’s blood glucose is regulated and stays at normal levels for more than a month without needing insulin injections or other glucose regulation. Some cats can stay in diabetic remission for months or even years. Cats have the best chance of going into remission when insulin therapy is started quickly and adjusted appropriately, with the chosen diet being given consistently.

Your Veterinarian’s Role in Your Pet’s Diabetes Management

If your pet has diabetes, we want to catch this disease as early as possible to help make sure it’s properly controlled and to minimize or avoid potential complications. We’ll walk you through how to give insulin injections and monitor glucose levels, as well as how to track any other changes.

In addition, your pet’s nutritional and insulin needs may change over the course of his or her disease. Through regular check-ins, your veterinarian will help you make sure your pet with diabetes continues to stay on track.

Give us a call today if your pet is showing any signs of diabetes or if you’re concerned about your pet’s health. As long as the disease is well managed, many pets with diabetes can enjoy a good quality of life.

Bladder Stones in Pets: Painful But Treatable

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Both dogs and cats can suffer from bladder stones, which are hard, rock-like formations of minerals that develop in the urinary bladder. Also called uroliths or cystic calculi, bladder stones can range from small, sand-like grains to larger, gravel-sized stones.

A pet can have several stones that range in size, but even just a single stone can cause pain and potentially be life-threatening. This is why, if you suspect your pet has bladder stones, please let us know immediately.

Signs of Bladder Stones in Pets

Symptoms of bladder stones in dogs and cats include:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Abdominal pain
  • Frequent urination, but only urinating a small amount each time
  • Urinating in odd places
  • Urinating in the house (dogs)
  • Urinating outside the litterbox (cats)
  • Licking the urinary opening
  • Inability to urinate (this is a medical emergency!)

Some pets don’t show any obvious signs of bladder stones, and some of the signs may be the same as those of other, possibly related, conditions, such as a urinary tract infection.

If your pet is straining to urinate and nothing (or only a dribble) comes out, call us right away! It could mean that a bladder stone is blocking the urethra. This situation can cause the bladder to rupture and requires immediate veterinary attention.

Bladder stones can irritate the urinary tract or even inhibit the flow of urine. If your pet can’t urinate, call us immediately. Inability to urinate is a medical emergency!

Causes of Bladder Stones in Pets

Bladder stones form when certain minerals found naturally in a pet’s body aren’t processed correctly in the urinary system or if the levels of specific minerals are too high. These factors can cause minerals to crystallize and ultimately harden into bladder stones.

To complicate matters, there are several kinds of bladder stones, depending on what type of minerals are involved. The most common bladder stones in both cats and dogs are struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate), calcium oxalate, and urate. Some stones are made up of more than one type of mineral, potentially making diagnosis and treatment trickier.

Depending on the type of stone, other conditions may contribute to bladder stone formation in a cat or dog:

  • Dietary/nutritional imbalance
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Kidney disease
  • Metabolic factors
  • Decreased water intake
  • Urine acidity (pH)
  • Long-term use of certain medications
  • Genetic or breed predisposition

Pets can get bladder stones at any age. Some types of stones are more likely to form when pets are younger or middle-aged, and others tend to be more common as dogs or cats get older. Older age can also make pets more prone to certain conditions that may lead to stone formation.

Diagnosis of Bladder Stones

If your veterinarian suspects that your pet has bladder stones, he or she will perform a physical exam on your pet and ask about your pet’s dietary history and any symptoms you’ve noticed. Your vet may recommend tests such as a urinalysis, urine culture, and blood work, as well as abdominal ultrasounds and/or x-rays (radiographs) to help locate bladder stones and determine their size.

Catching bladder stones early can help prevent complications such as urinary obstruction and may mean your vet could have more options to help treat your pet.

Treatment of Bladder Stones

Your veterinarian will recommend treatment for your pet based on the specific type of bladder stones, as well as other factors, such as the size or location of the stones and your pet’s overall health. Treatment options may include:

  • Removing the stones surgically from the bladder (cystotomy) or the urethra (urethrotomy).
  • Flushing the stones back into the bladder using a nonsurgical technique called urohydropropulsion, in which fluid is passed through a catheter placed in the urethra to try to remove a stone or stones that are causing an obstruction. Your vet may first perform a procedure called a cystocentesis to drain urine from your pet’s bladder.
  • Feeding a diet specially formulated to dissolve certain bladder stones.

Surgery is the fastest way to treat bladder stones and is often needed if stones are blocking the urethra and preventing your pet from being able to urinate. However, surgery may not be needed or appropriate in every case, and other options may offer your pet relief.

If your pet is put on a special diet, he or she will likely need antibiotics for the duration of therapy to help resolve and prevent bacterial infection. In dogs, an infection is typically what causes the type of stones that dietary therapy is effective for, and bacteria can be released into the bladder as the stones are dissolved, potentially causing a new infection.

Dietary therapy may be needed for several weeks or months, and your veterinarian will need to check progress of stone dissolution through urinalysis and x-rays or ultrasound. Because this may be a slow process, your pet may continue to experience pain and other symptoms of bladder stones while on the diet. If the diet doesn’t work or a urethral obstruction occurs during that time, other treatment will be needed.

Prevention of Bladder Stones

We can’t necessarily prevent bladder stones from forming, but we can take steps that may help, including:

  • Encouraging your pet to drink more water (either by adding water to your pet’s food or switching to canned food)
  • Adjusting your pet’s diet to further reduce the concentrations of the problem minerals in the urine and to adjust the urine pH as needed
  • Treating underlying infections or diseases

Don’t Wait to See What Happens!

If you notice any signs of bladder stones in your pet, give us a call. Because other diseases and conditions sometimes have similar signs, your St. Francis veterinarian will determine what’s causing your pet’s symptoms and recommend treatment options.

Bladder stones can become life-threatening quickly. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a difference in the outcome and recovery of a pet with bladder stones.

Tick-borne Diseases: What You Should Know to Protect Your Pet

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Ticks pose a risk to pets and people in Fredericksburg and throughout Virginia. The mild winter we’ve had means the 2020 tick season in our area will likely be just as bad as last year’s.


Besides feeding on blood, ticks can transmit diseases (like Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis) to pets and can cause serious illnesses and conditions, such as:

  • Anemia (decreased number of red blood cells or hemoglobin, which in serious cases can require a blood transfusion)
  • Cardiac complications
  • Low platelets (blood cells that help blood clotting), which can lead to bleeding disorders
  • Joint damage
  • Kidney disease/failure
  • Neurological disorders


This is why we want to make sure our clients are aware of the big problems these small parasites can cause—and how to help keep your pets protected.


Ticks in Virginia

There are around 900 tick species in the world, with 17 in Virginia and just a handful that pose a danger to pets and people in our area. The main ticks we have in Virginia are blacklegged (deer) ticks, American dog ticks, and lone star ticks. We also have brown dog ticks as well as a new tick species that has recently arrived in the United States, the Asian longhorned tick.


If you find a tick on your pet, you can submit a photo and information about the tick to TickSpotters, a crowdsourced survey tool that tracks ticks across the country.


Tick Diseases in Dogs

The ticks we have in our area can transmit several diseases to dogs, including:

  • Lyme disease—Last year, more than 800 dogs tested positive for Lyme disease in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, with more than 27,000 infected across Virginia. This year, we’ve already had more than 4,500 dogs test positive for the disease in our state.
  • Ehrlichiosis—The risk for this disease in Virginia may be even higher than it is for Lyme disease, with more than 34,500 dogs testing positive in 2019.


The number of Lyme disease cases across the US has been steadily increasing in both pets and people for the past decade.


Ticks can also transmit other diseases to dogs, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, as well as tick paralysis, a serious, potentially deadly condition in which the nervous system is attacked by a toxin in the tick’s saliva.


Tick Diseases in Cats

Cats aren’t immune from ticks either. The parasites can cause tick paralysis and several diseases in cats, including Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. Other tick-borne diseases, such as cytauxzoonosis and tularemia, although rare, can be deadly in cats.


Even indoor-only cats can get ticks if the parasites hitch a ride inside on you or another pet.


Symptoms of Tick-borne Diseases in Pets

If you find a tick attached to your pet (or even if you don’t), let us know right away if you notice any of these signs of tick-transmitted diseases in your pet:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Fever
  • Lameness (which may shift from one leg to another)
  • Pale gums
  • Sensitivity to touch
  • Stiff, swollen, or painful joints
  • Tiring easily
  • Weight or appetite loss
  • Vomiting or diarrhea


Lyme disease can also cause pets to walk stiffly with an arched back, but pets rarely get the characteristic bullseye rash seen in some people with Lyme disease.


Ticks can be tricky to spot, especially in your pet’s fur. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, and nymphs (immature ticks) are only about the size of a poppy seed or pinhead!


Prevention of Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases

You can take several important steps to help protect your pet and yourself from ticks and the diseases they can spread, starting with keeping your pet on tick preventive. Ticks remain active year-round in Fredericksburg. In fact, adult blacklegged ticks are typically active in the fall, winter, and spring as long as the temperature remains above freezing.


Learn more about how to prevent tick bites and create a tick-safe yard at these helpful sites:


The best way to prevent ticks on your pet is to keep your pet on a tick control medication.


The Bottom Line

Ticks are a risk in our area. At St. Francis, we want to help keep our patients safe from these parasites. Call us today to make sure your pet is protected!