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Top tips for pets with diabetes

Diabetic pets have special needs, but can live long and healthy lives with the proper diagnosis, treatment and care. We had a chat with Dr Jono, a vetenarian from Hout Bay Veterinary Hospital, Cape Town.

How common is diabetes in pets?

Diabetes affects approximately 1 in every 200 domestic cats.  The average age at onset is between 8 and 13 years.  Diabetes is less common in dogs affecting only 1 in roughly 450 dogs.  The average age of onset in dogs is 8 years.  When it comes to sex,  predominantly more male cats are affected with diabetes where as in dogs, females are predominant. 

How can pet owners recognise the symptoms of diabetes in pets?

Symptoms of diabetes in pets is similar to those in humans.  Early signs of diabetes include excessive drinking, excessive urinating and weight loss, despite a good appetite.  If diabetes continues uncontrolled later symptoms observed are loss of appetite, lethargy, listlessness and vomiting.

In dogs, a less common finding is cataracts while in cats a less common finding is a plantigrade stance (when a cat stands taking weight on its ankles rather than its back paws). 

Dr Jono

How do you treat diabetes in pets?

We treat diabetic animals with long-acting insulin injections given twice daily (12 hours apart). Insulin is always given with meals.  We do not use oral hypoglycaemic medications in pets.  Diet is also vitally important! Obese diabetic animals need gradual weight reduction to improve insulin sensitivity.  We encourage pet owners to feed diets high in protein and fibre with a low carbohydrate and fat content.

What’s the most important thing for pet owners to realise if their pet has diabetes?

The most important thing I tell owners of diabetic pets is that CONSITANCY IS KEY to maintaining healthy diabetics.  It is very important to stick to strict routines and schedules when it comes to feeding, injecting and exercising your pets.  Teach owners the importance of home monitoring and how to identify signs of hypoglycaemia or poor glycaemic control. 

Diabetic pets become a big commitment and owners often need to adapt their lifestyle to accommodate their pets needs.  Always teach as many people around you (family, neighbours, house-keepers) to inject in case you are not at home. 

Dr Jono

Do you personally treat many diabetic pets?

We treat many diabetic patients at our hospital.  We are lucky in that our clients are very committed to treating their diabetic pets with the best possible care which inevitably leads to better controlled diabetic patients.  We encourage regular weigh-ins, urine dipstick checks and twice yearly glucose curves (in dogs only). 

Interestingly, cats have the chance to achieve full remission from diabetes.  Cats that are well managed with a lean body condition score have a greater chance of achieving remission.  Sadly, most cats that enter remission will relapse at a later stage.  Dogs have permanent diabetes but with adequate control can live normal lifespans. 

What makes your life sweet?

What makes my life sweet is my wife (who is an amazing vet), my two miniature schnauzers, my goofy Italian Greyhound and my two rescue kitties.  I enjoy anything related to running and the outdoors, followed up with a cold beer!

Get in touch with Hout Bay Vets on: 021 790 2640 and email:
For more info:

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Sweet Life is a registered NPO/PBO (220-984) with a single goal: to improve diabetes in South Africa. We are funded by sponsorships and donations from aligned companies and organisations who believe in our work. We only share information that we believe benefits our community. While some of this information is linked to specific brands, it is not an official endorsement of that brand. We believe in empowering people with diabetes to make the best decisions they can, to live a healthy, happy life with diabetes.