In the vast majority of cases diabetes is treated using injections of insulin designed to replace the hormone usually produced by the pancreas. Injecting pets with insulin is generally very straightforward and most pets barely notice the tiny needle which is injected into the scruff of the neck. Injections are either given once or twice a day and need to be carefully managed to ensure the correct dose and timing as the peak effect of the insulin in the body (which is usually around 8 hours after injection) should coincide with a meal to make sure that the glucose level doesn’t dip below normal.
Before you start administering insulin, most vets will carry out a ‘glucose curve’ test. This is a procedure where blood samples are taken every hour throughout the day after a trial dose of insulin has been given to assess the animal’s response to the injection and ensure that it is effective and also doesn’t result in dangerously low levels of glucose. Once this has been done your vet will then be able to give details about the exact dose and timing of the injections for your pet.
Insulin injections are generally very effective at controlling the symptoms of diabetes but they are not the only way in which diabetes is treated. Diet is very important and can play a very significant role in minimising the effects of the disease.
The ideal diet for a diabetic animal is low in soluble sugars and fats (which can cause peaks in blood glucose levels), and higher in so-called complex carbohydrates such as fibres and starches which tend to release their energy more gradually over a longer period of time. There are many prescription diets available for diabetic pets, and these are generally the best option in most cases.
As well as diet, regular exercise can also play a part in treating diabetes as exercise helps reduce high levels of glucose (hyperglycaemia) and can also increase the effectiveness of insulin. Exercise should be regular and consistent as sudden increases in levels of exercise can lead to the risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).