Diagnosing Diabetes with My Feet

The sooner treatment is started, the sooner things will improve

Published: June 04, 2021
Illustration courtesy of Depositphotos

I'm a dad to three kids, so a good portion of my home life is spent asking myself, “Why is this sticky?” and cleaning up various spills and mysteriously damp messes. In addition to being a dad, I am also an emergency veterinarian, and sometimes those two worlds collide.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped in a puddle at work one day and felt the familiar sensation of my sole sticking to the floor. And not a pancake in sight! I tapped my shoe in the puddle a few times to confirm (I know – gross) and, yeah. Sticky pee.

In the sitcom version of this event, I can imagine a record-scratching noise and a quick camera zoom in on my surprised face.

The dog who had left the syrupy mess had been seen at our hospital a week or so before and had normal lab tests then. He had just come back for boarding while the owner went on vacation and was waiting in the back room for a clean kennel to be prepped. He decided to take that time to deposit the pee puddle that met my shoe.

The owners gave permission for new tests to be run, and when the results came back, the dog was found to be diabetic. Extra sugar in his urine accounted for the gummy texture. And he wasn't diabetic the week before; we had the tests to prove it.

In the intervening week or so, his diabetes arrived.

With that under our belt, let's talk diabetes for a bit.

I recall the first few times I diagnosed sugar diabetes (medically known as diabetes mellitus) in someone's pet, I was met with a shocked “Pets can get diabetes?”

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes…pets can get diabetes. And they get it for the same reasons that people do. I won't go into too much medical detail, but I will give you the two types of diabetes, signs to watch out for, and what you can do.

By the way, diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is completely different from diabetes insipidus; blame the ancient Greek physicians for the similarities in naming two totally unrelated diseases.

Type I diabetes occurs when cells of the immune system destroy the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Insulin allows sugar into cells to serve as fuel, so no insulin equals no fuel. Since sugar can't get into cells, it builds up to toxic levels in the blood and causes many of the signs and complications that we see in diabetic pets (and people):

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Cataracts
  • Lethargy
  • Weight loss

This type of diabetes is usually treated with insulin injections (twice daily in most pets), but diet, exercise and medications can sometimes be used to make it easier to control blood sugar. You can even check your pet's blood sugar at home

Veterinary care for diabetics can get expensive and be quite the hassle. Regulating a diabetic pet leaves some owners frustrated, and only about 75% of diabetic pets will achieve good control of their blood sugar. But that does mean that three out of four dogs or cats with diabetes can achieve good control and live happy lives.

With good care and regular veterinary visits, diabetic pets can live for a very long time – and in some cases, the diabetic state can reverse itself and pets are ‘cured' of diabetes, although that's more common with the next type…

Type II diabetes has become the scourge of modern life in people, and it is affecting our pets as well. It is the disease that rides on the heels of obesity, and here's why: When your pancreas has to churn out insulin 24-7 to combat all the McFast Food and Krunchity Kreme Donuts we ingest, it gets sick of working and, almost literally, burns out. You run out of the cells that make insulin, and we're back to high sugar in the blood stream. The signs are the same as for Type I, just add 20 pounds: drinking like a fish, peeing all over, lethargy, and sometimes weight loss. Diet and exercise become even more important with this form of the disease, but still some pets will need insulin or other steps. Many diabetic pets will develop cataracts, and the last time I checked the price tag on the procedure to remove them it was about $4k.

If you have an older pet, or an overweight pet who is drinking and/or urinating more than they used to, make an appointment to see your family veterinarian as soon as you can. The sooner treatment is started, the sooner things will improve and the better the chances of a long and happy, disease-free life.

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