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This information is provided by Provet for educational purposes only.

You should seek the advice of your veterinarian if your pet is ill as only he or she can correctly advise on the diagnosis and recommend the treatment that is most appropriate for your pet.

Diabetes mellitus is a common disease in dogs and cats, and treatment usually involves giving insulin by injection every day

Diabetes mellitus is common in dogs (it affects approximately1 in every 200 dogs) and cats (it affects approximately 1 in every 400 cats) and the usual cause is insufficient production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas. Insulin is very important because it is needed to move sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream into cells. Some cells (such as brain cells) depend upon glucose for their energy and without glucose they can not function properly. Glucose is usually saved by the kidneys when blood is filtered through them, but in diabetics the glucose is not being removed from the blood by cells so it's concentrations rise until there is so much present that it leaks into the urine. Tests that detect glucose in the urine (as well as in blood) are used as a monitor for how much insulin to give.

Unfortunately, the type of diabetes that dogs and cats usually get does not respond to oral treatments that are used in some humans. So,  the treatment of animals deficient in insulin involves injecting insulin every day. In dogs this can often be done just once a day, but in cats two injections are usually necessary. When owners are first faced with the prospect of sticking a needle into their companion every day they are a bit anxious, but it is a simple procedure which both owners and patient soon accept.

Disposable sterile syringes and needles are important, and the dose rate of insulin needs to be kept constant once the animal is stable. The injection is administered into the tissue just under the skin, so only a short needle is needed. The insulin is drawn into the syringe from a vial and it is important to hold the syringe up, tap it and expel any air bubbles that might be present. The precise dose that has been prescribed should be drawn up.

The most frequent site to give the injection is in the scruff of the neck. A skin fold is picked up with one hand (usually the left) and the needle is stabbed through it quickly at 45o to the skin using the other hand, aiming down towards the neck. The plunger on the syringe is pulled back slightly to check that the end of the needle is not in a blood vessel (the syringe fills with blood if it is) and providing no blood appears the plunger is pushed down to expel the insulin from the syringe. A different site is used each day.

With a bit of experience the whole procedure takes only a few minutes, and there is little discomfort for the pet. 

Other key points about giving insulin to pets are :

  • The type and amount of food should be kept constant
  • The timing of feeding should be kept constant
  • The timing of the insulin injection should be kept constant
  • If insulin is given but the animal does not eat it's food there is a danger that blood glucose concentrations could fall too low - a condition called hypoglycaemia or "hypo" - and veterinary attention should be sought
  • Individual requirements vary, so the attending veterinarian will need to determine the most appropriate food type, insulin type and insulin dose for your pet if it develops diabetes.

Once a diabetic patient is stable regular urine tests for glucose will help to determine if any fine adjustments in insulin dose are needed.

Should your pet develop diabetes your practice will help you to administer the first injections, and also show you how to collect and perform urine tests and make adjustments to the dose of insulin if it proves necessary.


Updated October 2013