Originally posted by Danny Prater, PETA’s Online Content Producer

I have been living with type 1 diabetes since I was 13 years old. The last time I visited my home state, Ohio (Go, Bucks!), I had a chance to meet the only other member of my extended family who is also diabetic.

Just like humans, dogs and cats can also get diabetes. From personal experience, I know that it can be a tough disease that is sometimes tricky to manage. This really got me to thinking about what it must be like for a cat or dog living with this condition. Without any way to tell us directly how they are feeling, companion animals rely on their human guardians to notice when something is wrong.

But what does diabetes “look” like? You can definitely see the symptoms if you pay attention to your cat or dog.

Change in Appetite

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Is your dog suddenly eating much more than before? Is your cat leaving a lot of food untouched? An increase or decrease in appetite may be a sign that your animal companion isn’t feeling well.

Weight Loss

When the body is deprived of insulin, which carries blood sugar to the cells to create energy, it will begin burning fat. If your four-legged friend begins rapidly losing weight, especially when coupled with other symptoms on this list, please schedule a veterinary appointment ASAP.

You should be especially concerned if your animal is eating more than before but still losing weight.

Frequent Urination

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Classic Tabby Scottish Fold | Tom Thai | CC BY 2.0 
 

For cats, this may take the form of urinating outside the litterbox or frequent urinary tract infections; for dogs, you may notice a sudden spike in the number of requests to go outdoors. This is because some of the toxins that build up when blood sugar levels go unmanaged are expelled through the urine. Your animal’s body is saying something important—make sure you listen!

Excessive Thirst

This one is actually how I first realized that something was wrong with me. Because of the increase in urination, your dog or cat may be excessively thirsty, attempting to replace lost fluids. These two symptoms, excessive thirst and frequent urination, will likely go together, so pay attention.

Note: When cats and dogs continue this cycle of frequent urination and excessive thirst, they can become dehydrated. How do you know if a thirsty animal is dehydrated? One quick way to check is by gently pinching some of the skin and fur on the back and then letting it fall back into place. A well-hydrated animal’s skin will quickly snap back, while a dehydrated animal’s skin will slowly collapse back down.

Sweet-Smelling Breath

When a body deprived of insulin begins burning its own fat stores to supply energy, compounds called ketones are released into the blood stream. Acetone, a type of ketone, is typically expelled from the body through the breath, which will smell unusually fruity or sweet (in stark contrast to the smell of the breath normally produced by eating most dog and cat foods), so this is an easy way to tell if something is wrong the next time you’re snuggling.

Lethargy

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When too many ketones enter the bloodstream, the body itself can become acidic. Trust me when I tell you, this feels awful. If your animal companion can’t keep his or her head up for more than a few minutes or has experienced a sudden decrease in energy levels, be sure to get to your vet as soon as possible!

Vomiting

Just like with the toxins pushed out through the breath and urine, vomiting is one of the body’s ways of telling you that it wants something that is currently inside it OUT.

Unkempt Coat/Chronic Skin Infections

Is your cat’s coat losing its shine? You may even notice flakes of dried skin. Has your dog been diagnosed with multiple skin infections? These are signs that your kitty or pooch may be suffering from untreated diabetes.

Cataract Formation/Change in Vision

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Cloudy | David Goehring | CC BY 2.0 
 

Extended periods of elevated blood glucose levels can lead to the development of cataracts and, just as in humans, blindness. It’s important to get your animal checked out before symptoms progress too far.

NOW, LISTEN: I’m not a doctor—for humans or for animals. If you suspect something is off with your best (nonhuman) friend after reading this, consult a professional! Always keep an eye—and a hand—on your companion animals. They rely on you to know when something is wrong, so you have to be sure that you know what “normal” looks and feels like for them. Because animals typically consume significantly fewer sugars and carbs than humans do, the signs of untreated diabetes may build up slowly over time. Your veterinarian can perform the necessary blood tests to find out what’s going on and get you all set up to take proper care of your cat or dog if diabetes turns out to be an issue, so be sure to go in for regular check-ups as well.

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