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How to reduce the risk of diabetes

A Yorkshire Terrier eats food from a bowl

One in every 500 dogs and cats develops diabetes, leading to costly daily insulin injections and lifelong monitoring. Yet in many cases, diabetes may be preventable, simply by establishing good feeding habits.

Diabetes results in excessive levels of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream and is more common in middle-aged, neutered pets. Blood glucose levels are regulated by the production of insulin by the pancreas, so if something goes wrong with this production – or the body can no longer respond to insulin as effectively – diabetes develops.

Some dog breeds – including the Bichon Frise, West Highland White Terrier and Yorkshire Terrier – are predisposed. Burmese is the most affected breed of cat. If your pet is overweight, his or her body will be less able to respond normally to insulin and this will increase the risk of diabetes.

Veterinary practices offer weight clinics where they will assess body condition and give you advice on feeding and weight control.  Special diets are available to aid this, but making changes such as cutting out extra snacks, upping the exercise and reducing excessive portions can make a big difference (see tips below) along with professional support and advice.


The first signs of diabetes are weight loss and an increased appetite and thirst. Weighing your pet routinely every few months will allow you to pick up early unexpected weight loss (or gain), and every pet should have its weight recorded when it visits the vet. A simple urine test can rule out diabetes.

Early diagnosis is important, especially when insulin resistance is involved, as this exhausts the pancreas. Up to 50 per cent of diabetic cats can come off insulin injections altogether if diagnosed promptly and treated aggressively. Ongoing weight and diet management is critical in all diabetic pets and your vet will usually prescribe a suitable diet. But just as important is keeping the food type and feeding habits consistent during diabetes management.

Diabetes can be a daunting prospect for many owners, but with the development of user-friendly insulin pens as an alternative to needles, and blood-glucose monitoring devices for easy home use, it is now easier than ever to understand, monitor and treat your pet. If diabetes is a worry, don’t be afraid to ask your vet for help.


Get the whole household involved and encourage good behaviour.

To avoid accidental feeds, make one person responsible for main meals or use a tick chart.

Always measure the food you give to your pet. Use a level scoop for accuracy when serving dry food.

Give main meals in a feeding ball or interactive feeding toy.

Keep a few kibbles back from the daily allowance to use as treats or rewards.

Put a tag on your cat’s collar saying ‘Don’t feed me!’

Written for PetPeople magazine by Zaila Dunbar, previous winner of Petplan’s Vet of the Year. View Petplan videos about diabetes in cats here and dogs here.


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13 Responses to How to reduce the risk of diabetes

  1. Gillian says:

    Hi, I’m looking for advice. My mum and dads dog (a yorkie) has been diagnosed diabetic. She is now on 2 x 7mls insulin daily. Its costing them a small fortune! They didn’t get Molly insured but have been taking her to the same vets since a puppy. They are both pensioners but are not on any means tested benefits like housing benefit,council tax benefit. My mums on disability. Is there any help whatsoever that they can apply for as they simply cannot afford to keep this up. They are skipping meals etc so they can pay the vet bills.
    Thank you so much for your time

    Gillian x

    • Libby from the Petplan Team says:

      Hi Gillian, I am really sorry to hear about Molly’s illness and the financial difficulties you’re experiencing – at Petplan we understand how the cost of veterinary care can be such a worry. If you could email your contact details to social@petplan.co.uk we can call you directly about your query. Thanks, Libby – the Petplan Team

    • June Barker says:

      Gillian the cost is not in the insulin (around £20 a bottle) or the syringes (around £14 for 30) it is in the cost of vets charging ridiculous prices even for the needed prescription. I still cannot get my head around why they charge £70 for a glucose blood test when a glucose meter could be used. I know these can be expensive to buy at the outset but you get repeated use afterwards. I am considering buying one and then keeping my own chart.

    • June Barker says:

      Oh and i am a pensioner too and have to inject my dog twice a day.

    • June Barker says:

      My dog is a rescue and no pet insurance company would insure him as he was classed as ‘too old’. Good job we humans are not classed the same lol

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      Hi, thank you very much for your comment, it is great to hear that you enjoy the content on our blog. Thank you for your feedback around the blog, your opinion is really important to us and adding videos and pictures is a great idea which we will definitely take into account as we plan and create our blog cotnent in future. Thanks again, Libby – the Petplan Team

  3. Ian Boardman says:

    My daughter has two Burmese neuters a boy a girl.
    While she was having her baby the two cats went to live with a friend, who seriously over fed them.
    The boy developed diabetes and became insulin dependent. it wasn’t made clear to them that if he went off his food the insulin should not be administered. consequently he collapsed and his vet decided he was at his lifes end. I told them to take him to the specialist hospital in Surrey to be looked at.
    They rehydrated him, stopped the insulin and he was put on a serious diet.
    It didn’t long before before he was back to his fighting weight , and free from diabetes.

    Obesity in cats is a major contributor to diabetes, and I am aware that weight control might not rid every cat of the condition, but it helps maintain it. Burmese in particular are prone to diabetes. they are thick skinned literally and are heavier than they look.

    Exercise is important for cats, play in kittens can be continued in adult cats. Teach your kitten to retrieve, you can waste hours throwing a scrumpled piece of paper. get the cat to chase a ball upstairs, and down again if it doesn’t catch it. If it catches it then it will retrieve it.

  4. dog groomer new york says:

    A WEEKEND lie in may be a lifesaver in more ways than one after scientists discovered catching up on some much needed shut eye can lower the risk of developing diabetes.

    • Bradley Elliot says:

      I Thing in week end is most preferable things are showing some discipline in front of your pet!

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  7. June Barker says:

    Until my dog became diabetic (he was not overweight etc) i did not bother to read what various brands of dog food contained. Now i have spent a couple of hours in a large pet store just reading what they do contain , i was amazed at the fat content alone never mind the other stuff. I wish that more information was made available on the front of dog food with a list of ingredients starting with the highest content. People do not realise what they are really feeding their dogs and the harm it can do. It is also surprising that the more expensive dog food is the worst. Though i was warned years ago, by a vet, not to feed any dog on the more well known brand that is often advertised as it was far too rich for dogs.

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