| Humanimal |


By Joy Pape, FNP-C, CDCES and Nicole Cerniello, DVM

Diabetes is now an epidemic. Many people are afraid of getting it because of stories they’ve heard. The good news is that for most who have diabetes, one can live a long healthy life.

Last month I wrote about my dog Brandy who had diabetes. She was housebroken, yet started to have urinary frequency and incontinence and was drinking more and more water. These are classic symptoms of diabetes both in people and pets. We took Brandy to the vet and sure enough, she had diabetes. With treatment, her symptoms resolved and she lived a long life. 

We’ve learned a lot since then to help us and our pets live healthier lives and prevent many of the complications we often hear about. 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic (long-lasting) health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy.

Your body breaks down most of the food you eat into sugar (glucose) and releases it into your bloodstream. When your blood sugar goes up, it signals your pancreas to release insulin. Insulin acts like a key to let the blood sugar into your body’s cells for use as energy, which over time high can cause health problems.

With diabetes, your body doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should. When there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to insulin, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream. 

Insulin gets a bad rap, when in fact, we all need insulin and need it in the right amount. For health, we either make it or need to take it. 

Types of Diabetes

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy). 

Type 1 diabetes (T1DM) affects about 5–10% of the people who have diabetes. It is thought to be caused by an autoimmune reaction in which the body attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. T1DM can be diagnosed at any age and symptoms often develop quickly. At this time type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented and those who have type 1 will have to take insulin the rest of their lives to survive. 

Prediabetes. In the U.S., 96 million adults–more than one in three –have prediabetes. More than eight in ten of them don’t know they have it. With prediabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diagnosed with T2DM. Prediabetes raises one’s risk for T2DM, heart disease, and stroke. The good news is prediabetes can be reversed with lifestyle changes such as those offered by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognized programs. 

Risk Factors for Diabetes

Type 1

Since T1DM is thought to be an autoimmune reaction, risk factors are not as clear as for prediabetes or T2DM. Known risks include family history and age–more likely in children, teens and young adults– but adults do get T1DM. In the U.S., White people are more likely to develop T1DM than African American, or Hispanic or Latino people.

Type 2 & Prediabetes 

Prediabetes puts one at risk for diabetes. Beyond that, the risk factors are the same for both such as family history, having excess weight, age of 45 years or above, having had GDM or given birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds, and having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Being an African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, or Alaska Native person, and some Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans are at higher risk.

Gestational Diabetes

A woman is at risk for GDM if she has had GDM during a previous pregnancy, has given birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds, has excess weight, is older than 25 years of age, or has a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Being an African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander person are at higher risk.


There isn’t a cure yet for diabetes. A management plan designed by your health care professional and you which includes weight management, eating healthy food, and being active can help. 

  • Classic symptoms of diabetes
  • Urinary frequency
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss without trying to lose weight
  • Increased hunger
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness or tingling of hands or feet
  • Feeling very tired
  • Sores that heal slowly
  • More infections than usual

If you have any of the above, see your health care professional to have your blood sugar tested.


Type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) is the most common form of diabetes in dogs while type 2 is the most common form in cats. Many of the clinical signs mentioned above are seen in cats and dogs. Oftentimes pet owners will notice a large increase in pets’ water intake and frequent urination. Many times, a dog owner will bring their dog in baffled because it is suddenly having accidents inside. Or, a cat will suddenly start to urinate outside the litter box.

Other clinical signs are increased appetite, lethargy, poor hair coat, muscle wasting and, in dogs, cataract formation. 

Obesity is a major risk factor for cats as it can lead to insulin resistance and most cats who have diabetes are male. 

In contrast, most dogs who have diabetes are female. Some dog breeds seem to be overrepresented when discussing diabetes including miniature Schnauzers, Westies, Poodles, Dachshunds, Bichone Frise and Yorkshire Terriers to name a few.  Dogs mixed with breeds predisposed to diabetes may be at higher risk as well.

There is also good news for pets. With the proper treatment, they too can live a long healthy life.

Learn more next month of how to diagnose diabetes, prevent T2DM and GDM diabetes, and some treatments to live a long healthy life with diabetes.

Joy Pape, FNP-C, CDCES, CFCN is a board-certified family nurse practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator and Specialist in Weight Management & Obesity at Weill Cornell’s Comprehensive Weight Control Center and has a private practice in the West Village. Dr. Nicole Cerniello, DVM is Medical Director for the Greenwich Village Animal Hospital.

Learn more at: