Keeping canine diabetes under control

Diabetes Dog

Rebecka Hess, chief of the Section of Medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine and an associate professor of medicine in Penn Vet’s Department of Clinical Studies.

Diabetes mellitus, a chronic disease affecting 20 million people in the United States, also afflicts our canine companions. Many dogs are predisposed to developing this endocrine disorder and require sophisticated treatment to keep it in check.

Rebecka Hess, chief of the Section of Medicine at the School of Veterinary Medicine and an associate professor of medicine in Penn Vet’s Department of Clinical Studies, has spent her career identifying and improving treatments for dogs and cats afflicted with diabetes and other diseases caused by disruptions to hormone signaling. Her latest clinical trial, for which she is currently recruiting dogs with well-regulated diabetes, aims to test how well a strategy commonly used to treat humans with diabetes will aid in better controlling the disease in canines.

“This, we hope, will lead to longer survival and better long-term quality of life,” Hess says.

As in humans, diabetes in dogs arises when the islet cells of the pancreas do not produce enough insulin to adequately break down sugar in the blood. If the condition goes unregulated, dogs can experience complications, including cataracts, increased susceptibility to infection, and even the life-threatening condition of diabetic ketoacidosis.

While treatment with insulin has long been available to manage the disease, owners have had to carefully monitor their dogs’ blood sugar levels and adjust dosage accordingly. Yet, according to a previous study by Hess and colleagues, even dutiful tracking of blood sugar and administering of insulin do not completely wipe out blood sugar spikes.

“Even if a dog is generally well-regulated throughout the day, they tend to have a spike right after a meal,” says Hess.

In the approach that Hess is testing, dogs would receive a combination therapy that more closely mimics the natural insulin response in a healthy dog. The treatment pairs a fast-acting insulin that goes to work almost immediately with a slower-acting insulin that lasts longer.

“Not only will dogs treated with this have more well-regulated diabetes, but we expect to see them having fewer side effects as well,” says Hess. “I think this treatment could make everyone’s lives a little easier, both dogs and owners.”

For information about enrolling a dog in the trial, visit the Penn Vet website.

On Saturday, Oct. 13, Hess will discuss “Diabetes and Other Endocrine (Hormonal) Disorders in Cats and Dogs” at Hill Pavilion as part of the Penn Vet Animal Lovers Lecture Series. To register, visit the Penn Vet website.

Originally published on September 20, 2012