Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms and Treatments
Diabetes is a disease that affects not only humans, but also many animals, including dogs and cats. While the disease cannot be cured, it can be managed quite successfully using the right treatment plan. There are different types of diabetes, but diabetes mellitus, also referred to as “sugar diabetes,” is the type that occurs most frequently in dogs.
In this article we’ll break down what diabetes is exactly, what symptoms to look for and potential treatment plans so you can provide your pup the best possible care.
What is Diabetes Exactly?
Diabetes is a metabolism disorder, meaning it affects how your dog’s body converts food into energy. In order to really understand the disease, it’s important to understand the underlying process.
The Glucose–Insulin Connection
When your dog eats food, her body breaks the food down into macro nutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and these are used to either power or build/rebuild the body.
The carbohydrates are broken down further into glucose, which is the main fuel your body uses. The glucose is eventually absorbed into the bloodstream in the intestines, and it is transported throughout the body to all of the cells.
Insulin is an important hormone responsible for getting the glucose inside of the cell. You can think of insulin like the Amazon Prime driver you see around your neighborhood, going door to door with important deliveries. While the driver didn’t create the products they deliver, they are the ones responsible for getting those products into the houses.
Diabetes Disrupts These Deliveries
When a dog develops diabetes, the glucose-insulin connection is not working as it should. This disruption is caused by two things:
This form of diabetes occurs when the dog’s pancreas is not producing enough insulin. This generally happens when the pancreas has been damaged, as can happen with repeated bouts of pancreatitis. Dogs with this condition require daily insulin shots. This is the most common type of diabetes in dogs.
This form of diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces insulin, but the body cannot use it properly. The glucose never gets inside the cell walls but instead, blood glucose levels continue to rise to dangerous levels. This type of diabetes can occur in older, obese dogs.
Female dogs can also develop temporary insulin-resistant diabetes while in heat or pregnant.
What are the Effects of Diabetes?
Regardless of the type of diabetes a dog may develop, there will be negative effects on her health.
When the cells are starved of vital fuel, the body starts breaking down its own fats and proteins to use as a secondary fuel. In addition, when blood glucose levels are allowed to remain abnormally high, damage may begin to happen to many organs. The organs most affected by diabetes are the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels and nerves.
And often, once this damage occurs, it is too late to reverse it. That is why it is so important to notice the early symptoms of diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs
The following are the most common signs of diabetes in dogs:
You may begin noticing your dog at the water bowl more often and your need to refill it more often as well. Your dog drinks more because the body is trying to remove excess glucose through urination.
Your dog may begin asking to go outside to relive themselves more often. You may also come home to find they have had an accident. This frequent urination is a result of excessive drinking.
Dogs with diabetes tend to lose weight, despite eating normally. This is because their body is not efficiently converting food into nutrients.
Some dogs become hungry all of the time because their body’s cells are not getting the glucose, the fuel, they need.
These are the initial warning signs that your dog may have developed diabetes. Should you notice any of these it is vitally important that you get them in to see the vet right away.
In more advanced cases of diabetes, when the initial warning signs were not recognized or ignored, symptoms can become more pronounced and include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
- Depressed attitude
Diabetes that is not caught in time and managed can lead to devastating health consequences, including:
- Cataracts (leading to blindness)
- Enlarged liver
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney failure
- Ketoacidosis – a potentially life-threatening condition that is often accompanied by rapid breathing, dehydration, lethargy, vomiting, or sweet-smelling breath.
Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs
Should your dog be diagnosed with diabetes, they will be put on a specific treatment plan. As mentioned earlier, the most common type of diabetes found in dogs is diabetes mellitus, and this type requires daily injections of insulin under the skin.
Your vet will show you how to administer these shots. While many people have a “thing” with needles and cannot conceive of being able to give their dog shots, in time most become more comfortable and can manage these shots easily.
If your dog is an older, obese dog that has developed insulin-resistant diabetes, that is their pancreas is producing insulin but their body is unable to use it properly, they will most likely be put on a special diet and need more exercise to shed some weight. Both of these things may help the body become metabolically efficient so it can utilize insulin properly.
The good news is, canine diabetes can usually be managed quite successfully without any health complications. The key is to commit yourself to giving your dog the best care possible and be their advocate. You will have to stay on top of monitoring their glucose levels and sticking to their treatment plan. But if you do so, your dog should have a wonderful quality of life.
Pet Health Insurance Can Help You Give Your Pup the Very Best Care
It’s not easy hearing your best four-legged friend has developed a disease that can negatively impact his health. You’ll want to do everything you can to ensure the two of you have many more wonderful years together.
But treating disease can be expensive. And these expenses can really catch you off guard.
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- Williams, K., BSc, DVM; Downing, R., DVM, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP; Ward, E., DVM. “Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs – Overview.” Fetched from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/diabetes-mellitus-in-dogs-overview
- “What is Diabetes?” Retrieved from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes
- “Insulin Resistance.” Retrieved from the Cleveland Clinic website: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22206-insulin-resistance
- “Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment.” (2022). Fetched from: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/diabetes-in-dogs/
- Williams, K., BSc, DVM, CCRP; Ward, E., DVM. “Diabetes Mellitus – Principles of Treatment in Dogs.” Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/diabetes-mellitus—principles-of-treatment-in-dogs