Dog Diabetes

What is dog diabetes?

Dog diabetes is a complex disease in which your canine friend either can’t produce insulin or can’t use it properly to fuel their cells, causing their blood sugar levels to rise. Body cells are fuelled by glucose, and if your pet is unable to use insulin to carry glucose to the cells, the cells will starve and vital organs can be damaged. There is no cure for canine diabetes, and diabetic animals are prone to other health problems such as cateracts. However, most dogs live happy, healthy lives with consistent management of their condition.

Insulin-deficiency diabetes (IDD)?

IDD is the most common type of diabetes found in dogs, and means that your pet’s pancreas is unable to produce the insulin it needs. It can be caused by a genetic defect, and in most cases your dog will require daily shots of insulin to survive.

Insulin-resistance diabetes (IRD)?

IRD is much rarer in dogs, and refers to an inability to use insulin effectively.

What are the risk factors for diabetes in dogs?

There is a chance of diabetes in all dogs, but there are certain factors that could put your dog at greater risk. Some risks can be reduced by smart lifestyle choices, whereas others should just make owners more aware of the symptoms to look out for. Here are some of the main risk factors identified by vets:

  • Age; most dogs that are diagnosed are middle-aged or elderly
  • Diet; poor-quality diets, particularly ones high in fat, can cause problems for your dog’s pancreas, which produces insulin
  • Existing autoimmune disorders and viral diseases; many health experts believe these can trigger diabetes
  • Genetics/Breed; all dogs are susceptible to diabetes, but certain breeds are at a higher risk. This includes Miniature Poodles, Bichon Frises, Pugs, Dachshunds and Beagles.
  • Gender; female dogs and neutered male dogs are more at risk
  • Progesterone; not spaying your female dog or long-term use of progesterone-like drugs can increase risk of diabetes
  • Steroids; long-term use of steroids or Cushing’s Disease (where the body overproduces steroids internally) can lead to diabetes
  • Weight; obesity can make cells resistant to insulin, and a strong correlation with diabetes has been found

What are the symptoms of dog diabetes?

Diabetes can be a silent disease, but there are common symptoms to keep an eye on.

The most easily spotted symptom is usually a change in weight and appetite. Despite eating what they normally do, your dog will not be feeling the energy benefits from their food and so may start eating more and feeling lethargic.

Similarly, your dog’s body will also be aware of the lack of energy, and may start breaking down fat and muscle to compensate, causing them to lose weight.

Meanwhile, all that glucose that isn’t making its way to your dog’s cells will build up in their blood, forcing their kidneys to work harder and require more fluids to filter it out. This will mean a thirsty/dehydrated dog, and much more frequent urination.

How is diabetes diagnosed in dogs?

Your vet will carry out a blood test if they suspect your dog may have diabetes, and will check for elevated levels of glucose in the blood and urine. This is sometimes caused by other factors, such as stress, and so your vet may decide to test again at a later date.

What is the treatment for canine diabetes?

The sooner diabetes is diagnosed and treated, the better chance your pet has of a normal life, and so your vet will likely look to start a schedule of insulin as soon as possible. They will measure your dog’s glucose level over several hours in order to determine the appropriate dosage of insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal (approximately between 65 and 120 mg/dl).

As each dog responds differently to treatment, your dog may need more regular visits to the vet at first to ensure that the dose is correct and to make any adjustments.

Most diabetic dogs will require 1-2 daily insulin shots, which the owner will need to inject just under the skin at home. Your vet will demonstrate the best way to do this and it will soon become a simple part of your routine that shouldn’t stress pet or owner. Your vet may also recommend that you test your dog’s blood glucose levels at home with a meter that collects a small drop of blood.

Do I need to change my dog’s lifestyle after being diagnosed with diabetes?

Monitoring your dog’s blood glucose levels and administering insulin at home will likely be the biggest change that you’ll need to get used to. You’ll need to give your dog their insulin shot at the same time each day, and ensure it’s just after a meal to minimize the chance of sugar levels swinging too high or low.

Many owners find it helpful to get organised with a diary or calendar to keep a log of their canine’s health. Record test results, changes in behaviour or appearance, advice from your vet and more to ensure you’re monitoring your pet’s health closely.

Another big change you may need to adjust to is diet and exercise. If your pet is overweight at diagnosis, then your vet will likely recommend weight loss to improve their condition. Consistent exercise and a high fibre diet is important, even if your dog isn’t overweight, and you may need to take a long, hard look at what your pet is eating. Poor quality, high fat food, particularly scraps of human food, won’t do your furry friend any good.

Are there further complications associated with dog diabetes?

Diabetes does make your pet more vulnerable to further health risks, particularly if left untreated, some of which are life-threatening. Kidney failure, ketoacidosis, urinary tract infections, cataracts (which can lead to blindness) and seizures are all possible. Bacterial infections, particularly of the gums and skin, are also common with high sugar diets. Your vet will inform you of the warning signs to keep an eye out for after your pet’s diagnosis, and may recommend ketone testing sticks to check for ketoacidosis at home.

Can canine diabetes be prevented?

Some dogs will get diabetes no matter what you do, but there are steps you can take to reduce your dog’s risk and to ensure they’re in a good position for their symptoms to be managed if they do develop diabetes down the line.

A healthy, high fibre diet in sensible portions will help maintain your dog’s blood sugar levels and avoid obesity, which can lead to diabetes. Plenty of consistent exercise will also keep your pet healthy and help regulate blood sugar levels.

Most importantly, regular check-ups with your vet will ensure that symptoms are spotted early and that treatment can be established before other health concerns become an issue.