Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in Dogs

Read our guide to know all about diabetes including identification, prevention, and treatment. 

We all are familiar with the spectre of diabetes in our lives at some point. Whether it affects a family member or our own bodies – diabetes is one of the more pressing and pervasive medical issues in the world. It is unfortunate that it also affects dogs.

There are several kinds of diabetes, and none of them can be cured with current medical advancements. However, it is possible to manage diabetes and live an active and healthy life.

If your dog suffers from diabetes, be prepared to deal with this for the rest of the dog’s life. Every meal, every exercise routine, every medical visit – these need to be planned with great care. The basics are important – having a doctor on call, someone that you can deeply trust to take good care of your dog in a potential medical emergency.

The kind of diabetes dogs suffer from

Most dogs suffer from what we call “diabetes mellitus”. It’s a form of diabetes that occurs because sugar does not metabolise into energy. The food we (and dogs) eat gets converted into glucose after the nutrients are broken down by the body. When this breakdown stops happening, the essential sugars that provide energy are not created, and the insulin doesn’t allow the body (mainly pancreas) to signal to the cells to collect glucose. Dogs then lose vital energy they require to perform tasks, play, run, and so on.

The two types of diabetes that dogs suffer from are:

Insulin-deficiency diabetes – When the dog’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin, it is called insulin- deficiency diabetes. Usually this means the pancreas are not functioning properly. This type of diabetes is the more common of the two types. The best way to manage this is to replace the missing insulin. This means giving your dog daily insulin shots (or as recommended by the veterinarian).

Insulin-resistant diabetes – When there is enough insulin, but the body isn’t allowing it to process glucose, then it is known as insulin-resistant diabetes. This is a rarer form, but is found in pregnant dogs or dogs in heat in some cases.

How do you identify diabetes in a dog?

It is truly unfortunate if your dog starts to suffer from diabetes. It is painful to watch, and your dog undergoes bodily changes that it cannot control and understand. This is the time to be extra gentle with your dog – and allow it to get used to its condition.

The following symptoms of diabetes are:

Increased appetite: Think of it this way – a dog that isn’t getting the energy it needs is going to be constantly trying to get more. Diabetic dogs tend to eat and eat and eat – in order to replace or find that missing energy. As the dog’s blood cells are not receiving any glucose, the dog will see an increase in appetite.

Weight loss: When a dog isn’t getting the nutrients and vitamins it needs from food on a daily basis, it will stop putting on weight however much it eats.

Unquenchable thirst: A symptom of diabetes is when you notice your dog constantly thirsty. It will keep going back to the water bowl to quench its thirst. Look at this as a symptom and take your dog to the veterinarian if it’s truly excessive. Better safe than sorry!

Frequent urination: When a dog (or anyone, really) urinates, the body is getting rid of sugars that are unprocessed in the body. You will notice that your dog urinates at a higher rate than before – often having accidents in the house as well. This is another important symptom of diabetes.

Depression: Usually a lack of energy will cause your dog to become more withdrawn. It is a signal to the parent that it isn’t feeling well – so pay careful attention to your dog’s mood at all times.

“Sweet” odour from the mouth: You will notice a shift in the smell of your dog’s breath.

 What are the effects of diabetes?

Apart from your dog being diabetic for life – which is in itself unfortunate – there are certain consequences that you will notice.

Ketoacidosis: This is by far the most dangerous effect diabetes has on your dog. It usually occurs when diabetes acts as a co-morbidity to other things like stress, medical procedures, fasting or an underlying medical condition that develops. You will notice your dog start breathing heavily and fast, become dehydrated, and have the sweet-smelling odour that we have described above. This is the time to test your dog’s urine – to see if there are “ketones”. Ketones occur in the urine when the body burns fat instead of sugar for energy. If you do a ketone test on the dog and ketones show up, you should take your doctor to the vet as soon as a possible. The thing with ketones are that they are usually present in all bodies, but it’s a problem if it starts to show up in a dog’s urine and makes the blood too “acidic”.

Blindness or cataracts: Diabetes can lead to blindness. Know that if your dog is diabetic, the rate of cataract-formation is a lot higher than without medical conditions.

UTIs: Urinary tract infections become more commonplace for dogs if they are suffering from diabetes.

Enlarged liver

Kidney failure

Why does your dog even have this disease?

You might ask yourself this question, especially if you take good care of your dog and have a healthy routine. But sometimes, these things are beyond your control. There are a number of factors that can increase your dog’s chances of having diabetes such as:

Age: The likelihood of dogs getting diabetes increases with age – during the middle and senior years, it is important to get frequent medical check-ups to see insulin levels in the blood.

Gender: Female dogs that are unspayed are more likely to be diabetic than similarly unspayed male dogs.

Pancreatitis – Pancreatitis affects dogs and can lead to diabetes. Read our article on Pancreatitis to get a complete idea about how it affects dogs.

Weight gain – Obesity and weight gain can significantly affect insulin levels in cells.

Steroid levels – If your dog is on steroid medication, or if it suffers from Cushing’s Disease (which is when the body overproduces steroids on its own), your dog’s likelihood of suffering from diabetes increases.

Genetic factors – Certain breeds are just more genetically predisposed to this disease. Dogs that are more prone to diabetes include terriers like Fox Terriers and Australian Terriers. Siberian Huskies and Poodles also have a high rate of diabetes amongst their breeds. Alsatians (German Shepherds), Golden Retrievers, Cocker Spaniels, Irish Setters and Dobermann Pinschers.

Treating and managing diabetes

To start with, it is good to have a healthy routine for dogs from the get go. Exercise and a non-fatty, high-protein diet are essential for a healthy and happy dog. Spaying your dog has been known to reduce the likelihood of diabetes. Read our post on why neutering your dog matters to understand the benefits.

If your dog is diabetic, the veterinarian will provide medication to treat it. Work with the veterinarian to come up with a proper exercise routine and diet plan.

Your dog will require regular insulin shots to replace the missing insulin. One or two shots per day are usually sufficient for dogs to manage diabetes. Monitor the blood glucose levels regularly.

Diabetes can be managed and your dog can lead a happy and active life. Act quickly, and with the right guidance from your dog’s veterinarian and a lot of care from you, your dog will be just fine.

The information contained in VOSD Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.

Do you find this information useful? For medical advice, visit the VOSD website.