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Overview

Severity: i High
Life stage: All
  • Diabetes in dogs is a chronic disorder characterized by the inability to control insulin.
  • Diabetes mellitus in dogs is a serious condition and uncontrolled or poorly managed diabetes can be fatal.
  • Diabetes in dogs can arise from a variety of factors, like genetics or causes like obesity.
  • The signs of diabetes are subtle, so it’s important to take note if your dog isn’t their usual self.
  • A veterinarian can confirm a diagnosis and treatment is very manageable for dogs with diabetes.

Diabetes is a growing epidemic in both humans and pets, becoming increasingly more common in dogs. According to a recent State of Pet Health Report by Banfield, the prevalence of diabetes is increasing by 80 percent in dogs. It’s estimated that 1 in every 300 dogs will develop the condition during their lifetime.  

Diabetes is a chronic disorder characterized by the inability to control insulin. With the proper exercise, diet, treatment, and communication with a veterinarian, dogs with diabetes can still live to their estimated lifespan. 

So, what exactly is diabetes? And how does it affect your dog? Let’s dig into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options. 

Understanding Glucose and Insulin

Before learning more about diabetes, it’s important to have background information about glucose and insulin.

Glucose is the main sugar found in your blood.  Every time your dog consumes food, the body breaks down the food into glucose, which is absorbed into a dog’s blood stream. 

At the same time, your dog’s pancreas releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin signals cells — particularly your dog’s liver, muscle, and fat cells — to uptake glucose from the blood stream.  These cells then either use the glucose for energy or store it for later use. 

What Is Diabetes in Dogs? 

Dog looking up at the camera

Diabetes is a chronic disorder of dogs usually characterized by the inability to control the production of insulin. Without insulin, your dog is not able to use the glucose produced from the breakdown of food.  Cells are unable to adequately uptake glucose for energy, resulting in a high blood glucose level.  The cells ultimately become starved for energy, resulting in the body breaking down muscle and fat cells as a last resort.

Types of Diabetes in Dogs

Dog looking up to owner with corner of mouth upturned

Diabetes mellitus, the most common form of diabetes in dogs, is defined as increased levels of sugar in the blood (when fasted) and the presence of sugar in the urine. 

Dogs can develop Type I or Type II diabetes. 

  • Type I diabetes is characterized by a loss of insulin-secreting ability through destruction of the pancreatic cells. This results in dependence on insulin administration. 
  • Less commonly, dogs can develop insulin resistance or a decreased response to insulin produced by the body. This is Type 2 diabetes and almost always exists in combination with insulin deficiency.  

Diabetes mellitus in dogs is a serious condition and uncontrolled or poorly managed diabetes can be fatal. Uncontrolled diabetes can cause a variety of complications such as the formation of cataracts (cloudiness in the lens of the eye), poor haircoat, and urinary tract infections

Puppy lying on couch looking sad

Diabetes insipidus is a rare disorder in dogs that involves the body’s inability to regulate water. This is also known as “water diabetes.” Diabetes insipidus is categorized as either central (arising from the brain) or nephrogenic (arising from the kidney). Both involve antidiuretic hormone (ADH) with central diabetes insipidus causing a lack of ADH and nephrogenic diabetes insipidus lacking a response to ADH in the kidneys. 

This condition is so rare that it is almost always seen as a congenital defect (meaning dogs are born with it). Other causes of diabetes insipidus in dogs include response to drug administration, endocrine or metabolic disorders, brain trauma, or cancer. 

Causes and Risk Factors of Diabetes in Dogs

Samoyed walking in a garden

Several factors can put a dog at risk for diabetes. Risk factors for developing diabetes in dogs include:

  • Genetics. Certain genetic factors predispose certain dog breeds to having an increased likelihood of developing diabetes. Samoyeds, Tibetan Terriers, Cairn Terriers, and Golden Retrievers have a higher likelihood of developing diabetes.
  • Pancreatitis or other disorders of the pancreas, where insulin is produced, can cause damage to the insulin-producing cells.
  • Medications such as steroids and progestins are also known to increase the chances of dogs developing diabetes. 
  • Cushing’s disease. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s disease causes your dog’s body to produce excess steroid hormone, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Obesity is a major contributing factor to the development of diabetes in dogs, similar to people. 
  • Pregnancy. Female dogs can develop diabetes while in heat or pregnant, similar to gestational diabetes in women. 

Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Dog drinking water

Signs of diabetes in dogs can progress rapidly. It’s important to be mindful of your dog’s activity levels, appetite, and eating and drinking habits. If you begin to notice your dog is not her usual self, it’s important to take note of the changes you see. 

The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are: 

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst 
  • Increased appetite 
  • Weight loss 
  • Enlargement of liver 
  • Cataracts 
  • Signs of ketoacidosis: Lethargy, depression, decreased appetite, lack of appetite, vomiting 

Sometimes it is difficult to notice these signs because they are so subtle. A few important questions to ask yourself when monitoring your dog are: 

  • How many times am I filling up her water bowl? 
  • Is she having accidents in the house or in the middle of the night? 
  • Is she eating her food very quickly and begging for more? 
  • Does she look around the same weight she was last year or 6 months ago?  

Diagnosing Diabetes in Dogs 

Dog at the vet

After noticing a few of the symptoms you might be wondering how to find out if your dog truly has diabetes. Your dog will need to go to the veterinarian to confirm a diagnosis. The veterinarian will assess your dog for the clinical signs listed above, but will also perform various tests. 

Tests performed to confirm diabetes in dogs include: 

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) 
  • Chemistry Panel: to find fasting hyperglycemia 
  • Urinalysis (UA): to find glucose and/or protein in the urine 
  • Fructosamine Assay: for an accurate reflection of blood glucose over the last few weeks 

The diagnosis of diabetes is pretty straightforward and can usually be done in one visit to the veterinary clinic. 

The Risks of Uncontrolled Diabetes in Dogs

Your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes – now what?  It’s important to treat and manage your dog’s diabetes for your dog’s health and well-being.  Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to a whole host of other problems, including weight loss, urinary tract infections, and cataract formation. 

Uncontrolled diabetics are also at risk for diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a severe, life-threatening condition caused by a deficiency of insulin and abnormal glucose metabolism. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergency condition and must be treated by your veterinarian right away. To prevent problems like DKA, proper dosing of insulin is necessary to manage your dog’s diabetes.

How to Treat Diabetes in Dogs 

Dog receiving an injection in back of body

Diabetes in dogs is very manageable and many dogs are able to live many years with controlled diabetes. 

The main treatment for diabetes is insulin. There are many different types of insulin, but your veterinarian will prescribe what is best for your dog based on her clinical signs. The insulin is administered by injection. This can be scary and comes with a learning curve for most pet parents. The most important thing to remember is that the injection is administered just under the skin and does not cause any pain when done properly. 

Your veterinarian will prescribe an initial dose of insulin, but your dog’s insulin dosage will likely need to be adjusted. After a few days of giving insulin to your dog, your veterinarian may ask you to bring your dog back for a Glucose Curve. The Glucose Curve is created by measuring blood glucose levels throughout the day to show when blood sugar spikes and plateaus in relation to insulin and eating a meal. This will help the veterinarian find the right dose of insulin to keep your dog’s blood sugar level throughout the day. 

Happy healthy dog running

For the first few weeks of managing your dog you may continue to see symptoms such as increased urination and drinking, but these will subside once the correct insulin dose is given. When symptoms subside and your dog’s blood sugar stays within an acceptable range throughout the day, your dog is considered to have controlled diabetes. 

In addition to insulin, diabetes is also managed with dietary changes. Many dogs diagnosed with diabetes are overweight or obese, despite having lost weight due to their diabetes. A prescription weight control diet that is high in fiber is often recommended to help your dog lose weight and maintain a stable blood sugar level throughout the day. To help regulate your dog’s blood sugar, it is also important to eliminate excess calories that often come in the form of treats and table scraps. While it’s okay for your dog to have the occasional treat, snacking between meals is generally discouraged as this can cause spikes in blood sugar. For any pet, regardless of health status, it is recommended that treats make up no more than 10 percent of your dog’s total daily calorie intake to reduce the risk of weight gain and dietary imbalance.

Just like us humans, dogs need regular exercise for their health and well-being, too. Implementing a good low-impact exercise plan such as a regular walking regimen will help your dog lose weight and maintain glycemic control. If your dog has generally been a couch potato up until this point, be careful not to do too much too quickly, as this could result in injury. Start out gradually with a few walks around the block, and slowly build up to longer sessions as your dog builds endurance.

How to Prevent Diabetes in Dogs 

Tibetian terrier sitting outdoors

Diabetes is a condition that some dogs develop no matter what type of lifestyle they live. Preventing diabetes can be impossible for some dogs and pet parents should not be too hard on themselves if their dog develops diabetes. 

There are certain risk factors for developing diabetes that can predispose some dogs. These include: 

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Chronic or multiple bouts of pancreatitis
  • Obesity
  • Steroids
  • Other endocrine or health conditions
  • Genetics

While genetics and certain diseases may inevitably lead to diabetes in dogs, pet parents can do their part to keep their dogs at a healthy weight by giving dogs plenty of exercise and feeding a balanced diet. This may help prevent risk factors for diabetes in dogs. 

Diabetes in Dogs Infographic

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