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Diabetes in dogs occurs when their bodies fail to perform their most essential function — converting food into energy. And, unfortunately, canine diabetes is on the rise. In fact, Banfield Pet Hospital reports that cases of the disease increased by nearly 80% from 2006 to 2015.
Ninety-nine percent of dogs with diabetes have diabetes mellitus, often called sugar diabetes, according to Dr. Etienne Cote, a veterinarian and the author of "Clinical Veterinary Advisor." Dogs can either have Type 1 diabetes mellitus — which is more common among dogs and similar to the type of diabetes seen in children — or Type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Causes of Canine Diabetes
When a dog has diabetes mellitus, the cells that produce insulin are destroyed, leaving the dog unable to properly regulate blood sugar. It's believed that inflammation of the pancreas, a small organ near the stomach that produces insulin, plays a part in causing dog diabetes.
While it's not clear what exactly causes a dog's endocrine system to go haywire and stop regulating blood sugar, there are some known risk factors for the disease: diabetes mellitus typically occurs in middle-aged dogs, and females are affected twice as often as males, says the Merck Veterinary Manual. There's likely a genetic component to the disorder. According to Merck, the following breeds are also at an increased risk:
- Cocker spaniels
- Doberman pinschers
- German shepherds
- Golden retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Toy poodles
- Miniature schnauzers
Additional risk factors include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Having recurrent pancreatitis
- If female, not being spayed
- Having a condition that causes insulin resistance, such as Cushing's disease and acromegaly
- Taking certain medications, such as steroids and progestogens, for a prolonged period
Signs of Dog Diabetes
Diabetic dogs tend to drink more, urinate more and eat more. Other common signs of dog diabetes include:
- Muscle and weight loss (although diabetic dogs can also appear obese)
- Decreased strength in their legs
- Poor coat quality
Diabetes can also present as a medical emergency called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Dogs with DKA become very weak, depressed, dehydrated and may have severe metabolic abnormalities. If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to an emergency clinic right away.
Diagnosis of Dog Diabetes
If your dog is showing any of the signs mentioned above, a veterinary visit is in order. The vet will conduct a thorough medical history, physical examination, blood work and urinalysis to diagnose canine diabetes. These tests can determine whether your dog has diabetes and, if they have it, its severity.
Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs
In both humans and dogs, the aim of diabetes treatment is management. The goal is to make your dog's blood sugar levels as normal as possible, with fewer dips and peaks. This helps lower the risk of your dog experiencing the worst consequences of diabetes, such as blindness and kidney failure.
Two of the most effective therapies for diabetes in dogs are insulin injections and switching to therapeutic food to help manage the disease. Most vets recommend feeding foods that are higher in fiber to dogs with diabetes. Fiber slows the entrance of glucose into your dog's bloodstream and helps them feel full. Vets may also recommend a reduced fat meal plan to help prevent obesity. For all overweight or obese dogs, it is recommended to change their food and increase exercise to help the pet reach a healthy weight. Ask your vet for a dietary recommendation for your dog if they are diagnosed.
Dogs' insulin needs can differ, so your vet might try giving your dog different types, doses and frequencies of insulin until the diabetes is well managed. The handling, storage and administration of insulin is different for each type of the medicine and your vet will help you understand what is best for your pet. Most pet parents get used to the routine of managing their dog's diabetes faster than they expect.
Once your dog starts treatment for diabetes, your vet will ask you to bring them in for regular visits to evaluate their blood glucose levels. These visits tend to be more frequent right after the diagnosis in order to make sure the insulin dose is correct, but will be necessary long-term so that the diabetes remains well managed.
Good News for Dogs with Diabetes
Though it often takes some trial and error, diabetes in dogs is usually manageable. While treatment for canine diabetes can seem overwhelming at first, rest assured that with time, your commitment and veterinary treatment, your pooch can live healthily and happily with this condition.
Dr. Laci Schaible
Dr. Laci Schaible, is a small-animal veterinarian and veterinary writer. She has won numerous awards for her commitment to pet owner education and is considered a leading veterinary telehealth expert.