Diabetes in Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Diabetes in dogs is an endocrine (hormonal) disorder that primarily affects middle-aged and older dogs. As in humans, insulin deficiency leads to diabetes mellitus in dogs. Understanding how diabetes may affect your dog, as well as the symptoms and treatment options will help prepare you for managing your dog’s condition.

In This Article

There are two types of canine diabetes: diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus. Diabetes insipidus is rare and is quite different than diabetes mellitus. Most dogs diagnosed with diabetes are diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, which is a chronic disease that affects insulin and carbohydrate
metabolism. This article will focus on diabetes mellitus.

Signs & Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs may range in scope and severity depending on the disease’s progression. These symptoms can include:

  • Increased thirst

  • Increased urination

  • Increased hunger with weight loss

  • Cataracts

  • Weakness

  • Recurrent infections (like urinary tract infections)

  • Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetes is often referred to as an insidious disease because the progression is usually gradual, which makes it difficult for owners to notice any changes until the disease is well underway.

Some symptoms, like cataracts and infections, may seem unrelated. However, as with other endocrine conditions, these seemingly unrelated signs may be symptoms of a more serious condition like diabetes or Cushing’s disease in dogs.

How Did My Dog Get Diabetes?

Diabetes in dogs is caused primarily by the destruction of pancreatic beta cells. These cells are responsible for the production of insulin and are destroyed as a result of chronic inflammation, like pancreatitis. This disease process is called Type I diabetes mellitus. Type II diabetes, which results from insulin resistance, is less common in dogs.

Common causes:

  • Breed predisposition

  • Chronic pancreatitis

  • Genetic abnormality

  • Obesity

Some breeds of dogs are predisposed to diabetes, like the Pug, Beagle, Miniature Schnauzer, Samoyed, and Toy Poodle. But age and diet also play a role. Severe or chronic pancreatitis, which is often the result of a diet high in fat, can lead to diabetes as well as obesity. It’s why maintaining a healthy diet and weight is vital to canine health. Females are also more prone to developing diabetes than males, and in rare cases, genetic abnormalities such as an autosomal recessive trait in Keeshonds can lead to diabetes in dogs.

Diagnosing Diabetes in Dogs

A diagnosis of diabetes mellitus in dogs is confirmed by a high blood sugar level (hyperglycemia), the presence of sugar in the urine (glucosuria), increased thirst and urination, and weight loss despite a good (or even ravenous) appetite.

Since diabetes is often accompanied by other conditions, like urinary tract infections or pancreatitis, veterinarians often perform additional diagnostic testing to evaluate the health of a dog. These tests can include a biochemistry profile, a complete blood count, abdominal ultrasound, urine culture, and additional hormonal tests if Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is also suspected.

In severe cases of diabetes, dogs can develop a complication called diabetic ketoacidosis. Ketoacidosis is a medical emergency. Diagnosis of ketoacidosis is based off blood glucose levels, ketones in the urine, and clinical signs, like lethargy, vomiting, weakness, dehydration, depression, and rapid breathing. It requires immediate treatment. If left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis is always fatal.

Treating Your Dog for Diabetes

Treating your dog for diabetes begins with stabilization. In most cases, regular insulin injections will control your dog’s diabetes. These injections keep blood sugar levels in the normal range, and come in three forms: short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. In severe cases, treatment can also mean hospitalization until the ketoacidosis is resolved with insulin, intravenous fluids, and frequent monitoring.

Your veterinarian may also recommend a change in diet. Low-fat, high-fiber diets with complex carbohydrates may help control diabetes and are available with a veterinary prescription. Regulating exercise and activity to avoid wide daily fluctuations may also help, and spaying intact females can reduce the risk of other hormones affecting the dog’s diabetic condition.

Is there a cure for Diabetes?

There is no cure for diabetes. However, with regular insulin injections and frequent monitoring, most diabetic dogs can be managed.

Is Diabetes Contagious For Humans or Other Pets?

Diabetes is not a contagious disease. However, if your veterinarian suspects that breed predisposition and lifestyle could have played a role in your dog’s condition, talk to your veterinarian about the other pets in your household to see what you can do to lower their risks of developing diabetes.

What is the cost of treating Diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition, which means you will be treating your dog’s diabetes for the rest of his life. This makes calculating the cost of treatment difficult, as it will depend on factors like longevity, overall health, and the disease itself. Expect to pay for regular veterinary visits to monitor your dog’s blood glucose levels, insulin, and medication to manage any concurrent diseases or conditions that may arise.

Some diabetic dogs are more easily maintained than others. These dogs may not need to be monitored as frequently, while others may take longer to stabilize and require higher doses of insulin.

Recovery and Management of Diabetes

The initial diagnosis and treatment of diabetes are only the first steps toward managing this condition. As an owner of a diabetic dog, you will have to assume responsibility for providing your dog with daily insulin injections, as well as monitoring for signs of imbalance, like increased thirst or weight loss, and complications like ketoacidosis.

Most dogs adapt well to injections. Your veterinarian will show you how to administer the medication, along with going over proper medication storage. Insulin requires refrigeration at all times, which you will have to take into consideration when traveling with your dog.

Diabetes is monitored both at home and with the help of your veterinarian. At home, owners can keep an eye out for changes in their dog’s symptoms, like thirst, urination, weight, and appetite, along with administering at-home glucose tests.

Your veterinarian may suggest regular glucose curves in-clinic to further monitor the efficacy of the insulin injections. During a glucose curve, your dog is observed throughout the day to make sure the medication is producing the desired effects. If not, your veterinarian will adjust the dosage and recommend any other steps necessary for management. A blood test for fructosamine levels can also be very helpful in determining how well your dog’s diabetes is being controlled.

You can also expect to manage any other conditions that have arisen, like cataracts. Diabetic cataracts typically grow quickly and may lead to loss of vision and even glaucoma. Luckily, there are options available for treating cataracts in dogs.

While diabetes can be a challenging condition to manage, educating yourself about your dog’s condition is helpful, as it prepares you for what to expect and will enable you to work closely with your veterinarian to keep your dog healthy.

Preventing Diabetes

Diabetes cannot always be prevented. However, keeping your dog at a healthy weight and avoiding high fat treats may help. This is especially important for dog breeds with a predisposition for diabetes or dogs with other endocrine disorders, like Cushing’s disease.

Is there a vaccine for Diabetes?

There is no vaccine for diabetes in dogs.

Summary of Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes is a hormonal disorder that tends to affect older and middle-aged dogs. Thankfully it is treatable, but requires lifelong management. With careful monitoring and open communication between you and your veterinarian, most diabetic dogs can lead a long and active life.

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Pancreatitis in Dogs

Canine pancreatitis, or inflammation of the dog’s pancreas, is a common and potentially dangerous gastrointestinal condition in dogs. The condition may come in either an acute or chronic form, but both types can have lasting consequences. Recognizing the symptoms of pancreatitis will help you get your dog to the veterinarian sooner, increasing the odds of a good prognosis.


Cataracts in Dogs

If your dog appears to have a cloudy-looking substance in their eye, they may have a cataract. In many cases, the cataract will progressively take over more of your dog’s eye until they go completely blind. It is important to contact your veterinarian immediately to learn more about your dog’s cataract and how it can be treated.


Glaucoma in Dogs

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the pressure within the eye increases. Forty percent of dogs affected with glaucoma end up blind in the affected eye within the first year, regardless of medical treatment or surgery.

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