Dog Diabetes Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

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September 12, 2022 / Dog Health / By: iPupster1 Comments

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DVM Chyrle Bonk

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Dr. Chyrle Bonk
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Everyone wants the best for their pets. Of course, a happy animal is a healthy one, so it’s worth knowing what you can do if your dog suffers from health problems or diseases. One condition it is important to look out for is diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus in dogs is one of the most common conditions affecting dogs today. It can be quite risky if left undiagnosed and untreated. This could affect the activities and quality of life of your pet dogs. If left untreated, this may even lead to untimely death.

Knowing what to look for, and how to properly manage diabetes, can help ensure a long and enjoyable life for your dog.

Overweight pug sitting next to a thin Lhassa Apso Dog

What is Canine Diabetes?

The pancreas has two main functions in a dog. One is to produce digestive enzymes, the other is to produce hormones like insulin. Insulin’s job is to remove glucose from the blood stream and get it into cells where it is used for energy.

Diabetes is a disease in which the pancreas either doesn’t produce the necessary amount of insulin or cells become resistant to its effects. What you end up with is higher than normal blood glucose levels and cells that are starved for energy.

Canine diabetes can be a very destructive disease if it's not managed properly. Because of this, it’s worth knowing how to spot the signs of diabetes, so that your pet can be diagnosed as quickly as possible, and begin receiving treatment.

Usually canine diabetes is found in middle aged dogs, and predominately females. However, there are plenty of exceptions, and dogs can contract diabetes even in adolescence. If canine diabetes is left untreated, this can lead to serious disorders, such as weakness in the dog’s legs, dehydration and malnutrition, loss of eyesight, or even death.

While a diagnosis of diabetes in your dog can be distressing, it can also be managed. As most of the problems stem from issues with insulin, the main treatment of diabetes involves insulin therapy. For this you will be required to feed your dog twice a day, and injecting them with insulin after each meal.

Another side to managing diabetes is diet. Most dogs will do well with a high fiber diet. Low carbohydrates may be important as well as low fat, but the specifics will be determined by your vet for each case.

Diabetes treatment will need to be lifelong. It may also need to be adjusted which will require frequent check-ups. It may be worth looking into pet insurance as well. It’s quick and easy to get dog insurance quotes and will be inexpensive; and doing so should help cover the costs of your dog’s treatments. Be aware that many policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions however.

Types of Canine Diabetes

A skinny and malnourished boxer dog sitting on the grass outdoors

There are two types of diabetes that can affect a dog. The most commonly known one is diabetes mellitus which affects the pancreas. The other is called diabetes insipidus which results from a problem with the pituitary gland or kidneys.

Diabetes Mellitus (DM)

This is the more common among the two, and causes deficiency in insulin production. When glucose production is no longer regulated, it becomes excessive and this could badly affect your dog’s health.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus in dogs.

  • Insulin-dependent is the most common type that results from damaged pancreatic cells that leads to no or a decreased amount of insulin production.
  • Noninsulin-dependent often coincides with obesity and can lead to reduced insulin production as well as causing cells in the body to respond poorly to the insulin that is produced.

Diabetes Insipidus

This type is less common than Diabetes Mellitus. However, in spite being a rare condition, Diabetes Insipidus should not be overlooked. Some of the signs of this disease are similar to DM; mostly excessive thirst and urination.

Diabetes Insipidus are also of two types: Central Diabetes Insipidus and Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus.

  • Central Diabetes Insipidus: There is a deficiency in production of antidiuretic hormones (ADH) from the pituitary gland in the brain. This could be caused by a congenital defect or the presence of tumor or trauma.
  • Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus: When this disease occurs, the kidney will no longer respond to ADH hormones due to non responsive receptors. This condition may be brought about by infections, congenital defects, and medications.

Both kinds of canine diabetes are dangerous medical conditions that require visits to the vet so that proper treatment would be given. Along with medication, lifestyle changes are needed if you want to keep your dog in good shape and save him from the effects of worsened cases of canine diabetes.

Dog Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes in Dogs Symptoms

Early detection is always best when it comes to managing diabetes. However, some of those early signs may be hard to spot. Some of those include:

  • Frequent urination
    If a dog has diabetes, blood glucose is increased to abnormal levels. These higher levels leads to more urine being produced as a way to dilute it out.
  • Extreme thirst
    The more a dog urinates, the more they need to drink. Also, high levels of glucose in the blood can bring about thirst. If your dog seems to have an insatiable desire to drink water, then it should be a warning sign for diabetes.
  • Weight loss
    Dogs with diabetes may lose weight even with a good appetite. This is because that glucose isn’t getting to the cells where it can be used and the body starts to break down stores of fat to use for energy instead.
  • Weakness and dullness
    If your dog is afflicted with diabetes, he may feel weak. His coat would may appear dull and the eyes would look tired. He may want to just sleep all the time and he will not be as playful as he used to be.
  • Sweet breath
    When the body starts to break down fat stores to use for energy, it can lead to the production of ketones. These may give your dog’s breath a sweet odor.
  • Vomiting and shaking
    A diabetic dog will often vomit. Moreover, if he becomes hypoglycemic, he might be shaking and may also lose consciousness. This can be extremely dangerous so medical attention should be sought immediately.

These are the usual symptoms of canine diabetes. If you notice that your dog exhibits these symptoms, get a hold of your veterinarian right away for proper diagnosis.

Dog Diabetes Causes

Veterinarian puts medication injection into withers of sick dog

Dogs suffer from diabetes because of the following reasons:

Genetics

If the dog’s lineage has a history of diabetes, then the chances of him getting it is pretty high. If you want to avoid this problem, it is always best you check the dog’s medical history before breeding. This goes the same when you are in the process of choosing a dog as a pet.

Chronic Pancreatitis

Conditions that affect the pancreas can be responsible for the development of canine diabetes. Even if your dog has been afflicted with it sometime ago, the problem may not occur until later on. The best way to address this is to make sure your dog is regularly checked by the veterinarian, and this is especially important if he is sick.

Drugs

There are some medications, mainly steroids, whose long-term use can increase the incidence of developing diabetes. Always discuss the side effects of drugs before administering them to your dog.

Obesity

Just like us, being overweight can cause diabetes. Excess stores of fat can decrease the body's response to insulin, making it require more and more to get the same effects. This can eventually wear out the pancreas and bring on diabetes. 

While we may not be able to 100% prevent our dogs from getting diabetes, we can lessen the risk if we are aware of the factors that trigger it. Awareness is essential, and it could save you and your dog from having to deal with it as he grows older.

Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs

Corgi dog eating from a dog bowl

Once your dog is diagnosed with canine diabetes, your next step is to make sure your dog gets treated. Diabetes worsens if left untreated, so it is necessary for you to ensure that your dog gets proper care and medication.

The following are the different treatment options for you. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may either be advised to use any one, or all of these. Keep in mind, diabetes requires lifelong treatment. Stopping treatment at any time can be very detrimental.

Diet for Diabetic Dogs

When you have a diabetic dog, a change in diet can help to regulate blood glucose levels.

Bear in mind a diabetic diet will not uniform for all, and what may work for one dog will not be as effective for another. Be sure to discuss with your vet what diet will work best for your particular dog. Here is some basic information you need to remember when feeding your diabetic dog.

  • Avoid foods with high fat content
    High fat foods will only add to your dog’s weight problem. They may also aggravate the pancreas. Stick with a low fat option.
  • Avoid high amounts of carbohydrate
    It is undecided whether or not diabetic dogs should eat carbohydrates or not. Carbs are, on one hand, a major source of energy for dogs. On the other hand, they may increase blood glucose levels very quickly. Talk with your vet to determine your dog’s carbohydrate needs.
  • Increase Fiber Intake
    High fiber foods can help your dog feel full for longer and also slow the rate that glucose enters the blood stream. High fiber can also help an overweight dog drop a few pounds, all pluses when you’re dealing with diabetes.

There are home-made and commercial diabetic meals available for your dog. Which one is best will depend on your dog’s unique situation. Always discuss your dog’s needs with your vet to choose the food that’s best for him. Whatever diet you choose, the most important thing to remember is timing. Dogs will need to eat at the same times every day, spread out as close to 12 hours apart as you can get. This is important for the timing of the insulin injection.

Weight Loss Program: Exercise

Yes, your dog needs one. Aside from proper nutrition, your dog may need to exercise everyday too. A daily walk would help him burn calories and utilize the excess sugar in the body. Take note however that your dog may be weak because of his condition so you need to be gentle on the exercise program.

Medication

Since your dog’s pancreas can no longer produce sufficient insulin, the best and most important treatment for your dog is insulin. This should be given as an injection to ensure proper absorption. Your vet will help you determine the best type of insulin and dosage for your dog. Giving insulin requires frequent monitoring to ensure the proper dosage.

Problems Associated With Canine Diabetes

A veterinarian examining the eye of a french bulldog for the prevention and treatment of eye disorders

Late diagnosis or improper management can lead to some potentially serious complications, including:

Cataracts

High levels of blood glucose change the way that the lens of the eye metabolizes. This can cause an increased amount of water in the lens and cataract formation. Diabetic cataracts form very quickly and can cause blindness.

Ketoacidosis

When your dog’s breath starts to get a sweet odor, it is an indication that he may have ketoacidosis. What is it and why do diabetic dogs develop this condition?

Ketoacidosis is a very dangerous situation that usually occurs when a diabetic dog is not given proper treatment. As you are probably aware, when a dog has diabetes, insulin production is affected. When there is no insulin, glucose isn’t transported into cells to be used for energy.

As a natural response, the body then metabolizes stored fat and turns it into fatty acids which would then be processed in the liver to produce ketones.

On normal levels, ketones are effective in boosting the body’s energy, but when produced in high amounts, which is the case if insulin is unavailable, it causes ketoacidosis which could be fatal if not treated immediately.

Recurring Infections

Dogs with diabetes have weakened immune systems and are thus prone to infections. Additionally, a high level of glucose in the body also attracts bacteria, which thrives well in such conditions. Urinary tract infections are also common because excess glucose in the urinary tract, it will house more bacteria.

It is therefore necessary for you to ensure that your dog lives in a clean environment to prevent the onset of infections which could further cause difficulties his condition.

Caring for Your Diabetic Dog

A cute beagle puppy drinking fresh water from a large metal bowl outdoors

When your dog gets diagnosed with canine diabetes, it is important you understand that he needs you now more than ever. Although the condition can be stressful, and even painful for you to accept, it is not the end of the world and you can still do something to help.

  • Keep track of his daily activities, and this includes a record as to when insulin was administered. This is especially helpful if there is more than one person in the household. Record-keeping can prevent confusion, under-dosage and over-dosage can take place if you are not too careful.
  • You should make sure you have water available to drink at all times. Keep full bowls in many parts of the house including the outdoor areas, as diabetic dogs are very prone to thirst.
  • Keep treats out of reach from your dog. Remember, we want to lower down his glucose level. If you have children in the house, you need to educate them regarding the dog’s condition so they won't leave any human food within your dog's reach.
  • You should have a list of phone numbers of the vet and animal clinics or hospitals, should emergency arise. Take note that your dog’s condition is delicate and emergencies might just happen, so you want to be ready for that.
  • You should also have a readily available bottle of honey because your dog might become hypoglycemic. This is especially a risk when first starting insulin treatment or when increasing the dose.
  • If your dog gets an overdose of insulin, or if his exercise activities become too strenuous, his glucose in the body would go down altogether. Too much or too little of glucose is never good, so make sure that everybody is careful when it comes to diet plans, dosage and exercise activities for your dog.
  • It is important that your dog gets regular visits to his vet so his condition can be assessed and monitored. Additionally, many diabetic dogs get urinary tract infections so the vet can also check if your dog has one.

Here is a quick video on how you can monitor your dog's glucose levels on a regular basis.

And lastly, give your dog the love and attention he needs. You need to spend more time with him, in the same way you would for a sick person.

Spending time with your pet may give them more enthusiasm and strength, which will surely be very instrumental for him to live a happy and fulfilling life.

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WRITTEN BY

iPupster

At iPupster, we're dedicated to bringing high-quality content to help owners take better care of their furry friends. Our team of expert contributors is made up of skilled writers, trainers and enthusiastic pet parents. With an affinity for and love of pets, we apply what we learn and share our knowledge with our readers.

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