Diabetes in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Table of Contents
A diabetes diagnosis in dogs can be alarming for any pet parent. The good news is that early detection and proper care can significantly impact your furry companion’s well-being.
- Diabetes in dogs is a metabolic disorder that affects the regulation of blood sugar (glucose) levels in dogs.
- Causes of diabetes in dogs vary from genetics to obesity.
- Signs your dog may have diabetes include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, and change in appetite.
- Treating canine diabetes involves a treatment plan created by your veterinarian.
Read on to learn more about canine diabetes, including early signs, potential causes, and available treatment options.
What is Canine Diabetes?
Canine diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus in dogs, is a chronic metabolic disorder that affects a dog's ability to regulate its blood sugar (glucose) levels. Diabetes can affect dogs of any age, but it occurs most frequently in middle-aged to older dogs.
Understanding how this condition affects our furry friends can play a significant role in their overall well-being.
Types of Diabetes in Dogs
There are two types of diabetes in dogs: insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM).
- Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus in dogs is more common. It happens when your pup’s pancreas doesn’t provide enough insulin — the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar. When your dog doesn’t have enough insulin, their body can’t properly use the sugars they consume from food for energy.
- Non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus in dogs is less common. In these cases, a dog’s body becomes resistant to insulin. This means that even if a dog’s pancreas produces insulin, it doesn’t work properly in helping cells take in and use sugar from the bloodstream. This causes blood sugar levels to become elevated, leading to various health issues.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels in Dogs
According to Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, normal blood glucose levels in healthy dogs range from 80 to 120 milligrams per decilitre (mg/dl). Most dogs can handle a spike up to 250 mg without any major side effects.
Glucose levels for some dogs can shoot all the way up to 400 mg after a meal, but this is only temporary.
Causes of Canine Diabetes
Diabetes in dogs can be caused by a range of conditions, such as:
Some breeds are genetically predisposed to diabetes, meaning they are at higher risk of developing the condition. Dog breeds more prone to diabetes include Pugs, Poodles, Beagles, Daschunds, and Labrador Retrievers.
In some cases, autoimmune disease leads to destruction of insulin producing cells within the pancreas which results in insulin deficiency.
Pancreatic Disease or Injury
Chronic pancreatitis or pancreatic injury can lead to destruction of insulin producing cells.
Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes in dogs. Excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, making it hard for the body to use insulin effectively.
Is My Dog Overweight?
How to Use the Body Condition Score (BSC) Chart
- Feel Your Dog’s Ribs: Gently feel along your dog’s ribs and chest. An overweight dog will have excessive fat covering the ribs, making them more difficult to feel. An underweight dog’s ribs will feel more “bony” and prominent. If your dog is at a healthy weight, you’ll be able to feel the ribs, but only when pressing gently on them.
- Check Your Dog’s Abs: Get down on your dog’s level and look at your dog’s shape from the side. Check where their chest transitions to their belly. Ideally, this area should have a tapered appearance, called an abdominal “tuck.”
- Look at Your Dog’s Waistline: Look at your dog’s shape from above. Do they have a slightly tapered-in waistline? If so, this is one indicator that your dog may be at a healthy weight.
Is My Dog Overweight?
A body condition score of 1-3 is generally considered to be too thin. Consult with your vet about introducing more calories into your dog’s diet and rule out any medical causes.
4-5 Just right!
A body condition score of 4-5 is an indicator that your dog is at an ideal weight. If you still have concerns, a vet can advise you best.
A body condition score of 6-9 means that your dog may be overweight or obese. It’s important to check in with your vet about the best plan for your pet.
Your dog’s sex has a large impact on the likelihood of developing canine diabetes. Diabetes occurs in unspayed female dogs twice as often as male dogs.
Long-term use of medications containing corticosteroids can increase the risk for canine diabetes.
Symptoms of Canine Diabetes
Recognizing the signs of diabetes isn’t always easy, but it’s crucial for early intervention. This is why it’s important to take your furry friend for regular veterinary check-ups where they can test your dog’s blood.
In my experience, common symptoms of diabetes in dogs can include:
Increased Thirst and Urination
How Much Water Should My Dog Drink in a Day?
How Much Water Should My Dog Drink in a Day?
How Much Water Should My Dog Drink in a Day?
Based on your pet’s weight and energy level, your dog should be drinking approximately ounces of water per day
On hot days, expect your dog to need more water. Adult dogs will generally drink when thirsty, so make sure to provide lots of cool, fresh water for them. Puppies and senior dogs may need to be reminded to keep up with their water intake, so if you do not observe them drinking regularly, make sure to lead them to their water bowl and encourage them to drink.
The above calculator is meant to serve as a general guide for your pet. Every dog has their own unique needs, and therefore, we recommend that you speak to your veterinarian if you have concerns about your pet’s nutrition, including how much your dog should be drinking each day.
Diabetic dogs may lose weight, even if they’re eating normally or more than usual. This happens because their body can’t effectively use the glucose they’re consuming and the body breaks down fat and muscle for energy.
Change in Appetite
Dogs with diabetes could experience either an increase or decrease in appetite. It’s important to pay attention to your pup’s eating habits and consult your veterinarian if you notice a change.
Keep reading: Why is my dog not eating?
A typically active dog experiencing an unusual lack of energy can be a sign of diabetes.
Diabetes can lead to a condition called diabetic cataracts, which causes the eyes to appear cloudy or milky and leads to blindness if left untreated.
Persistent vomiting is a sign of severe diabetes and requires immediate veterinary attention.
When to Seek Veterinary Care
It’s best to consult your veterinarian if you notice any of the above signs of diabetes in dogs. As mentioned, early detection is the best way to ensure long-term longevity and the overall well-being of your pet.
While diabetes isn’t curable, it can certainly be managed. I recommend getting your pet diagnosed and on a treatment plan as early as possible.
If left untreated, canine diabetes can lead to health issues that can be extremely damaging including:
- Fatty liver disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Diabetic neuropathy – weakness, unsteadiness, seizures, coma
- Kidney failure
Diagnosis of Canine Diabetes
Diagnosing diabetes in dogs usually involves a series of tests and examinations. Your veterinarian may perform the following:
- Blood Testing: Your veterinarian may test your dog’s blood for excessive glucose levels, high liver and kidney enzymes, as well as electrolyte imbalances.
- Urinalysis: Your veterinarian may call for a urinalysis to test for glucosuria (glucose in the urine).
- Fructosamine: This test provides information about your dog's blood sugar control over the last two to three weeks.
The diagnosis process may also include a physical examination, medical history review, and potentially additional tests to rule out other conditions.
Treatment of Dog Diabetes
If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, your veterinarian will work with you to create a tailored treatment plan. The primary goal of treatment is to regulate blood sugar levels and improve overall health.
Here are some key aspects of treating diabetes in dogs:
- Insulin Injections: Most diabetic dogs require insulin injections. Your veterinarian will determine the insulin type and dosage for your dog.
- Dietary Management: A consistent and balanced diet is crucial. Your veterinarian may recommend a specific diet and feeding schedule.
- Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity.
- Regular Vet Check-ups: Frequent check-ups are essential to ensure your dog's treatment plan is working.
Prognosis of Diabetes in Dogs
With careful monitoring, many dogs with diabetes live full, active lives. They will, however, require life-long monitoring and treatment to stay healthy.
That’s why it's essential to stay in touch with your veterinarian and stick to your pet’s treatment plan.
Prevention of Canine Diabetes
Maintain a Healthy Weight: Help your furry companion maintain a healthy weight by feeding them a balanced diet and exercising them regularly.
Spaying/Neutering: Get your dog spayed or neutered at an appropriate age to reduce the risk of diabetes as well as other potential health conditions.
Regular Check-ups: Scheduling regular check-ups with your veterinarian is a crucial step in early detection.
Diabetes is a condition that can affect our canine companions, but with proper care and management, it can be controlled. Recognizing the early signs of diabetes, seeking veterinary care, and adhering to the prescribed treatment plan are all important steps in ensuring your dog's well-being.
Fortunately, BetterVet makes scheduling regular veterinary check-ups easy. With In-Home Wellness Exams, our expert veterinarians can provide comprehensive preventative care for your pets—all from the comfort of your home.
Book an appointment to get proactive about your pet’s long-term health and happiness.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does a dog act when blood sugar is high?
When a dog’s blood sugar is high, they may show increased thirst and urination, changed appetite, a decrease in energy, and potentially vomiting and diarrhea. Contact your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior.
What food is best for a diabetic dog?
Most veterinarians recommend a diet low in fat, controlled level of carbohydrates, and high quality proteins. Moderate levels of fiber (green beans or sweet potato) can help to slow down the absorption of glucose and prevent spikes. It is important to feed a diabetic dog at the same time each day and maintain consistency to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
What food should diabetic dogs avoid?
Diabetic dogs should avoid high-sugar and high-fat foods, including sugary treats, fatty meats, and most commercial dog treats. Simple carbohydrates, like white rice, corn, or potatoes, should be limited or avoided because they can cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.
What dogs are most prone to diabetes?
Some dog breeds may have a genetic predisposition to diabetes. These breeds include Pugs, Beagles, Daschunds, and Labrador Retrievers. Check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is more likely to have diabetes due to their breed.