Diabetes in dogs 101

by Nancy Boland

Diabetes in dogs is a complex disease caused by either a lack of the hormone insulin or an inadequate response to insulin.

After dogs eat, their digestive system breaks food into various components, including glucose-which is carried into the cells by insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas. When a dog does not produce insulin or cannot utilize it normally, his blood sugar levels elevate. The result is hyperglycaemia, which, if left untreated, can cause many complicated health problems.

It is important to understand, however, that diabetes is considered a manageable disorder-and many diabetic dogs can lead happy, healthy lives.

What Type of Diabetes Do Most Dogs Get?

Diabetes can be classified as either Type 1 (lack of insulin production) or Type II (impaired insulin production).

The most common form of the disease in dogs is Type 1, insulin-dependent diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas is incapable of producing or secreting adequate levels of insulin. Dogs who have Type I require insulin therapy to survive.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

The following symptoms should be investigated as they could be indicators that your dog has diabetes:

  • Change in appetite
  • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Unusually sweet-smelling breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Cataract formation
  • Chronic skin infections

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

The exact cause of diabetes is unknown. However, autoimmune disease, genetics, obesity, chronic pancreatitis, certain medications and abnormal protein deposits in the pancreas can play a major role in the development of the disease.

Which Dogs Are Prone to Diabetes?

It is thought that obese dogs and female dogs may run a greater risk of developing diabetes later in life (6-9 years of age). Some breeds may also run a greater risk, including  schnauzers, dachshunds, and poodles.

How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?

In order to properly diagnose diabetes, your vet will collect information about your dog’s clinical signs, perform a physical examination and check blood work and urinalysis.

How Is Diabetes Treated?

Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the symptoms and test results are and whether there are any other health issues that could complicate therapy. Each dog will respond a little bit differently to treatment, and therapy must be tailored to the individual dog.

  • Dogs who are stable when first diagnosed may respond to oral medication or a high-fibre diet that helps to normalize glucose levels in the blood.
  • For most dogs, insulin injections are necessary for adequate regulation of blood glucose. Once your pet’s individual insulin treatment is established, typically based on weight, you’ll be shown how to give him insulin injections at home.
  • Spaying your dog is recommended, as female sex hormones can have an effect on blood sugar levels.

How to treat a diabetic dog

It’s important to always give your dog insulin consistently, at the same time every day and feed him regular meals in conjunction with his medication. This allows increased nutrients in the blood to coincide with peak insulin levels, and will lessen the chance for sugar levels to swing either too high or too low. It is also important to avoid feeding your diabetic dog treats that are high in glucose. Regular blood glucose checks are a critical part of monitoring and treating any diabetic patient, and your vet will help show and set up a schedule for checking your dog’s blood sugar.

diabetes 2

How Can Diabetes Be Prevented?

Although a certain form of diabetes-the type found in dogs less than a year of age-is inherited, proper diet and regular exercise can be very effective in helping to prevent onset of diabetes in older dogs.

What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Diabetes?

If your dog is showing any of the clinical signs listed above, it is advised you see your vet as soon as possible.

What Can Happen If Diabetes Goes Untreated?

If diabetes progresses without being treated, dogs can develop secondary health problems like cataracts and severe urinary tract problems.

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