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Diabetes in Dogs: Causes, Signs, Treatment & Management of High Blood Sugar in Dogs

by Vetic Editorial
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What is Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes in dogs is the presence of high blood sugar. Diabetes is the most common endocrine disorder. It results from the insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas of the dog.  

What Is The Role of Insulin in Diabetes in Dogs?

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows the body to convert food to energy. Digestion breaks down the carbohydrates from the food into simple sugars such as glucose. Cells use glucose as their fuel. This glucose is often referred to as blood sugar. 

Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the bloodstream and enter the cells. So these cells do not get enough fuel. At the same time, the level of blood glucose keeps increasing in the blood which causes damage to blood vessels and multiple organs.  So, in the case of diabetes in dogs, their blood sugar levels are high, but their cells do not receive enough fuel. 

What are the Different Types of Diabetes in Dogs?

Dogs can develop both Type I and Type II diabetes. However, more than 90% diabetes cases in dogs are Type I or Insulin-dependent diabetes.

This image is an infographic that outlines the two types of diabetes found in dogs, Type I and Type II. The title “Types of Diabetes in Dogs” is prominently displayed at the top center. Two colored text boxes provide information on Type I and Type II diabetes in dogs respectively. Type I is insulin-dependent diabetes, where the insulin-producing cells are destroyed. Type II is non-insulin-dependent diabetes, related to age, lifestyle, and obesity. It is uncommon in dogs.

Type I Diabetes in Dogs

Type I diabetes is most common among dogs. Veterinarians refer to it as the insulin-dependent Type I diabetes. In this type of diabetes in dogs, the insulin producing cells are destroyed either due to autoimmune disorders or toxicity. 

Most dogs suffer from Type I diabetes. If your dog has been diagnosed with Type I diabetes they will require insulin for the rest of their lives. 

Type II Diabetes in Dogs

Type II Diabetes is non-insulin-dependent and is rather uncommon in dogs. It is mostly related to lifestyle and weight gain. In this form of diabetes, the pancreas produces less insulin and this results in higher levels of blood glucose.

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

Here are the most common causes of diabetes in dogs –

  • Autoimmune disorders that destroy the insulin producing cells in the pancreas of the dog. 
  • Genetic predisposition plays a significant role in the development of Type I diabetes in dogs. 
  • Chronic pancreatitis can destroy the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. 

Other factors such as hormonal disbalances especially during pregnancy can cause hormone-dependent diabetes in the mother dog.

What are Other Problems Related to Diabetes in Dogs?

Dogs with diabetes can develop multiple complications without proper management of their blood glucose levels. Especially older dogs with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing –

  • Lower urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • High blood pressure 
  • Cataracts or clouding of both eyes
  • Liver damage
  • Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) to kidney failure
  • Loss of muscle mass (muscle atrophy)
  • Hind leg weakness from hypokalemia (low blood potassium)

Are Some Dog Breeds More Prone to Diabetes?

Yes, due to the genetic component of diabetes in dogs, some breeds are more prone to diabetes. For example –

  • Malamute
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Miniature Dachshund 
  • Poodle
  • Pug
  • Samoyed
  • Yorkshire Terrier

What are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

The image is an informative diagram that outlines the signs of diabetes in dogs. It features a central circle containing the main title, surrounded by six smaller circles, each listing a different symptom of diabetes in dogs. It can cause various symptoms such as frequent urination, weight loss, recurring infections, increased appetite, and increased thirst.

Common signs of diabetes in dogs are –

  • Increased thirst 
  • Increased frequency of urination 
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy 
  • Increased appetite 

Rare but severe signs of diabetes related complications in dogs are –

  • Liver Disease: Liver disease or hepatopathy can occur due to diabetes in dogs. Since the fatty acid metabolism is also affected, it leads to the deposit of fatty acids in the liver. It can cause fatty liver or hepatomegaly. 
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis: When the cells do not get enough glucose they use alternate sources of energy and this leads to the accumulation of ketones. It causes acidification of the blood. Dogs with ketoacidosis will have breath and urine that smell like “pear drops” (sickening sweet smell).
  • Diabetic Neuropathy: It is a rare condition that arises from severely high blood glucose levels that damage the nerves. Dogs with diabetic neuropathy may have unsteady gait or the paralysis of the hind limbs. 
  • Diabetic Cataracts or Blindness: High blood glucose can cause a cloudy buildup within the dog’s eye lenses and cause cataracts and blindness in dogs of any age, 

How is Diabetes in Dogs Diagnosed?

Signs such as increased thirst and frequent urination might give your veterinarian the idea that your dog has diabetes. However, conclusive diagnosis depends upon multiple tests, such as –

Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Blood biochemistry – These blood tests can detect high levels of glucose in the blood. Along with that they can show the effect of high blood glucose on the liver and kidneys. Complete biochemistry can also reveal abnormalities in the function of the pancreas that can cause or be caused by diabetes in dogs. 

Urinalysis – This is a urine test that can determine when the glucose in the blood is high. It can also determine if the dog has any UTIs. 

What is the Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs?

The most common treatment of diabetes in dogs include –

  • Regular insulin injections
  • Daily exercise
  • Fixed low-carb, high-fibre meals

It is an informational graphic by “Vetic™” that outlines the treatment for Type I and Type II diabetes in dogs. It's titled, “Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs”. There are two separate sections, detailing the treatments for Type I and Type II diabetes respectively. For Type I Diabetes, the patient receives regular doses of insulin, requires daily monitoring, and only diet and exercise aren’t enough. For Type II Diabetes, diet changes and lifestyle changes are mandatory, and insulin is commonly not required.

Insulin injections for diabetes in dogs

The first and only line of treatment for diabetes in dogs is insulin supplementation. The insulin is generally delivered in the form of an injectable. 

Not all dogs respond the same way to insulin. So the dose may require multiple adjustments based on their blood glucose levels after insulin administration. 

Typically, dogs with diabetes require two insulin injections per day to keep their blood glucose levels in check. 

Since there are multiple strengths of insulin available, you should only give your dog the one your veterinarian prescribes and at the exact prescribed dose. 

Diet for diabetes in dogs

Just giving insulin injections without any modification of your dog’s diet will not reduce the blood glucose level. You need to give your dog a prescription diet recommended by your veterinarian for the reduction of all signs of diabetes. 

Your dog may also be put on a restricted quantity of food if they are obese or overweight. Coupling a proper diet with the right exercise for your dog can help them lead a better quality of life. 

Regular exercise for your dog 

Excessive exertion is obviously not recommended since diabetes in dogs reduce the available energy and cause stress to multiple organs. However, your veterinarian will advise low intensity exercises at fixed timings for your dog.

Low-intensity exercises include walks for fixed durations at particular times during the day. It is highly recommended by veterinarians if your dog has been diagnosed in the early stages.

Only diet and exercise aren’t enough to treat a dog with Type I diabetes since their body needs extra insulin. However, diet and exercise are crucial parts of the treatment and management of diabetes in dogs. 

Is Diabetes in Dogs Curable?

Diabetes in dogs is not curable. It is only manageable. 

If your dog with diabetes has begun insulin injections, they will need it for life. 

Diabetes is a chronic condition. However, your dog can enjoy a long and happy life with proper treatment and diet. 

Recovery and Management of Diabetes in Dogs

All dog parents need to communicate with the vets regularly, keep the blood tests up to date and follow their vet’s instructions. 

Initially, the veterinarian may want to check the blood sugar level of your dog every 6 hours post insulin administration. Although it might seem like an excessive expense, it is crucial for determining the correct dose of insulin for your dog. 

Following the standardisation, your dog will require blood sugar testing every 7 to 14 days. Any dog with diabetes should get their blood sugar levels checked at least every 14 days. 

The key to the health and wellbeing of your dog is maintaining a proper routine. Balanced meals and regular exercises at fixed times during the day can help your dog live a long and happy life even with diabetes.

What is the Prognosis of Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes in dogs is dangerous when left untreated. But with early diagnosis, proper treatment and management, any dog with uncomplicated diabetes can live a productive and happy life. 

The prognosis of diabetes in dogs rests greatly on the hands of the pet parents. To improve the prognosis, pet parents should coordinate with their veterinarian closely, maintain a proper routine for their dog and get blood sugar tests done at least once a month (once the insulin dose is standardised).

Can You Prevent Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes in dogs cannot be prevented. However, it can be detected early. 

You need to get your pet’s complete bloodwork every 6 months to check if they are at risk of developing diabetes especially if they are above 6 years old. 

At the same time, do not shy away from giving your pet the right exercise and a balanced diet since these basic factors can influence their overall health.

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