After a dog eats, his digestive system breaks food into various components, including glucose-which is carried into his 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 hyperglycemia, which, if left untreated, can cause many complicated health problems for a dog.
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 along with an inadequate response to the hormone.)
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. Type II diabetes is found in cats and is a lack of normal response to insulin.
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 or fruity breath
- Urinary tract infections
- Cataract formation, blindness
- 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 Australian terriers, standard and miniature schnauzers, dachshunds, poodles, keeshonds and samoyeds. Juvenile diabetes can also be seen and is particularly prevalent in golden retrievers and keeshonds.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed?
In order to properly diagnose diabetes, your veterinarian will collect information about your dog’s clinical signs, perform a physical examination and check blood work and a urinalysis.
How Is Diabetes Treated?
Diabetes treatment is based on how severe the symptoms and lab work 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 throughout his life.
- Some dogs may be seriously ill when first diagnosed and will require intensive hospital care for several days to regulate their blood sugar.
- Dogs who are more stable when first diagnosed may respond to oral medication or a high-fiber 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.
Your vet may also show you how to perform glucose tests at home.
What Should I Know About Treating My Diabetic Dog at Home?
As your veterinarian will explain, it’s important to always give your dog insulin 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 that his sugar levels will swing either too high or too low. You can work with your vet to create a feeding schedule around your pet’s medication time. 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 veterinarian will help you set up a schedule for checking your dog’s blood sugar.
Please also consult your vet about a consistent, daily exercise program and proper nutrition for your dog to help keep his weight in check.
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. Aside from other negative health effects, obesity is known to contribute to an ability to respond normally to insulin.
What Should I Do If I Think My Dog Has Diabetes?
If your dog is showing any of the clinical signs listed above, please see your veterinarian right away.
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. Ultimately, untreated diabetes can cause coma and death.