Can dogs have diabetes? This is a question posed by many.
Just like humans, dogs can develop diabetes. Diabetes is a condition where the body is unable to regulate blood sugar levels properly. This can lead to a number of serious health problems if left untreated.
So without further ado, let’s talk about diabetes in dogs and the signs of diabetes in dogs.
What Is Diabetes in Dogs?
As with humans, it is not uncommon for dogs, cats, and other pets to be affected by this chronic disease called diabetes.
To explain it more thoroughly, Diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes,” a diabetes type often found in dogs, occurs when there is too much sugar (glucose) in the blood and not enough insulin to transport it into the cells, where it can be used for energy. Diabetes in dogs is a condition that affects how the body metabolizes sugar, referring to the fact that the body cannot process sugar properly.
That said, diabetes is, in fact, a metabolism disorder that disrupts the way the body converts food into energy.
So, before we talk about the symptoms and the treatment of diabetes, we need to talk about the importance of the glucose-insulin connection.
Glucose, a sugar type that produces energy for some cells and body parts, is an essential body cell fuel for dogs. When they eat, parts of that nutritious and delicious meal break down into glucose which the dog then absorbs through the bloodstream’s intestines, and with the help of the intestines and blood, the glucose gets transported throughout the dog’s body.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, an organ behind the stomach. One of insulin’s primary functions is to help move glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, which can be used as energy.
When there is insufficient insulin, or the body cannot use insulin properly, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being used for energy, leading to diabetes in dogs.
That said, it is essential to know that diabetes comes in two forms in dogs:
- Insulin-deficiency diabetes is the most common diabetes found in dogs. This form of diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. In this case, either the pancreas has been destroyed or damaged. When insulin-deficiency diabetes occurs, dogs require daily shots to fill up the missing insulin.
- Insulin-resistance diabetes is diabetes found in older, obese dogs. This form of diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces insulin, but the body cannot properly use it. In this case, the cells do not normally respond to insulin, and glucose builds up in the blood.
Additionally, research showed that some breeds are more suspectible to diabetes than others. For instance, Samoyeds, Miniature Schnauzers, Miniature Poodles, Pugs, and Toy Poodles are at high risk of developing DM (Diabetes Mellitus), whereas, German Shepherd Dog, Golden Retriever, and American Pit Bull Terrier are found to be at low risk of developing DM.
Note: Female dogs can develop temporary diabetes while pregnant or in heat. In fact, as stated in the Merck Veterinary Manual, females are affected twice as often as males.
The Common Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs
As we mentioned, diabetes in dogs is a serious and chronic metabolic illness that can impact the dog’s quality of life. Unfortunately, because diabetes generally develops slowly over time, most pet parents do not realize their dog has diabetes until the disease has reached a more advanced stage.
While there are many symptoms indicating diabetes, we shortlisted the most prominent ones. That said, here are five common symptoms of diabetes in dogs to be aware of:
Excessive thirst and urination
Are there puddles of pee in your house? Can your dog no longer hold its pee, and in the recent past, you have found it peeing where it is not supposed to? If that is the case, your dog may be diabetic.
The dogs’ most common diabetes symptoms are increased thirst and urination (or what veterinarians call polyphagia and polyuria, respectively). When diabetes is present, the dog’s body cannot properly process glucose, increasing blood sugar levels.
In a situation like that, the dog’s kidney cannot filter glucose fast enough to keep it in the body, so it turns into urine. Hence, it leads to increased urination.
If you notice that the dog is drinking more water than usual or urinating more frequently, especially if there is no change in their diet or activity level, it could be a sign of diabetes.
Has your dog been eating the same portions but lost weight?
As you have guessed, weight loss is often one of the first diabetes symptoms pet parents notice. Weight loss, coupled with normal eating, can be a sign of diabetes. Even if your dog is eating the same amount of food, as usual, it may start to lose weight (gradually or suddenly) because its body cannot absorb and use the nutrients from its food properly.
The moment insulin is not transmitting glucose in the dog’s brain, the body breaks down muscle and fat, leading to weight loss.
Increased hunger is another common diabetes symptom in dogs. A diabetic dog may develop an insatiable appetite which veterinarians almost always connect with diabetes. When the dog is eating more than expected, it is usually due to the imbalance of insulin in the body, meaning that the body doesn’t perceive that it has glucose, hence, the feeling of starvation.
Therefore, if your dog is experiencing a sudden change of appetite, you should immediately run to the veterinary clinic and have a blood test drawn out, so the veterinarian can determine the cause of it. If it is diabetes, do not be alarmed immediately, and wait for the veterinarian to prescribe the necessary treatment.
Even though lethargy is often associated with old age, it is also a sign of many health conditions in dogs, and diabetes is no exception.
Dogs that struggle with diabetes may also experience fatigue and lethargy, meaning they will be more inactive than their usual running around. This is because their bodies cannot properly convert glucose into energy, leading to feelings of weakness and fatigue.
Unfortunately, the high blood sugar found in their body could lead to electrolyte imbalances, low potassium levels, low sodium, and low phosphorus. If that happens, the dog might experience signs of muscle weakness, i.e., difficulties getting up.
That said, if your dog seems to be tired all the time and does not have the same energy levels as before, diabetes may be the cause.
Cloudy eyes or loss of vision
Even though most diabetic dogs can lead an everyday and healthy life for years to come, around 75% of them develop cataracts and blindness in the following nine months after a diagnosis, and more often than not, it occurs rapidly, sometimes even overnight. Left untreated, it may prevent the dog’s chance of getting cataract surgery and can lead to blindness.
Cataracts in diabetic dogs occur due to the high amount of glucose which produces a high amount of sorbitol, and since sorbitol has a strong pull on water, the water that enters causes distortion of the fibers.
Since 3 out of 4 dogs can quickly develop cataracts, eventually leading to blindness, a pet owner must know how to deal with it when the blindness occurs.
However, before anything, we still need to clarify why blindness occurs in the first place with diabetic dogs. Loss of vision is caused by diabetes-related damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which can lead to blindness if left untreated. In addition, a cataract formation prevents the light from reaching the retina in the back of the eye.
Therefore, sudden vision change is one of the dogs’ most serious types of diabetes.
Thus, if you notice your dog bumping into things or having trouble seeing, take them to the vet right away for a check-up.
Nevertheless, even if that occurs, most blind dogs will adapt to the environment with proper treatment due to their strong hearing and smelling senses.
Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs
Unfortunately, there is still no diabetes cure for dogs. But it is our duty to provide them with the best treatment possible since they are our best friends in the world, and we are positive that if it were the other way around, they would help us in a blink of an eye.
Diabetes can be managed through a combination of diet, exercise, and insulin therapy.
The most important part of managing diabetes in dogs is regulating their blood sugar levels through diet. A dog with diabetes needs a consistent source of energy throughout the day to maintain its blood sugar levels, so feeding them regularly is crucial.
For an overweight dog, a diet with 10-20% of the dry food as fiber is a good plan. For a dog who is in good weight or slightly underweight, look for a diet with 5-15% fiber on a dry basis.
In addition, it is vital to choose the right kinds of food for your diabetic dog. High-fiber foods are generally suitable for dogs with diabetes because they help regulate blood sugar levels. Foods low in carbohydrates and fats are also good choices, as they help reduce the risk of diabetes complications such as obesity and pancreatitis.
- Exercise Management
Exercise is also crucial for diabetic dogs, as it helps burn off excess glucose in their blood. However, moderate activity is best for diabetes management, as too much exercise can cause low blood sugar levels, while too little exercise can cause high blood sugar levels. A good rule of thumb is to allow your dog to exercise for 30 minutes to an hour daily.
- Insulin Therapy
Insulin therapy is often necessary for dogs with diabetes, as it helps regulate their blood sugar levels. Insulin therapy can be given through injections or insulin pumps. Insulin pumps are becoming more popular for diabetes management in dogs, as they provide a more consistent level of insulin than injections.
As a matter of fact, VCA Animal Hospitals, have a step-by-step guide on how to draw up the insulin and how to inject it into the dog’s body.
Monitoring and Managing Your Dog’s Diabetes
As already mentioned, a great number of dogs can develop diabetes, and even though there is still no cure invented for diabetes, just as for humans, there is still a way to treat and monitor this chronic disease, thus, helping your dog to lead a long, happy and full life.
As you have guessed, once the dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, frequent veterinary visits followed by constant communication with the dog’s veterinarian is a must. After all, your dog’s life will depend on you and your abundance or lack of information.
In addition to diet, exercise, and insulin therapy, monitoring your dog’s blood sugar levels should be done regularly. This can be done at home with a glucometer or at the vet’s office. Remember, you will be in charge of your dog’s care, and we have to say that it is not easy. But whenever our furry friends need us, we need to be at their service.
The vet will likely prescribe insulin therapy and help you choose the right diet for your dog. They are to recommend a diabetes management plan, which should be followed closely, nonetheless.
But for that to happen, as a concerned dog owner, you will need to bring the dog to the vet to do the necessary medication adjustments tests, and with the right dosage and diet, the dog will lead a healthy and fulfilling life.
You will probably need to follow the vet’s suggestions and treatments, including:
- Insulin medication and how to give to the dog
- Proper diet plan and exercise recommendations
- A glucose-monitoring system best for your dog
- Look out for any of the warning signs mentioned above
Diabetes is a serious disease that can majorly impact your dog’s life. However, with proper treatment and management, you can control your dog’s condition and help them have a life as if this chronic condition is just a regular part of their lives.
But, if you think your dog may have diabetes, be sure to take them to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.
Lastly, watch for diabetes-related complications such as cataracts, blindness, and kidney disease. If you notice any of these complications, you must take your dog to the vet immediately for treatment.
Diabetes in Dogs FAQs
Increased thirst and urination, lethargy, eating more, and still losing weight indicate that your dog may have developed diabetes
How long a dog lives after being diagnosed with diabetes depends on various factors. First, it depends on the co-morbidities and how easily they can be regulated, but overall, dogs can lead a fulfilling life for years to come.
However, some studies showed the survival rate to be 18-24 after diagnosis.
Type I or Diabetes mellitus is the type of diabetes that is most common in dogs.
Even though diabetes occurs in older dogs, it does not exclude the possibility of a puppy developing diabetes.