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canine health problems

All about diabetes in dogs: How to diagnose, treat, and manage it

With regular treatment and monitoring, dogs with canine diabetes can live happy and healthy lives.

Updated September 29, 2021

Created By

Kaitlyn Arford,
dog laying on sofa because of low insulin

What is dog diabetes

Diabetes is a common endocrine disease that affects 1 in every 300 dogs, according to Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Health 2016 Report. It’s also estimated that the prevalence of dog diabetes will keep rising as canine diabetes has increased by nearly 80% since 2006.

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that happens when the dog’s body doesn’t make enough insulin or when they can’t effectively use the insulin that the body makes. Insulin is important to a dog’s normal function because it takes glucose (a type of sugar) from food and transfers it from their blood to the body’s cells to create energy. The pancreas creates insulin to transport the glucose from the blood to the cells.

Diabetes can affect dogs of any age and breed, though some breeds and older dogs are more likely to suffer from the disease. While canine diabetes may seem scary, with proper treatment, diabetic dogs can live long, happy lives similar to non-diabetic dogs.

Types of canine diabetes

There are two types of diabetes that occur in dogs:

Type 1: Type 1 diabetes mellitus (insulin-deficiency diabetes) is the most common type of diabetes. This happens when the dog’s body isn’t producing enough insulin and their pancreas is damaged or not working.

Type 2: Type 2 diabetes mellitus (insulin-resistance diabetes) happens when insulin is being produced, but the body’s cells aren’t responding to the insulin. Even though the dog’s body is producing some insulin, their body isn’t using the amount of insulin produced currently. This type is more common with older or obese dogs.

Gestational diabetes: Female dogs can also develop temporary diabetes while pregnant or in heat from insulin resistance caused by hormones.

Symptoms of diabetes

Early signs

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite

Advanced

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lack of energy

Some dogs are more at-risk of developing canine diabetes due to breed, age, health conditions, and genetics

Breed: Some dog breeds are more likely to develop canine diabetes. These include:

  • Australian terrier
  • Bichon frise
  • Cairn terrier
  • Dachshund
  • Finnish
  • Fox terrier
  • Keeshond
  • Miniature poodle and Toy poodle
  • Miniature schnauzer
  • Samoyed
  • Siberian husky
  • Spitz

Age: Diabetes is more common in older dogs but can also occur in younger or pregnant dogs. Diabetes can occur at any age. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, diabetic dogs are usually 4 to 14 years old.

Health conditions: Some diseases can result in diabetes or affect their response to diabetes treatment. Some of these diseases are pancreatitis, heart disease, kidney disease, urinary tract infections, and skin infections. Canines can also develop insulin resistance from conditions like Cushing’s disease.

Obesity: Obesity can contribute to insulin resistance. It’s also a factor for pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes.

Gender: Diabetes occurs in female dogs twice as often as male dogs.

Medications: Using medications that include corticosteroids long-term is a risk factor.

How diabetes in dogs is diagnosed

Diabetes mellitus may be suspected when vets see the common symptoms like excessive thirst, urination, and appetite and weight loss, but has to be confirmed by your vet finding consistently high sugar levels in the dog’s blood and urine. In technical terms, your veterinarian can confirm a diagnosis by finding consistent hyperglycemia (glucose in the blood) and glucosuria (glucose in the urine).

Your veterinarian may take other tests, including blood tests, to rule out other medical conditions. Your vet may collect a urine sample to be submitted for culture testing to rule out urinary tract infections.

The AVMA reports that most dogs are diagnosed between 7 to 10 years old. The sooner your dog is diagnosed, the better chance your beloved companion has for living a normal, happy, and long life.

👉 Your veterinarian is the only one who can diagnose canine diabetes, so see them immediately if you suspect diabetes in your dog.

How to monitor, manage, and treat dog diabetes

When your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, you’ll need to monitor your dog’s weight, appetite, diet, drinking, and urination. You’ll also need to take your dog to your vet for regular examinations, regular blood and urine tests, and perform daily insulin injections.

🚨 Never change the dosage and frequency of insulin injections yourself. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.

Insulin: Your veterinarian will prescribe insulin for your dog. Insulin cannot be given orally and the dose and type may change over time depending on what your veterinarian recommends. Your veterinarian will teach you how to give insulin injections. Insulin shots are typically easier than you’d think and involve a small needle injected under the skin.

💉 Watch this video from the American Animal Hospital Association to learn how to administer insulin to your pup.

Diabetes management plan: Your veterinarian will provide you with a personalized diabetes treatment plan that will include information about insulin, blood glucose monitoring, diet and exercise recommendations, and more.

Diet: Regular feeding schedules are essential because your dog needs to eat and absorb enough sugar to balance the insulin they receive. Your canine companion needs to eat the same amount of food at the same time every day. High-fiber and low carb diets are recommended in some cases.

Regular check-ups: Your canine companion will need to see your veterinarian regularly to check to make sure they’re okay. When starting treatment, you may need to see your vet weekly or monthly until blood sugar normalizes and clinical signs improve.

Monitor blood and urine glucose levels: Just like how humans have to monitor their blood sugar, you’ll need to monitor their levels at home. This may mean using a glucometer like the FreeStyle Libre to monitor their levels.

Daily exercise: You need to keep your diabetic dog active. Check in with your veterinarian about appropriate exercise for your dog.

Spaying: The AVMA recommends spaying female dogs diagnosed with diabetes. This is because a female hormone, progesterone, can interfere with insulin.

Apps: While not required, phone apps that track pet glucose management can come in handy for home monitoring your pet’s clinical symptoms and tracking medication and insulin injections. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends using PetDialog. Vetsulin, a pet diabetes tracker, keeps a record of food and water consumption, blood glucose levels, and allows you to create alerts to remember daily injections, veterinary appointments, and more.

If you’re more old-school, you can track your pet’s care with the American Animal Hospital Association home care diary.

Effects of diabetes on dog health

While every dog is different, diabetes can lead to other health problems. Monitor diabetic dogs for long-term complications. A few of these include:

  • Cataracts (which can cause blindness)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Seizures
  • Kidney failure
  • Ketoacidosis (potentially life-threatening condition)

Dogs may have hind leg weakness due to low blood potassium. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a serious complication of diabetes that may occur when too much insulin is given and can result in death. Weight loss can also change the amount of insulin your dog needs.

🚨 You’ll need to watch for signs of insulin overdose. Symptoms include tremors, seizures, loss of appetite, weakness. Contact your veterinarian or animal hospital immediately if you see these symptoms.

How to prevent diabetes in dogs

Uncontrolled and undiagnosed diabetes can wreak havoc on a dog’s body, which is why early treatment and prevention are crucial. Sometimes diabetes can’t be prevented, but early diagnosis is critical for managing diabetes.

If you notice changes with your dog’s behavior or weight, talk to your veterinarian immediately. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight can also help.

Pet owners will pay more to treat diabetes

Dog owners will have to pay for insulin, syringes, and potentially special veterinary food. The financial commitment may be significant if complications arise.

On average, routine veterinary care including checkups cost $100 to $300 per year. You could pay more than $1,000 if your dog is diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis, according to DVM Dr. Erica Irish.

How dogs help people with diabetes

While some dogs have diabetes, others can be trained to sniff out when someone’s blood sugar is too low or too high. Diabetic alert dogs can monitor when their owner is experiencing low blood sugar levels.

Diabetes can’t be spread from dog to dog or from dogs to humans. Interestingly enough, a 2020 study indicated that owners of a dog with diabetes were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than owners of a dog without diabetes. That’s likely because of shared health behaviors and environmental exposures.