Overweight pug

Key takeaway

Diabetes in dogs is common, and more frequently occurs in older dogs and dogs that struggle with obesity. It’s important to know the signs, like dehydration and frequent urination, and the steps you can take to treat your dog’s diabetes, such as insulin therapy and supportive care from a veterinarian.

Did you know that dogs can get diabetes, just like humans can? It can be a debilitating condition if not treated with the right medications. Diabetes can cause dogs to drink excessively, eat excessively, lose weight, or experience lethargy and stomach issues. It can cause significant threats to your dog’s health and left untreated, may even result in death.

In this guide, we explain what canine diabetes is, how you can identify the signs of diabetes in dogs, and what you can do to ensure that your dog gets the care they need to keep living their best lives. Read on to find out more, or use the links below to navigate the article.

We’ll start by defining canine diabetes and explaining how it works before exploring the symptoms and treatment for canine diabetes.

What Is Canine Diabetes?

Diabetes in dogs is caused by a mismatch between the way that insulin and glucose operate. There are two ways that this can happen: insulin resistance and insulin deficiency. Insulin deficiency is more common and occurs when your dog’s pancreas is not producing the correct amount of insulin. Insulin resistance occurs when your dog’s body is producing insulin, but their body is not able to correctly use it causing diabetes.

Canine diabetes happens twice as often in female dogs as in male dogs and is affected by a number of risk factors which increase the likelihood of developing diabetes.


Risk Factors

  • Age: Older dogs are more likely to develop diabetes, especially dogs over the age of 7. However, dogs of any age may be susceptible, especially if they are affected by one or more of the other risk factors listed here.
  • Genetics: Family history and breed can both affect the likelihood of developing diabetes. Mixed-breed dogs, for example, are less likely than purebred dogs to develop diabetes.
  • Gender: Female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to develop diabetes. Note, however, that female dogs that are pregnant or in heat can also develop temporary insulin resistance, called gestational diabetes.
  • Obesity: Just like in humans, obesity can increase the chance that a dog develops diabetes. Obesity also increases the chances of pancreatitis, a compounding factor for diabetes.
  • Steroid medications: Certain steroid medications taken for other conditions may increase the likelihood of contracting diabetes when taken over an extended period.
  • Cushing’s disease: Dogs with Cushing’s disease overproduce steroid hormones, which can also lead to diabetes if not treated effectively.
  • Chronic pancreatitis: As mentioned above, pancreatitis is a compounding risk factor for diabetes. This is a condition of pancreatic inflammation and can cause diarrhea as well as pain and stomach upset for your dog.
  • Other health conditions: If your dog suffers from multiple other health conditions, it’s possible that they are unable to process the nutrients they need, which may cause the development of diabetes. If your dog suffers from chronic health conditions, be sure to discuss with your vet whether there are risk factors present for the development of diabetes.

It’s always smart to have your dog screened for diabetes during your twice yearly checkups, especially if they have one of the compounding factors listed above. Be sure to ask your vet whether your dog seems likely to develop diabetes.

Symptoms

To keep an eye out for the safety of your pup, it helps to know the signs of diabetes in dogs to look out for. Be sure to keep an eye on your dog’s behavior, and contact a veterinarian, if they develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Polyuria (frequent urination): Polyuria can occur due to a number of causes, but diabetes is one of the most common ones.
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst): Along with excessive urination, you may also notice your dog drinking excessive amounts of water. This is also a sign of diabetes.
  • Polyphagia (increased appetite): Dogs may try to compensate for the imbalance in their nutrients by eating excessively.
  • Weight loss: Sudden, unplanned weight loss, despite normal to increased food intake, can be a sign that your dog’s body may have developed diabetes.
  • Cataracts: Cataracts on the eyes are one of the signs of a more advanced case of diabetes.
  • Weakness: Dogs may also become lethargic and weak, unwilling to play, and generally tired as diabetes takes effect.
  • Decreased appetite: While increased appetite is a sign of diabetes, decreased appetite can be a sign of a more life-threatening syndrome developed as a consequence of untreated diabetes, called Diabetic Ketoacidosis, or DKA . This is why it is important to have your dog seen by a veterinarian, to ensure that your pet gets the appropriate diagnostic testing. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening syndrome which must be treated immediately on an emergency basis. Signs of this disorder include vomiting, dehydration, lethargy, and increased respiratory effort and rate.

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs can be easy to mistake for symptoms of other conditions, so it’s critical that your pet is screened by a vet in order to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis. When faced with a diagnosis of diabetes, many pet parents are interested in learning about the cause of this disease.

Causes

There are a variety of pathologic processes that can cause reduced insulin synthesis and secretion, but they are mainly linked to the loss of insulin-producing and responding cells as a result of either immunological damage or acute pancreatitis. In Diabetes Mellitus, the cells of the pancreas are attacked and destroyed by the immune system in an auto-immune reaction. This is similar to Type I Diabetes in humans.

As diabetes worsens, the pancreas can become inflamed repeatedly, which is a condition called pancreatitis; note that pancreatitis caused by other factors can also lead to diabetes. Chronic, recurrent pancreatitis, either from unmanaged diabetes, or due to other causes, may cause the pancreas to become a narrow, fibrous strip of tissue, with bleeding and may cause serious damage throughout the body.

Many organs can be harmed by high blood sugar levels. High amounts of glucose build up in the blood without insulin to help convert it into fuel. Unfortunately, this unbalanced blood chemistry works as a toxin, causing damage to several organs, including the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, or nerves.

Dog being examined at vet

Diagnosis

Your vet may conduct a variety of tests to determine whether your dog has diabetes. Blood tests and urine tests used to measure liver enzymes, glucose levels, and electrolyte levels are all common. Vets may also test your pets called fructosamine levels to determine recent, long-term blood sugar levels. It’s important to get your dog tested for diabetes, as the earlier a dog is diagnosed, the more likely they are to live a comfortable life.

Treatment

With the right support and treatment, many diabetic dogs can maintain an excellent quality of life. Some of the most important treatment measures that your vet may implement include:

  • Insulin therapy: Like human diabetes, dog diabetes can be treated with consistent insulin therapy, administered through injections. Dog owners will have to administer shots as part of their dog care routine. While that might sound intimidating, most dog owners learn to quickly and painlessly administer injections with ease.
  • Close monitoring: All chronic conditions require monitoring. Together with your vet, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your dog and whether any of your dog’s symptoms change over time.
  • Dietary changes: Unhealthy diets full of salts, fats, and sugars, such as table scraps, can exacerbate diabetes symptoms and can cause pancreatitis. Your vet may prescribe your dog specialty supportive dog food to ensure they get the nutrients they need to live a healthy life.
  • Weight loss: Obese dogs that are at high risk of diabetes will likely be instructed to participate in gradual, controlled weight loss. This is not to body-shame your pet, but because fat functions in the body as an inflammatory organ! Excess fat leads to increased inflammation and insulin resistance, making diabetes more difficult to control.
  • Regular blood glucose testing: As part of your monitoring routine, regularly testing your dog’s glucose will be important to ensure their condition is not worsening. There are devices now which can do this for you by attaching them to your pet’s skin in a quick, relatively painless medical procedure. These devices allow your vet to monitor your pet’s blood sugar constantly and in real time, giving them more data on how to help your pet!
  • Exercise: Most importantly, your vet may also prescribe a regimen of consistent exercise. It is vital that your pet get a consistent amount of exercise, as rapid weight loss can actually lead to worsening of the condition.

Diabetes can be a scary diagnosis for pet owners to hear. However, with their veterinarian and you by their side as a diligent part of the care team, diabetic pets can enjoy an excellent quality of life and continue to flourish for years to come.

Dog receiving insulin therapy at vet

Diabetes In Dogs: Frequently Asked Questions

Is diabetes in dogs common?

Diabetes is a common condition in dogs, especially if they are older, overweight, or have any of the other risk factors discussed above. Because it’s so common, it is always a good idea to discuss your pet’s diabetes risk with your veterinarian, particularly at your twice-yearly health screening appointments!

What happens if canine diabetes goes untreated?

Insulin is necessary to process glucose, and without it, sugars build up in your dog’s body over time. This excessive sugar eventually becomes toxic, causing organ damage, and eventually organ failure. Untreated, diabetes can be fatal in canines.

Are some breeds at higher risk for developing canine diabetes?

Any breed of dog may be affected by canine diabetes. There is some evidence that dachshunds, mini poodles, beagles, and schnauzers may be at a higher risk. And purebreds of any breed are also more likely than mixed-breed dogs to suffer from diabetes. However, it’s always important to watch out for symptoms, no matter your dog’s breed.

Final Notes

Learning that your dog may have diabetes can be scary. It’s important to know the symptoms so you can track and treat it early. It’s also good to know that diabetes isn’t a death sentence—with the right treatment and supportive care, your dog can lead a relatively normal, healthy life.

At Dutch, we believe that no animal should suffer from treatable chronic conditions. We provide quality telemedicine for pets, so you can have quick and easy access to the care your pet needs when they need it. If your pet struggles with anxiety or allergies, one of our affiliated vets will be happy to connect them with the care and medication they need to live a happy and healthy life. Sign up today to find out how we can make a difference in your pet’s life.

References

  1. Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs and Cats, Merck Vet Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/endocrine-system/the-pancreas/diabetes-mellitus-in-dogs-and-cat

  2. Rijnberk, Adam. Clinical Endocrinology of Dogs and Cats: An Illustrated Text. Second, revised, extended edition ed., Schlütersche, 2010.