Diabetes is a well-known and widespread disease in humans. But what about your dog?
Indeed, dogs can also be affected by this serious disease which requires medical care.

However, although dog diabetes is incurable so far, treatments allow the diabetic dog to pursue a “normal” life.
So, let’s discover the causes of diabetes in dogs, the symptoms and the necessary treatments.

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What is dog diabetes and how many types are there?

There are grossly two types of dog diabetes :

  • Diabetes insipidus:

In this type the cells of the organs resist the action of insulin (type II diabetes).

  • Diabetes mellitus (equivalent of type I in humans):

This is the predominant type in dogs.

Characterized by a decrease in the amount of produced insulin (hormone responsible for the absorption of glucose from blood into the cells).

As a result, glucose no longer enters the cells and its level increases in the dog’s blood, resulting in hyperglycemia that leads to glycosuria (after reaching blood glucose concentrations of 180–220 mg/dl).

Breeds that are predisposed to get dog diabetes?

Certain breeds of dogs have a genetic predisposition to get diabetes, such as :

  • The Beagle,
  • The Cairn terrier,
  • The Poodle,
  • The Keeshond,
  • The Miniature Pinscher,
  • The Dachshund,
  • The Australian Terrier… .

What are the causes of dog diabetes?

Dog diabetes can have various origins:

  • It can have a genetic component;
  • Can originate from hormonal imbalances, or even
  • Come as a side effect of some medication.

In general, most diabetic dogs have an unbalanced diet, either they eat a low quality processed food or they eat abundant quantities of food with no meal scheduling. And this adds up if they lead a sedentary life-style with little to no physical activity. Which results ultimately in overweight or obesity.

In this case, the dog’s pancreas is overwhelmed with the excessive amount of glucose in the blood it needs to regulate on a daily basis by overproducing insulin.

The dog’s body gets used to high doses of insulin which is no longer enough to regulate its metabolism, whereas his pancreas wears out gradually and therefore becomes diabetic.

Statistically, the majority of diabetic dogs contract this disease after the age of 5 years.

How to know if my dog has diabetes (Symptoms)?

The 4 typical symptoms of diabetes in dogs are:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased hunger
  • Urge to urinate more often
  • “Sticky” urine because it is high in glucose
  • Weight loss

Dogs sometimes also suffer from:

  • Infections (eg skin, urine)
  • Cataracts

Dogs with these symptoms often don’t “look sick.” Their diabetes is then said to be “uncomplicated”.

Diabetes becomes “complicated” when metabolic waste products such as ketone bodies build up in their blood and poison them.

Other symptoms appear and the dogs then look “sick”:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Possible death when glucose is extremely low

What is the life expectancy of diabetic dogs?

The life expectancy of your dog would be almost the same as that of a normal dog from the same breed, as long as he gets access to insulin with a healthy personalized diet and regular veterinary check-ups.

As a matter of fact, dogs with diabetes tend to lead a longer and healthier life than that of any normal life, as their pet parents are usually very cautious and well advised which makes them take their animal’s health problems very seriously no matter how trivial and insignificant they might be.

What are the complications of diabetes in dogs?

There are essentially 2 main complications to diabetes in dogs:

  • Infections (mostly urinary tract):

This increased risk is generally related to the alteration of the phagocytic functions in diabetic dogs.

In the case to urinary tract infections, the dilution of urine by polyuria (frequent urinations) promotes bacterial multiplication.

Urinary infections can vary from an asymptomatic carriage to a severe fungal infection.

Some studies described other locations of bacterial infection such as the respiratory tract and the skin.

  • Ketoacidosis :

ketoacidosis is a serious complication of diabetes mellitus characterized by some serious manifestations such as :

  1. Loss of appetite,
  2. Dehydration,
  3. Abnormal and slow breathing,
  4. Vomiting,
  5. Coma,

Its treatment consists of fluid therapy, progressive stabilization of blood sugar, correction of electrolyte imbalances (particularly hypokalaemia) and acid-base disorders.

How can i treat my diabetic dog?

The condition of your animal at the time of diagnosis will determine whether he can be treated at home or if he will need hospitalization first.

For example, if your dog suffers from “complicated” diabetes, also called ketoacidosis, he’ll need hospitalization to stabilize his condition.

And before he could go home, we need to make sure that everything is normal:

  • Normal appetite,
  • No more vomiting,
  • Good hydration
  • No more ketone bodies in his blood.

In humans, the blood sugar must be perfectly controlled all the time. Whereas in dogs, the treatment focuses on:

  • Improving the symptoms of the disease as well as the quality of life of the animal and his owners (e.g. stopping urine damage in the house or frequent outings during the night);
  • Preventing glucose from ending up in the urine;
  • Avoiding diabetes-related complications (e.g. cataracts, accumulation of ketone bodies in the blood, etc.).

To achieve these objectives, we need to:

  • Use Insulin injections;
  • Adapt the diet;
  • Increase physical activity;
  • Enrich the environment of the animal.

Insulin injections in dogs?

We use synthetic insulin in diabetic dogs to replace their natural insulin which is no longer produced by their pancreas.
The injection is administered subcutaneously, twice a day for the rest of the animal’s life.

There are several kinds of insulin available in the market. The difference between them is mainly related to their speed and duration of action.

But only 2 types of insulin are registered for veterinary use:

  • Insulin Zinc suspension of porcine origin (Vetsulin®; Caninsulin®) and
  • PZI (Protamine Zinc Insulin)(ProZinc®).
Type of insulinConcentrationBrand name(s)ManufacturerMulti-use vialsPen vialsReusable Injection pens
Insulin zinc suspension (lente)40 U/mLVetsulin, CaninsulinMSD Animal Health2.5 mL and 10 mL2.7 mLVetPena,b
PZI40 U/mLProZincBoehringer Ingelheim10 mLNoneNone
Veterinary insulin preparations from Insulin types and pens(a 0.5 U increments; b 1 U increments.)

What are the possible side effects of insulin in diabetic dogs?

The main side effect that can occur in relation with insulin intake in dogs is “hypoglycemia” (hypo= less than normal, glycemia= blood sugar level) which stands for a drop in blood glucose level below normal range.

This situation occurs especially when the insulin dose is too high due to a dosing error or when you administer the insulin injection too early from the next meal.

Here are the symptoms to look out for:

  • Depression
  • Weakness,
  • Staggering gait,
  • Dizziness,
  • Stiffness,
  • Seizures,
  • Coma,
  • Death in severe cases.

If you observe one or more of these symptoms in your companion, immediately contact your veterinarian to get immediate and proper care.

How can i handle insulin at home?

Here are 7 tips for properly storing and handling insulin:

  • Keep the vial refrigerated between injections;
  • Before withdrawing a dose, invert the vial a few times to mix the product well. Don’t stir it;
  • When you insert the needle into the vial and pull back on the syringe plunger, an air bubble will enter the vial along with the insulin. Expel this air bubble by maintaining the syringe in a vertical position with needle on top then tapping it with your finger, which will send the bubbles to the top of the syringe then simply push the plunger to expel the air bubbles;
  • Lift the skin on the side of the dog’s chest with your thumb and forefinger to form a small tent;
  • Insert the needle at the base of the tent. Make sure you are snug against the skin. If the needle should move freely if you position it right under the skin, and not in its thickness;
  • Push the plunger all the way in; and
  • Make sure to change the syringe and injection site from time to time.

Adapt your dog’s nutrition

When a dog develops diabetes, it is very important to feed him a diet that will help improve his glucose metabolism, as well as maintain normal insulin activity at the cellular level.

The animal should eat mostly wet food. As a matter of fact, wet food contains less sugar and more water than dry food. The water contained in wet food can help with hydrating your dog as he may lose large amounts of water from urinating so frequently.

It is crucial to accurately calculate and respect the amount of food you give to your dog.

An overweight dog should get a hypo-caloric ration in order to lose around 1-2% of his weight per week. Once he reaches his ideal weight, you’ll switch to diabetic non-weight loss food.

Can i give treats to my diabetic dog?

You should closely monitor the amount and type of treats you give to your dog. As Too much can interfere with the dog’s diabetes control and hinder his weight loss.

Practically, you must keep the amount of treats no more than 10% of the total caloric intake your animal needs per day.

If you give your dog treats, tell your veterinarian what kind and how much. He will determine if these treats are compatible with the treatment of his diabetes. If not, he can recommend treats that suit his condition and calculate how much he can eat.

Food toys and dispensers for diabetic dogs

A food toy is an object which has a special design that allows you to place kibbles or treats inside it, in a way that demands some efforts and maneuvers for your dog to get access to it (he needs to earn it before he could eat it).

Whereas a dispenser is a programmable device intended to distribute food to your pet at scheduled times and in exact measured amounts.

The use of food toys or dispensers can help diabetic dogs lose weight because they:

  • Exercise more;
  • Eat only small portions of food at a time, which prevents a large amount of sugar from ending up in their blood all at once and then being transformed into fat;
  • Eat slowly, which promotes a good digestion and a feeling of satiety.

There are many brands of food dispensers in the market some of them are fully automatic with a built in app others come with extra bowls and other features.

But, based on practicality and price affordability i recommend the PetSafe Healthy which allows you to schedule up to 12 meals daily from 1/8 cup up to 4 cups per meal depending on your dog’s needs.

And what’s more interesting is that it come with “The Slow Feed” feature which can come very handy especially if your pet is a fast eater.

Moreover this feeder is easy to dissemble and clean.

How to diagnose dog’s diabetes?

We can say that the diagnosis is confirmed in an dog manifesting the typical symptoms when we detect glucose in his urines in addition to high blood glucose levels.

Certain factors predispose dogs to develop diabetes or prevent it from being well controlled:

  • Obesity,
  • Certain diseases (e.g. Hyperadrenocorticism, Pancreatitis, infections, etc.),
  • Certain medications (e.g. Cortisone);
  • Gestation (pregnancy);
  • Breed predisposition (e.g. Schnauzers).

It is therefore important to identify and treat any other condition or disease that could potentially affect the control of diabetes.

This is why it is interesting to perform certain tests:

  • Hematology, to detect the presence of anemia, inflammation or infection;
  • Biochemistry, to check the condition of the kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, etc.;
  • Urine analysis with culture, to detect infections, urolithiasis (stones in the urinary tract), abnormal cells, etc.;
  • Measuring the blood pressure;
  • Measuring the level of pancreatic enzymes, to detect pancreatitis;
  • Any other test deemed necessary by your veterinarian.

Can we prevent diabetes in dogs?

The best way to prevent your dog from getting diabetes is by providing him with a healthy lifestyle.

So, you need to offer him a balanced and high quality diet, making sure to distribute it at fixed times and in reasonable quantities.

Also, pay close attention to your dog’s weight to correct any discrepancies as you go.

And, limit treats and sweets, as well as leftover meals that are high in calories.

And more importantly, always make your dog busy and try to tire him through physical activity. Preferably, by having a daily routine like walking in the park.

But if you have a tight schedule and you can’t afford to play with your dog on a daily basis, at least make your yard dog friendly.

How to know if my dog’s diabetes is under control?

There are many ways to monitor the evolution of diabetes in dogs.

Unfortunately none of them is perfect nor applicable to all patients in the same way.

Each animal is different, therefore only your veterinarian can assess the health status of your dog and adjust the proper follow-up methods that consist essentially of monitoring:

  • The symptoms of diabetes;
  • The weight of your dog;
  • The blood and urine glucose levels;
  • The level of fructosamine in the blood.

What is the glycemia curve?

Doing a “blood sugar curve” involves measuring your animal’s blood glucose level several times a day. This way you can check if the insulin dose is effective or not.

In addition, the glycemia curve helps ensure that the glucose level does not drop too low.

Preferably, you should send those results to your veterinarian for in-depth analysis.

Given that the human glucometers are not calibrated for animals, you should not use them because the measurements they provide are not reliable.

Instead, we strongly recommend using a glucometer specifically designed for animals such as the AlphaTRAK2® to do the curve at home.

You should also perform a blood glucose curve :

  • About 2 weeks after any change in the type or dose of insulin;
  • Every 3-6 months;
  • When hypoglycemia is suspected;
  • If the symptoms of diabetes reappear.

You should repeat the blood and urine tests twice a year for a better monitoring of the disease.

How to use the glucometer?

To use a glucometer follow these 5 steps :

  1. With one hand, hold the tip of the ear and then turn it upside down so that the inner side is exposed and the vein that runs along the edge is clearly visible;
  2. Puncture the vein with the lancet provided with the device. A small drop of blood should appear;
  3. Slightly lean one of the two black areas of the strip to the drop of blood;
  4. Wait for a beep to tell you that enough blood has been drawn;
  5. Read the result in the gray meter window.

Glucose in urine (glycosuria)

At home, the amount of glucose in the dog’s urine can be measured. When this test is done regularly, it can help determine if the diabetes is well controlled. However, we cannot just rely on him to decide whether to change the insulin dose or not. Indeed, the results can indicate different things:

  • The absence of glucose. This may indicate that the blood sugar is perfectly controlled or that the insulin dose is too high.
  • A small amount of glucose. This indicates that the level of blood glucose is too high, but it is impossible to know whether this has been the case for a long time or not.
  • High level of glucose. This probably indicates that the insulin dose needs to be increased.

It usually takes further testing to come with the right conclusions.

Fructosamine

Fructosamine is a compound that forms in the dog’s blood as a result of the binding of glucose with some proteins contained in the blood. Its level rises when there has been too much glucose for 6 to 12 hours.

The fructosamine measurement indicates the average amount of blood glucose over the previous 2-3 weeks.

A high value usually indicates that the hyperglycemia has been ongoing for a long time.

However, sometimes blood sugar levels are high even when diabetes is well controlled.

Whereas a low value may be a sign of chronic hypoglycemia.

To properly interpret fructosamine results, several values ​​must be obtained over time and compared to each other.

To sum up

Diabetes can’t be cured but it can be managed efficiently by a strict lifestyle and medication.

Caring for a diabetic dog is an important commitment, but it is possible for them to lead a long and happy life, if their diabetes is properly controlled.

If you are concerned about the health of your dog, please contact your local Vet.

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