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Diabetes in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, and Care

7 min read

Updated - Dec 20th, 2022

Key Points

  • Diabetes results from a dog’s inability to produce enough insulin or properly use insulin to prompt the uptake of glucose for fuel. 
  • Daily care is needed to ensure the health of diabetic dogs, including insulin injections and glucose monitoring.
  • Although diabetes in dogs isn’t curable, veterinarians have treatments that can help diabetic dogs live happy and fulfilling lives.

Does your dog seem to always want more to eat – but never gains weight? Are they constantly thirsty and unable to control their bladder? Have they lost their usual happy-go-lucky attitude? There might be a serious condition causing these symptoms: diabetes mellitus aka diabetes.

Diabetes is the result of either a deficiency or resistance to insulin. Insulin helps cells take up glucose, which is used as a source of energy in your dog’s body.

Whether you suspect your dog has diabetes or have just received a diagnosis, here’s what you need to know about causes, symptoms, and care.

Symptoms

Symptoms of diabetes can be easily confused with symptoms of other conditions, which is why diagnostic testing is so important. Symptoms of diabetes in dogs can include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Lack of energy
  • Depressed attitude
  • Vomiting

High levels of glucose in the blood can also cause damage to multiple organ systems. More severe effects caused by diabetes include:

The last of these, ketoacidosis, is a life-threatening condition often accompanied by many of the above symptoms along with strangely sweet-smelling breath. This results from cells using ketones as a fuel source in place of glucose, leading to the dog’s blood becoming acidic. If you notice symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis, you should bring your dog to a nearby pet hospital as quickly as possible.

Causes

Diabetes in dogs usually takes one of two forms known as insulin deficiency and insulin resistance. 

  • Insulin-deficient diabetes results from a damaged pancreas and necessitates daily insulin shots. Insulin deficiency is the most common form of diabetes in dogs.
  • Insulin-resistant diabetes appears when the pancreas can produce some insulin, but the dog’s body can’t use it properly, preventing cells from absorbing glucose. It occurs more often in older, obese dogs.

If your dog displays some of these risk factors, it doesn’t mean they’ll definitely develop diabetes, but it’s easier to be vigilant if you know that your dog is predisposed to the disease.

  • Age: Middle-aged or older dogs are at greater risk for developing diabetes.
  • Sex: Unspayed female dogs are more likely to develop canine diabetes.
  • Chronic pancreas infections: The pancreas is the body’s source of insulin, so if it suffers repeat infections (pancreatitis), it may become damaged, leading to low insulin levels.
  • Obesity: Obese dogs are more likely to develop diabetes, since obesity can cause pancreatitis.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as steroid medications, can also be a risk factor for diabetes.
  • Other conditions: Illnesses like Cushing’s disease (another endocrine disorder) can exacerbate symptoms of diabetes.
  • Genetics: Certain breeds face a greater risk of diabetes, including some breeds of terrier, Keeshonds, poodles, miniature Schnauzers, and Samoyeds.

Diagnosis 

To diagnose diabetes in dogs, vets will likely order blood tests in order to assess the amount of glucose in your dog’s blood. They will also test for the level of liver enzymes and electrolyte imbalances. “The earlier the disease can be diagnosed and treatment begun, the better,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenberg, a veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers.

Treatment

The daily treatment for diabetic dogs includes monitoring blood glucose levels and administering insulin injections. Make sure your dog maintains a healthy diet, or they may face hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) during treatment.

When your dog is first diagnosed, they may stay under observation at the hospital for a full day, getting their blood drawn regularly and tested for glucose levels. Your vet will then chart these results, helping to determine the appropriate dosage of insulin for your dog.

You might have to change what kind of dog food you feed your pet. “Owners will need to closely monitor their diabetic dog’s eating and behavior,” explains Dr. Whittenberg. “Many dogs will require a prescription food to aid in controlling their disease.” You’ll want to avoid foods too high in fat. Instead, most vets will prescribe a high-fiber diet with appropriate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. It’s important that you feed your dog at the same time every day.

If you’re the parent of a diabetic dog, you should be aware of the dangers of ketoacidosis and have ketone testing strips on hand in case symptoms appear. If you suspect your dog is suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, get them to an animal hospital immediately. 

Recovery and care

Treatment for canine diabetes is lifelong. At first, it may feel taxing, with frequent visits to the hospital and major lifestyle changes. However, you and your pooch will likely grow accustomed to it over time, and your vet will help you create a plan so that most of your dog’s care can take place at home.

While there is no cure for diabetes in dogs, remember that with proper care and treatment, you can help your furry friend live a long and happy life.

Prevention

It may not be possible to prevent diabetes in dogs in all cases, but there are still steps you can take to preserve your dog’s health. Take your dog to the vet regularly for blood work to stay on top of warning signs, and provide your dog with an active lifestyle and a healthy diet to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

What to expect at the vet’s office

Be sure to come to the vet’s office with a thorough knowledge of your dog’s medical history. This will make things easier for you and your veterinarian. Your vet will likely order blood tests and urine tests to measure glucose levels. If they diagnose your dog with diabetes, they’ll then come up with a treatment plan centered on diet, feeding times, and teach you how to administer insulin and monitor your dog’s glucose levels.

The bottom line

Diabetes in dogs may not be curable, but it doesn’t need to be a permanent impediment to your dog’s quality of life! It is certainly a lifestyle adjustment keeping up with regular insulin injections, glucose monitoring, and diet changes, but with the right care, your dog can still chase squirrels out in the yard, chew on their favorite toys, and curl up at your feet when you’re sleeping.

FAQs

What causes diabetes in dogs?

A number of factors can contribute to the development of diabetes in dogs, but diabetes is ultimately the result of damage to the pancreas – making it difficult for cells to take up glucose, which they burn for energy. This leads to the buildup of glucose in your dog’s blood, which can cause organ damage and other serious complications if not treated.

What is diabetic ketoacidosis and what causes it?

Glucose is the fuel your dog’s cells most commonly use for energy – allowing your furry friend to do everything from play fetch to chase their own tail. The cells of diabetic dogs can’t absorb glucose, so they try to burn other sources of energy. Sometimes that means breaking down their own muscle and fat. When dogs break down fat, acids called ketones enter the blood, making your dog’s blood acidic. This is a serious condition requiring intensive care.

What is a glucose curve?

A glucose curve is essentially a chart of the amount of glucose in your dog’s blood over the course of a day. Vets may recommend using them to test how your dog is responding to insulin to develop the best care and feeding plan for their needs. To create a glucose curve, your vet will perform a blood test every two hours over the course of a twelve-hour period. This allows them to see when the insulin becomes effective and how long it takes for blood glucose to return to its prior level.

Does pet insurance cover diabetes in dogs?

Pet insurance most often doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions. So if your dog developed diabetes before the beginning of your plan, or during a waiting period, you may not be able to receive reimbursement for your dog’s vet bills. However, if your dog develops diabetes after coverage begins, you may be able to receive reimbursement for eligible medical bills through a pet insurance plan.

Did you know?

  • Canine diabetes takes one of two forms: insulin resistance and insulin deficiency.
  • Certain breeds of dog, like poodles and some terriers, are at greater risk of developing diabetes.
  • Pumpkin Pet Insurance plans can offer up to 90% cash back on covered vet bills for dog parents.

George Menz

George is a copywriter who has lived alongside cats his entire life.
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