Diabetes in dogs: Symptoms, causes & treatment

What is canine diabetes? 

Canine diabetes is caused when your dog’s natural production of insulin slows down or stops all together, or their body doesn’t respond effectively to insulin, meaning they can no longer naturally control their blood sugars. 

Just like humans, healthy dog’s usually produce insulin to absorb glucose (sugars) into the bloodstream from the stomach after eating. Once in the bloodstream the glucose can provide energy to cells in your dog’s body, including vital organs such as the brain. 

Dogs with diabetes can’t control their sugar levels, if blood sugars stay in the blood instead of being transported to the relevant cells, they can build up to dangerously high levels. When blood sugars are elevated, this is known as hyperglycaemia, which can be extremely dangerous for dogs if left untreated. 

Types of diabetes in dogs:

There are two types of diabetes that can affect dogs:

  • Insulin deficiency diabetes (type I diabetes) – Type I diabetes occurs when your dog’s body isn’t producing enough insulin. This happens due to a damaged pancreas, or the inability for the pancreas to function as it should. Type I is the most common form of diabetes in dogs. 
  • Insulin-resistance diabetes (type II diabetes) – Whilst extremely rare in dogs, type II diabetes means the dog’s pancreas produces some insulin but not enough, or the body isn’t utilising the insulin as it should be. 

Early signs and symptoms of diabetes:

The first signs to look out for if you believe your dog may have diabetes are:

  • Increased urination 
  • Excessive thirst 
  • Increase appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness/Low energy

There are many other illnesses that may display similar symptoms, so it’s essential to get your dog diagnosed by a vet if you think they may be suffering from diabetes. 

Signs of advanced diabetes:

If medical advice and/or treatment is not given to a diabetic dog then it can progress into a more serious complication known as ‘diabetic ketoacidosis’ (DKA). DKA develops when your body doesn’t have enough insulin to allow blood sugar into your cells to use as energy. Instead, the body will start to break down fat and muscle to produce energy in compensation for the lack of glucose. 

The body produces ketone bodies when fat is used as an energy source. In large numbers ketones are extremely dangerous and can cause added side effects such as:

  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhoea 
  • Tiredness/Low energy
  • Refusal to eat
  • Collapse
  • Repeated infections
  • Severe weight loss
  • Blindness
  • Seizures

If you notice your pet is displaying the above symptoms, this is classed as a medical emergency and you should book in a consultation with your vet as soon as possible. 

Causes of diabetes in dogs

Studies suggest that 1 out of every 100 dogs will suffer from diabetes during their lifetimes. The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, but there are some factors that can increase your pets chance of developing diabetes such as:

Age: Diabetes is most common in older or middle-aged dogs. Whilst dogs can develop diabetes at any age, the majority of dogs diagnosed are aged 5 or over. 

Gender: According to studies, female dogs are twice as likely to develop diabetes compared to a male dog. Unspayed females are the most at risk due to associated hormones. 

Breed: Some breeds of dogs have a higher chance of becoming diabetic. Whilst the exact facts are unknown, some dogs that commonly become diabetic include:

  • Beagles
  • Boxers
  • Chow Chows 
  • Dachshunds
  • German Shepherds 
  • Golden Retrievers
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Poodles

Overweight dogs: Dogs that are obese or overweight have a higher chance of developing diabetes due to the amount of fat in their diet. A high-fat diet can lead to pancreatitis, a condition where the pancreas is damaged

Pancreatitis: Severe or recurrent pancreatitis can eventually lead to extensive damage of the pancreas, which can then result in diabetes. 

Medications: If your pet has other health issues that they’re being treated for, this may put them at a higher risk of diabetes. Pet medicines such as glucocorticoids and progestogens, as well as steroids have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes. 

How to diagnose diabetes in dogs?

If you suspect your dog may have diabetes, book in a consultation with your vet at the earliest opportunity. Your vet will ask you about your concerns and any symptoms that your pet may be displaying. They will likely then conduct a blood test, if the test shows elevated levels of glucose in the blood along with common symptoms of diabetes, it’s usually a clear sign towards a diabetes diagnosis.

There are however other reasons that may explain increased glucose in your dog’s body, such as stress. Your vet may also ask for a urine sample so that they can test it for the presence of glucose and ketones to ensure they provide the correct diagnosis. 

How to treat a diabetic dog?

Upon receiving a diabetes diagnosis, your vet will establish an insulin type and dosage to start the treatment on your dog. It can take a bit of time to establish the correct dosage for your specific dog, and it’s often recommended to test your dog’s blood glucose levels by using a tiny pin prick to take a small swab of blood. 

As a condition that will require lifelong treatment, it’s important to ensure your dog is having the correct dosage at the advised time of day. Your vet may also recommend a specific low-fat diet for your dog to assist in managing the condition. Once treatment has started, your dog is likely to start to feel much better within a week or two.

You can save money on your dog’s diabetes treatment by obtaining a prescription from your vet then buying the necessary medication, syringes/pens and blood testing kits online at a licensed veterinary pharmacy such as The PharmPet Co. By not purchasing pet medicines directly from your vet, you could save up to 70% on the overall cost of your dog’s treatment. Some of our top products for the management of canine diabetes include: 

Caninsulin syringes 0.5ml U40 (pack of 30) – Caninsulin syringes complete with needles (29G x 1/2 inch fixed needle) for the administration of insulin. For use with Caninsulin insulin only. 

ProZinc 0.3ml U40 insulin syringes (pack of 120) – ProZinc U-40 Insulin Syringes can be used to safely and effectively administer U-40 Insulin to treat feline diabetes. For use with ProZinc Insulin only.

Caninsulin VetPen starter kit – The First and Only Insulin Pen for Dogs & Cats, VetPen makes giving insulin injections to pets simple and accurate. Available in two sizes. 

AlphaTRAK 2 starter kit – AlphaTRAK 2 is a portable blood glucose monitoring system specifically calibrated and validated for dogs. This kit includes the Alphatrak 2 blood glucose monitor, 25 test strips, lancing device, 30 lancets, control solution, diabetes diary, user’s guide and a carry case. 

We also dispense a range of prescription medication for any prescribed treatments.

Cost of treating diabetes

The costs involved in treating a dog with diabetes start with the initial veterinary consultation which may vary in price depending on which area you live in and which vet you take your dog to. 

For a diabetes diagnosis further tests will need to be conducted to ensure the diagnosis is accurate. You may then need a further consultation to discuss the diagnosis and treatment options moving forward.

Once treatment has started you’ll need a regular supply of insulin, needles (or a VetPen) and blood testing equipment. Purchasing these items directly from your vet can become expensive, so it is worth considering using a veterinary pharmacy such as The PharmPet Co. We have a blog all about ordering your pets prescription medication online here.

On-going care

As well as providing and administering life-long medication to your dog, there’s other care factors involved with treating diabetes:

Diet: Your vet may recommend a special diet for your dog to reduce the risk of hypos. It’s also important to regulate meal times to ensure insulin is administered at the correct times. It’s much harder to maintain the correct glucose levels in overweight dogs, so keeping your pet at a healthy weight will assist you in keeping their condition stable.

Exercise: Dogs with diabetes are more prone to blood glucose swings due to their inability to naturally regulate their blood sugars. Wherever possible it’s recommended to upkeep a regular exercise schedule – try to figure out a routine that works for both you and your dog and stick to it.

Regular Monitoring: As well as monitoring their blood sugars at home, it’s important to book in for regular checkups with your vet to ensure you’re administering the right dosage for your dog’s condition. Over time the condition may get worse, meaning more insulin is required to maintain the on-going treatment.

What to feed a diabetic dog

Various special-formula dog foods are available to assist with weight control and nutrients for your diabetic dog. Every dog is different, but typical diabetic diets for dogs should be high in fibre, high in protein and low in carbohydrates. 

Your vet can help you to determine how many calories your dog needs based on their weight and activity level. Some dog owners may opt for a prescription pet food, while other options include to use over the counter pet foods to keep costs down. Home cooking is usually not recommended due to the fluctuation in nutrients and quantities associated with batch cooking. 

Long term impacts

Dogs with diabetes are more prone to further health issues due to their condition. Cataracts are a common complication associated with diabetes due to the sugars affecting their eyes. Whilst cataracts usually aren’t painful they can lead to vision loss and blindness. Most dogs cope well with blindness, however if they do begin to struggle it is possible to have the cataracts removed by a specialist eye vet. 

Other conditions related to canine diabetes include Urinary tract infections (UTIs) which is due to the excess sugar in the urine helping bacteria to multiply. UTIs are treated with antibiotics which are available with a prescription from your vet. 

Other less common side effects include seizures, kidney failure and enlarged livers. 

Life expectancy

With the correct treatment your dog can continue to live a healthy lifestyle and live to a normal age for their breed. It’s important that pet parents stick to a routine of regular exercise, mealtime and medication. Visit your vet regularly for check ups and help your dog to lead a happy and pain free life. 
For more information on pet health conditions and how to treat them, visit The PharmPet Co blog.