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Diabetes in Dogs

Written by Anna Hollisey


Dogue de Bordeaux older dog

Sadly, the rate of diabetes in dogs is increasing: among every 300 dogs, 1-3 will develop the condition. It’s more likely to occur in overweight and older dogs, but here’s some good news. Diabetes can be managed at home – and there are even some innovative new treatments on the horizon. 

What is Diabetes?

Healthy dogs produce insulin, a hormone which regulates glucose in the blood. Why is this important? Glucose (primarily from carbohydrates) is a key source of energy in your dog’s diet. Insulin enables your dog’s body to absorb that glucose, turning it into usable energy. 

So when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin, the dog can’t manage levels of blood sugar and the consequences can be serious. 

The cause of diabetes isn’t exactly clear, but we know that certain factors contribute to it. Pancreatic damage is more likely in dogs from the age of around 8 years, and the risk level is higher for overweight dogs.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

Early diagnosis can prevent an emergency situation. Here are the main symptoms you’re likely to notice in a dog with diabetes:

  • Excessive urinating. Your dog may be urinating indoors, or they may just be asking to go outside more often. Why? Because the blood is overloaded with glucose, it gets into the urine, causing a fuller bladder. 
  • Excessive drinking. Because they’re urinating more, your dog will top up with extra water. 
  • Overeating. Because the glucose isn’t being managed, the body feels a lack of energy and demands more fuel. Your dog may become extra hungry.
  • Weight loss. Their body isn’t accessing the energy it needs – so your dog may lose weight as muscles begin to break down. 
  • Cloudy Eyes. The first sign of cataracts, a common side effect of diabetes. This happens because excess glucose causes water to be drawn into the eye.
  • Fatigue or Weakness. Lack of energy, combined with muscle breakdown, cause a diabetic dog to struggle to keep up. 

Can Diabetes be Managed in Dogs?

Yes – like humans, dogs who are diagnosed with diabetes can often continue to live a happy and healthy life. There isn’t a cure for diabetes, but treatments can help dogs to manage their insulin levels. With care, your dog’s life expectancy can be just the same as it always was. 

How is Diabetes Treated in Dogs?

Diabetes is diagnosed using blood or urine tests. Once it’s diagnosed, your vet will talk you through a treatment plan. The main aim is to get your dog’s blood sugar levels back to their normal baseline.

You’ll achieve this through insulin shots (twice daily) and regular veterinary check-ups. Human insulin pumps aren’t suitable for our dogs. The vet will usually prescribe NPH, which is given through a U100 syringe morning and evening. It should be administered 15-30 minutes before a meal and you’ll get the best results from keeping the timings as evenly-spaced as you possibly can.

 Did you know… Alternative solutions for diabetic dogs are currently being researched. In the next few decades, owners could be taking their dogs for cellular transplants or using slow-release pellets beneath the skin!

What can Diabetic Dogs Eat?

Your vet can recommend a specialist food formulated for diabetic dogs.

Diabetic dogs should go onto a diet which is low in fat and high in protein. They should eat frequently, but not be allowed to gain weight, which increases their risk of complications. Exercise is important here, too.Transferring them to a specialist diabetic food is the first step. What about snacks? 

Since their bodies are struggling to regulate glucose, you’ll need to remove sugar from your dog’s diet. This means avoiding foods that contain sugar (including corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, etc). 

They can have carbohydrates which rate low on the GI (glycaemic index) scale. These foods break down more slowly so that your dog won’t get a sudden spike in blood sugar. You’ll find a comprehensive list here at Harvard Medical School – here are some which your dog might find palatable!

  • Apples
  • Cucumber
  • Yam
  • Wholegrains

What are the Risks of Diabetes in Dogs?

Dogs with diabetes are at risk of developing:

  • Hyperglycaemia. This means a high level of glucose in the blood. It’s not common for dogs whose diabetes has been identified and managed. But if your dog is undiagnosed, hyperglycemia can escalate to tremors, seizures, and even death.
  • Urinary tract infections. These can be difficult to identify. They’re caused by glucose and excess bacteria in the urine.If it’s not treated, a UTI can cause kidney infection. 
  • Cataracts. It’s thought that around 80% of dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts, because the sugar levels affect the eye lens. Identified early, cataracts can be removed; if allowed to develop, cataracts can cause blindness. Check your dog’s eyes for a slight cloudiness which spreads.
  • Severe dehydration. If your dog gets ill or ingests something toxic and starts to vomit, be aware that they can become dehydrated more quickly than a healthy dog. It’s important to promote fluid uptake and seek veterinary advice. 

Can I Prevent My Dog From Getting Diabetes?

Unfortunately, we don’t really know what causes the pancreatic damage that triggers diabetes. But we do know that some dogs are at a higher risk of developing the condition. 

So you’re giving your dog a better chance if you:

  • Exercise them regularly. Your dog’s a healthy weight when you can feel their ribs easily underneath their fur. The bones shouldn’t be visible, but they shouldn’t be covered by a layer of fat, either.
  • Choose a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid unhealthy snacks and human food: those table scraps can go into the waste. Keep your dog on a good-quality dog food/food which delivers the right nutrients that they need.
  • Put them onto a calorie-controlled diet if they begin putting on weight. Older dogs are usually less energetic and require fewer calories, so their diet should be adjusted as the years pass.