Diabetes in Dogs:
Symptoms and Treatment

Diabetes in dogs often occurs in overweight females. ©Copyright dog-health-today.com

Blood and urine tests will determine if you have a diabetic dog. Through proper diet, exercise and insulin, your dog can live a happy, quality life.

Snapshot: Diabetes
Here's a quick overview if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.

  • Symptoms: Signs of diabetes in dogs (diabetes mellitus is the medical term) include excessive thirst and intake of water, frequent urination, lack of energy and (if left untreated) weight loss.
  • Causes: The pancreas is a gland that makes insulin, a hormone. Insulin is needed to move sugar (glucose) to the body's cells, where it is used for energy. A diabetic dog has a condition that suppresses or interferes with insulin production.
  • Diagnosis: Blood and urine tests will be used by your veterinarian to diagnose diabetes.
  • Treatment: Practically all cases of diabetes in dogs requires insulin injections. In rare cases, a dog's pancreas will produce enough insulin that the diabetes can be managed with oral medication. This happens most often with cats, however.

Each year an estimated 1 in 200 dogs are diagnosed with diabetes. According to Pet Care in the New Century, heredity can predispose a canine to diabetes. The following breeds are more likely to become diabetic: Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Keeshonds, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retrievers and Doberman Pinschers.

The Cause of Diabetes in Dogs

The pancreas is a gland that makes insulin, a hormone. Insulin is needed to move sugar (glucose) to the body's cells, where it is used for energy.A diabetic dog has a condition that suppresses or interferes with insulin production. Because the pancreas is not secreting insulin, the vitally-needed blood sugars do not reach body tissues. Instead, blood sugars end up in the dog's urine and are eliminated from the body. This means that even if a dog is eating, he/she will grow increasingly thinner because the tissues are being starved on an ongoing basis.

Canine Diabetes Symptoms

Diabetes in dogs (Diabetes Mellitus) is a serious condition. A diabetic dog needs to be under the supervised care of a veterinarian. Symptoms may include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant hunger
  • Lack of energy
  • Weight loss
  • Frequent urination (sometimes urine appears "sticky")
  • Urinary tract infection due to elevated sugar in the bladder, which stimulates growth of bacteria
  • Cataracts or sudden blindness

Diagnosing a Diabetic Dog

Diabetes is diagnosed based on observance of symptoms and high levels of glucose in the blood and urine. Although not common, some very anxious dogs will show an elevated blood sugar level under stress, such as a visit to the vet. If you or your vet are at all concerned that this might be influencing your dog's blood test, a fructosamine level test can be conducted. This will show an average blood glucose level over several weeks so that it is easy to differentiate a high-stress episode versus true diabetes. The fructosamine test is also sometimes used to monitor the effect of therapy (insulin, food changes) on a diabetic dog's glucose levels.

Conventional Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs

Practically all cases of diabetes in dogs requires insulin injections. In rare cases, a dog's pancreas will produce enough insulin that the diabetes can be managed with oral medication. This happens most often with cats, however.

Which Insulin is Right? If your best friend is diagnosed as a diabetic dog, the next step will be for your vet to select the type and dose of insulin. He/she will make this determination based on their experience in treating diabetic dogs as well as the latest information from veterinary medical literature. Still, it is an educated guess and it may take some experimenting before the right dose and the right insulin for your dog is found. Most injections will be given twice a day, 12 hours apart, after a meal.

Depending on the type of insulin your vet recommends, it will either be available at your local pharmacy (with your vet's prescription) or through your vet's office. Each time you pick up your supplies, check to be sure the syringes match the insulin. For instance, U-100 syringes for 100 unit/cc insulin or U-40 syringes for 40 unit/cc insulin.

Your veterinarian will show you how to give a subcutaneous (under the skin) insulin injection. Pay attention and ask questions if anything is unclear. Diabetes in dogs is a serious condition and your best friend is depending on you. Your vet will use a test called a glucose curve to monitor blood levels every few hours for 12 to 24 hours.This tells the vet how long the insulin is working and whether an adjustment needs to be made to the dosage and/or type of insulin.

Insulin Shock: If your dog seems wobbly or weak-kneed, his/her blood sugar level has dropped too low. Offer your dog some food and if he will not eat, give honey or sugar water (dosed at one tablespoon per five pounds of body weight). If this does not improve his condition, contact your vet or emergency pet hospital immediately.

Diet Therapy: Research and years of experience have demonstrated that the management of diabetes in dogs can be greatly benefited by a diet high in fiber and low in sugar (read labels on dry food, canned food and treats to avoid sugar, be it cane, beet, molasses, corn syrup, etc.) Specific types of fiber in the intestinal tract slow the absorption of blood sugar, which has been helpful in matching the right insulin to a dog's needs. Your goal in feeding your diabetic dog is to reduce the stress on the pancreas by eliminating foods with sugar and reducing the amount of fat in the diet, since the pancreas also produce enzymes that break down fat. By controlling sugar and fat intake, you reduce the workload on the pancreas.

Natural Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs

There are several natural approaches offered by holistic veterinarians to supplement the use of insulin. In Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, veterinarians Richard Pitcairn and Susan Hubble Pitcairn suggest giving one teaspoon to one tablespoon of brewer's yeast with each meal. The yeast contains a natural chromium substance that helps the dog's body more effectively use blood glucose. They also recommend 25 IU to 200 IU of Vitamin E daily because it reduces the need for insulin. Regular exercise is also effective in reducing insulin needs. Inconsistent exercises can actually have a negative effect by disrupting blood sugar levels. So form a plan and stick to it. Your best friend will thank you!

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