Diabetes In Dogs: How To Spot & Treat This Chronic Disease

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Old pug in man's arm (text in image: Diabetes in dogs symptoms & treatments)Can dogs get diabetes? Yes, and it’s on the rise at alarming rates, just as it is with humans. Between 2006 and 2015, the incidence of canine diabetes increased a whopping 79.7%, according to a large nationwide report by Banfield Pet Hospital.

Diabetes in dogs is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to come serious health complications without treatment. Early detection and management of the disease are key. But with ongoing treatment, a healthy diet and regular exercise, diabetic dogs can live long and happy lives.

Article Overview

Types Of Canine Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes in dogs: diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus (DI). DI is an exceptionally rare disorder that affects a dog’s ability to metabolize water and isn’t related at all to diabetes mellitus (the insulin-related disease most of us are familiar with). In this article, we’re focusing on the symptoms and treatment of diabetes mellitus.

Diabetes mellitus is also called “sugar diabetes” or “insulin diabetes.” Like humans, dogs (and cats) can get Type I or Type II diabetes. Type I develops when the pancreas fails to produce insulin. Insulin is responsible for regulating glucose (sugar) in the blood.

Obese dogs are at a greater risk for developing Type II diabetes (when the pancreas makes insulin, but the body’s cells don’t respond to the insulin). While some humans with Type II diabetes can manage the disease with oral medications, dogs don’t respond well to oral drugs, so they require regular insulin injections to stabilize their blood sugar, regardless of whether they have Type I or Type II.

Risk Factors

In addition to obesity, other risk factors for developing diabetes in dogs include female dogs who aren’t spayed, dogs with Cushing’s disease or pancreatitis and dogs on certain steroid medications (glucocorticoids and progestogen).

Diabetes also appears to affect some breeds at a higher rate, including:


Diabetes typically appears in dogs 7 to 9 years old. It can take a year or longer for a dog with diabetes to show any symptoms, and even early warning signs are easy to miss. Some of the early warning signs of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst & urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss despite eating normally

Signs of advanced diabetes include:

  • Vomiting
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Thinning, dry or dull hair, especially along the back
  • Cloudy eyes (cataracts)
  • Depression

If left untreated, diabetes can cause severe damage to a dog’s body. Here are some of the major health threats if diabetes isn’t controlled.

*Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening acute condition that can be triggered by stress, fasting, infections, surgery and low insulin levels. Symptoms include rapid breathing, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration and sweet-smelling breath. If your dog has diabetes, you should always have ketone testing sticks on hand and test your dog’s urine if he shows any of these signs. If his urine tests positive for ketones, you should call an emergency vet immediately.

Diagnosing Diabetes In Dogs

If you notice signs your dog has diabetes, it’s time for a vet visit. Your vet will ask about any symptoms you’ve noticed and will check your dog’s general health to rule out other possible conditions or infections.

The first test your vet will conduct is a urinalysis, which tests your dog’s urine for the presence of glucose and ketones. Ketones are chemicals produced by the liver when the body doesn’t have enough insulin to turn glucose into energy.

If the urinalysis tests positive for ketones and high levels of glucose, the next step is to measure your dog’s blood glucose concentration. If glucose levels are high in both the urine and the blood, then the vet will make a definitive diagnosis of diabetes.

How To Treat Diabetes In Dogs

Treating canine diabetes involves a lot of daily management on the part of pet parents, but once you get into a routine, it’s not as daunting as it first sounds. The 3 main areas you need to focus on include:

  1. Insulin Injections
  2. Exercise
  3. Diet

Insulin Injections

Most diabetic dogs require shots of insulin after every meal or at least once a day. Your vet will determine the frequency of injections and the specific amount and type of insulin. It can take several months to find the ideal insulin treatment plan for each dog.

At first, many owners are apprehensive about having to give their pups shots at home. However, it’s not as bad as it sounds and isn’t painful for your dog. Your vet will show you how to prepare the shots and where and how to administer them just under your dog’s skin.

Many dogs tolerate the injections well when given about one to two inches from the middle of the back, near the shoulder blade or hip bone. Be sure to alternate the location each time you give an injection to avoid soreness. Depending on your dog’s temperament, you may need to get someone to hold your dog gently while you give him his injection.1

This brief video by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) takes you through the steps of giving your dog insulin injections.

Regular Exercise

It’s extremely important that diabetic dogs get consistent moderate exercise. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, this helps avoid sudden spikes or drops in glucose levels.

Change In Diet

Finally, a diabetic dog’s diet is crucial in managing the disease. Your veterinarian will recommend the best diet for your diabetic dog. Typically, this will include low-fat, high-quality protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates that help to slow down glucose absorption.

You may even want to consider switching your dog’s diet over to all-natural, human-grade dog food. Our reviews of the best dog food delivery services include several specialized companies that make freshly prepared, frozen meals that you can customize for your dog’s individual health needs.

And don’t forget that you’ll need some high-quality diabetic dog treats. Many regular dog treats are very high in sugar. Finding diabetic dog treats at your local store can be a challenge, but Amazon carries several great options. We recommend these all-natural diabetic dog cookies that contain ingredients to help lower blood sugar.

How Much Does Diabetic Dog Care Cost?

While keeping your dog healthy is of the utmost importance, you may be wondering about the impact of insulin and other costs on your wallet. Insulin for dogs can run you $150 per month or more, and you’ll also be visiting the vet more frequently.

Consider getting pet insurance while your dog is still young and healthy to cover unexpected illnesses and accidents. While pet insurance can cover ongoing costs from such chronic conditions as diabetes, you must already be covered before your dog is diagnosed (otherwise it’s considered a pre-existing condition). But if you already have pet insurance when he’s diagnosed, it can help you pay for your dog’s daily insulin and pricey vet expenses.

Would you be anxious about having to give your dog daily injections?

Sources: [1] American Animal Hospital Association

About The Author:

Sally holds a BA in English from James Madison University and began her 25-year writing career as a grad student at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She’s been a pet parent since college years (and spent her whole childhood with pets).

Now as a parent of two teenagers, she’s made sure to raise her daughters to learn how to love and care for pets (and other animals) in the most responsible and loving ways. As a result, she and her daughters now have 5 rescued dogs and cats who essentially rule their home! Sally has also volunteered over the years to help raise funds for various animal nonprofit organizations.

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Patti Radtke Pirko
January 4, 2016 6:22 pm

My Min Pin has been diagnosed with Pancreatitis. He was in the hospital for 11 days. 24 hour IV’s. Did not eat for several days. Took 2 blood and urine samples and they were sent in, after the 2nd set of tests, they told me that he does not have diabetes. Then he had a 2nd test and they told me he has diabetes. That day, without knowing about the blood and urine test, he was eating some apples. So I don’t know if that caused his high sugar level. I have to feed him Hills Science ID dry dog food. They showed me how to give him his insulin shots. He still drinks a lot, but he always did when I found him. He is so hungry, I was told to feed him his dog food in the morning 1/2 cup, and in the afternoon I have to feed him plain cooked chicken and vegetable, like peas, broccoli and green beans, and give him carrots for a treat. Which I have been doing, then he gets 1/2 cup of his dry dog food at night. I do not give him anything that he is not to have. He was also given B12 shots.

He is very active and runs all over the place, pulls me while walking. But as I said he still drinks a lot and is very hungry when I feed him. They want me to get another blood test, but I still owe them money and don’t have the money to pay for this test. In March, when I take them for their shots, I go to the Animal Cruelty Center and it costs a lot less plus I get a discount because I am disability and retired. I am going to have another blood test on him to check his blood sugar.

I would also like to know if he can have a rawhide bone? Or a dog treat that I make them myself, no sugar, no vanilla just wheat flour, yellow corn meal, 1 egg, water and I use Olive Oil.

I would appreciate anything you can help me with.

Thank you
Patti Pirko

Kimberly Alt
January 5, 2016 10:41 am

Hi Patti, I think if what you are doing is what your vet told you to do then you’re doing the right thing. Your vet knows your situation best. If he ate more before this new regimine it makes sense that he’s always hungry. (It’s like when we go on diets and we’re starving because we’re being more strict with our snacking and portion sizes.) Before giving your dog a treat or rawhide I would talk to your vet and check out the article below.

You can learn more about rawhides in this article: https://www.caninejournal.com/rawhide-bones/

Let me know if you have any other questions!

Patti Radtke Pirko
January 6, 2016 9:41 pm
Reply to  Kimberly Alt

Hi Kimberly, does a dog have to fast before taking a blood test? Because he ate some pieces of apples before the 3rd test.

Thank you

Kimberly Alt
January 7, 2016 10:03 am

Great question Patti. Different blood tests are treated differently. Some require what they call a “gentle fasting” which is when you do not feed your pet for about 6 hours before his/her appointment. However, each blood test can vary. I suggest calling your vet if you think the results may be skewed.