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 an extensive nationwide report by Banfield Pet Hospital.
Diabetes in dogs is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to some 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.
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.
Common risk factors associated with developing diabetes in dogs include:
- Obesity (discussed above)
- Unspayed female dogs
- Cushing’s disease
- Certain steroid medication treatments (glucocorticoids and progestogen)
Diabetes also appears to affect some breeds at a higher rate, including:
- Australian Terriers
- Bichon Frise
- Cairn Terriers
- Fox Terriers
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
Diabetes typically appears in dogs seven to nine 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 and urination
- Increased hunger
- Weight loss despite eating normally
Signs of advanced diabetes include:
- Weakness or fatigue
- Thinning, dry, or dull hair (especially along the back)
- Cloudy eyes (cataracts)
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.
- Blindness, resulting from advanced cataracts
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney failure
- Enlarged liver
*Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening acute condition 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.
If you notice signs your dog has diabetes, it’s time for a vet visit. Your vet will ask about any symptoms you’ve seen 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, 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 three main areas you need to focus on include:
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 treatment plan for each dog, so you may need to test your dog’s blood glucose levels daily with test strips.
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 administer his injection.
This brief video by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) takes you through the steps of giving your dog insulin injections.
Diabetic dogs must get consistent moderate exercise. In addition to maintaining a healthy weight, this helps avoid sudden spikes or drops in glucose levels.
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 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 pet store can be a challenge. We recommend these all-natural diabetic dog cookies that contain ingredients to help lower blood sugar.
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 giving your dog daily injections?