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Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Treatment, Cost and Life Expectancy

 

Reviewed and updated for accuracy on September 30, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD

According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s State of Pet Health 2016 Report, canine diabetes increased by 79.7% since 2006.

Dr. Allison O’Kell, DVM, MS, DACVIM, says it’s one of the most common endocrine diseases in dogs. “Overall, it is estimated that anywhere from 1 in 500 to 1 in 100 dogs will develop diabetes [in their lifetime],” she says, adding that the prevalence of diabetes appears to be increasing.

High blood sugar, which is the result of diabetes, can impact the body’s ability to function normally, leading to an increased risk of problems such as heart disease and stroke in dogs.

Here’s what you need to know about the two types of canine diabetes, symptoms, possible causes, treatment options and what you can do to prevent this disease.

Types of Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes is an endocrine disorder. Type 1 diabetes affects the body’s ability to create enough insulin to appropriately regulate blood sugar levels. Type 2 diabetes affects the body’s ability to respond to normal levels of insulin.

Dr. O’Kell says that although there are two types of diabetes in dogs, as there are in humans, they don’t line up exactly with what we know about the disease in people.

Type 1 diabetes, or insulin-deficiency diabetes, is the most common type of diabetes in dogs. It occurs when the cells in the pancreas that create insulin are destroyed.

Type 2 diabetes, or insulin-resistance diabetes, develops when other hormones in the body prevent insulin from operating correctly. These problematic hormones can be produced by excess body fat, which is why overweight individuals are at higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

According to Dr. O’Kell, a hormone called progesterone, which is produced during pregnancy and after a heat cycle, may also go up during a false pregnancy or as a result of a uterine infection called pyometra.

Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Dr. Ellen Behrend, VMD, PhD, DACVIM, lists the most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs as:

  • Drinking excessively (much more than usual)

  • Urinating excessively (much more than usual)

  • Having a ravenous appetite

  • Losing weight rapidly or suddenly 

Dr. Behrend says, “In the early stages, [symptoms] may not be too severe, but once a patient is full-blown diabetic, they aren’t very subtle,” she says.

Less obvious symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Recurrent infections

  • Weakness

  • Poor coat quality

  • Cataracts

  • Seizures

Dogs That Are Predisposed to Diabetes

Dr. O’Kell says that the Samoyed, Miniature Poodle, Toy Poodle, Pug, Tibetan Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Fox Terrier, Bichon Frisé, Dachshund and Siberian Husky are among the most likely breeds to develop diabetes over the course of their lives, though all dogs can develop the disease.

Another major factor is age. “Dogs most commonly develop diabetes at an age of five years or greater,” Dr. O’Kell says, adding that occasionally, dogs can become diabetic at a younger age or even be born with it. However, these cases are rare.

Treating and Managing Your Dog’s Diabetes

Can a dog with diabetes be cured? It’s possible, but unlikely.

“Diabetes is usually permanent in dogs,” Dr. O’Kell says, though cases of insulin resistance caused by pregnancy or diestrus (part of the heat cycle) can sometimes disappear if the dog is spayed very early after diagnosis. However, even in these instances, there’s a risk for recurrence later in life, she says.

Even so, diabetes does not have to impact your dog’s quality of life. Dogs with diabetes don’t know they are sick, and when treated properly, they do not feel sick. In fact, they can still do all the things they love (except overeat).

Diabetes Management

Insulin injections are a necessary part of diabetes treatment, Dr. O’Kell says. Once diagnosed, injections should be done twice daily, but finding an appropriate dosage can be time-consuming.

“Your veterinarian will perform blood glucose curves, which involves taking a blood sugar sample every couple of hours, starting as soon as possible after the morning dose of insulin and finishing as close to the evening dose as possible,” Dr. O’Kell says.

These curves may need to be done every one to two weeks for several months to find the best possible dosage for your dog.

In addition to twice-daily insulin injections, it is also very important that your dog’s diet, exercise and stress levels stay as consistent as possible. Significant changes to any of these parameters can dramatically affect the amount of insulin that your dog needs.

Your veterinarian will come up with a detailed plan regarding the timing and dose of insulin as well as how to handle any potential problems that might develop. For instance, vets commonly recommend that insulin injections be given right after meals so that the dose can be lowered if the dog eats less than normal.

Cost of Treatment

Because of the daily injections and lengthy process to find the right dosage, dealing with canine diabetes can be frustrating and expensive. This disease requires a pet parent to have a lot of patience.

That said, it is treatable, and your dog can live for years with a high quality of life.

The cost of dog diabetes is highest in the initial stage of treatment but can be a significant financial burden. Depending on the type of insulin and dose, your dog’s diabetes medicine may cost $40-$200 per month.

Life Expectancy for Dogs With Diabetes

Some people may ask, “If my dogs has diabetes, should I put him down?” The answer is no.

Dogs with diabetes can live a happy life without any symptoms of their disease, but it does require effort on your part.

If you are able to give your dog insulin, diabetes may not affect life expectancy.

“If they live past the first three months, they do really well. Excluding dogs that don’t make it through those first few months, the median survival is two years,” Dr. Behrend says. “In fact, a lot won't even die of diabetes.”

Many of the dogs who pass away from diabetes do so before it can be regulated. These dogs also tend to have other diseases that complicate treatment or cause them to be very sick.

How to Prevent Canine Diabetes

Preventing diabetes in dogs is not easy.

For many dogs, diabetes is in their genes, but spaying your female dog is one easy way to prevent insulin-resistant diabetes caused by diestrus or pregnancy.

Obesity is often linked with diabetes, but in canines, Dr. O’Kell says, it’s not proven to be a direct cause. That said, obesity is believed to contribute to insulin resistance (among other problems), so preventing it may lead to more effective treatment.

Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) is known to be a risk factor for canine diabetes. Pancreatitis can be genetic but can also be a result of feeding fatty foods such as pork and other meat products.

Feed your dog a healthy, balanced dog food and restrict extras to fruits and vegetables.

"Avoiding overfeeding and regular exercise are the keys to maintaining a lean body weight," Dr. O’Kell says. "If you are not sure how much to feed your dog, your veterinarian can help you come up with a dietary plan to prevent obesity."

By: John Gilpatrick

Featured Image: iStock.com/chabybucko