Reviewed and updated for accuracy on July 10, 2019 by Dr. Hanie Elfenbein, DVM, PhD
Having canine diabetes means that a dog’s body is unable to use glucose (sugar) appropriately. This leads to high levels of sugar in the blood, which can cause many health problems.
However, diabetes in dogs is not a death sentence. It does take ongoing, dedicated care, but your dog can still live a long, happy life.
What Does It Mean if a Dog Has Type 1 Diabetes vs. Type 2?
Dogs can get both Type I and Type II diabetes. Both are manageable with proper veterinary care and in-home management.
Canine Diabetes Type I
Dogs are more likely to develop Type I diabetes.
Type I diabetes is also known as insulin-deficiency because the body is not able to produce insulin. Insulin is normally produced in the pancreas and is important in helping cells use glucose (sugar), the basic energy source.
Our digestive systems are designed to turn food into glucose for cells to use. Without insulin, glucose cannot get into cells. People and animals with Type I diabetes need to be given insulin so that their body can use glucose.
Unfortunately, once your pet develops Type I diabetes, it is not reversible.
Canine Diabetes Type II
Cats are more likely to develop Type II diabetes, but obesity as well as some diseases and medications can cause Type II diabetes in dogs.
Type II diabetes is known as insulin-resistant diabetes. It happens when the pancreas makes insulin, but the body's cells do not respond to the insulin. Sometimes Type II diabetes can be reversed through weight loss and improvements in diet and exercise.
Causes of Canine Diabetes
In dogs, Type I diabetes is caused by the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These cells die as a result of inflammation of the pancreas, known as pancreatitis. Some dog breeds are predisposed to chronic pancreatitis and diabetes, including Keeshonds and Samoyeds.
Like humans and cats, obese dogs are at risk for developing Type II diabetes. So are dogs with Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism), intact (not spayed) female dogs and those on glucocorticoid (steroid) medications.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs
Canine diabetes usually has a slow onset. Dogs start drinking more water and urinating more frequently and in larger amounts. They may even have accidents in the house. Dogs may also eat more while losing or maintaining weight.
These symptoms are not specific to diabetes, but they are big indicators that your dog should be examined by your veterinarian.
In diabetic dogs, excess sugar in the blood is excreted in their urine. When there is sugar in urine, bacteria can grow and cause urinary tract infections and even bladder infections. Symptoms of these conditions include frequent urgent urination, painful urination, urine that is bloody or smells bad, and excessive licking of the genitals.
Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to treat urinary tract infections.
Diabetes in dogs can also cause high pressure within the eye, known as glaucoma. In humans, glaucoma is painful, often described as a bad headache that won't go away. Dogs can lose vision or even need to have one or both eyes removed due to severe glaucoma that results from diabetes.
How To Treat Diabetes in Dogs
Canine diabetes is a chronic disease. This means that it has to be managed over a long period of time. However, the treatment protocols may change and evolve over time to ensure continued efficacy.
It frequently takes several months to determine the most effective diabetes treatment plan. This is because there are many types of insulin available to meet each dog’s unique needs. Type I diabetic dogs require insulin after every meal. The specific amount and type of dog insulin will be determined by your veterinarian.
Initial treatment plans for both Type I and Type II diabetes generally include weight management and exercise, which help stabilize blood sugar. Intact female dogs should also be spayed.
Treatment for canine diabetes may also necessitate changes to your dog’s other prescription medications. Your veterinarian may recommend that diabetic dogs eat specific high-fiber dog food that’s low in simple carbohydrates. The number of meals your dog eats per day may also be an important part of diabetes management.
All of these decisions are best discussed with a veterinarian who knows your dog and your lifestyle. Often, making a consistent schedule for feeding and exercise are important parts of the management of diabetes in dogs.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Blood Sugar
Your veterinarian will monitor your dog's blood glucose, performing a blood-glucose curve where they take measurements every one to two hours over the course of 12-24 hours.
Your veterinarian is looking to see how high your dog's blood sugar gets, and then how low it drops. This indicates how well the body is responding to insulin and will be periodically reevaluated throughout your dog's life.
Diabetic Emergency in Dogs
Very low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) is a medical emergency and can be caused by giving too much insulin or giving insulin at the wrong time.
Signs of hypoglycemia include trembling, restlessness or inability to rise. Vomiting, lethargy, sweet-smelling breath and rapid breathing may be signs of ketoacidosis, which is also a medical emergency.
If your dog is diagnosed with canine diabetes, discuss an emergency management plan with your veterinarian.
By: Hanie Elfenbein, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/elenaleonova