Diabetes in dogs

Diabetes in dogs is a complex disease that if left untreated can be fatal; so, what are the symptoms to watch out for, how do you know if your dog is affected, which breed types are most at risk, and what are the treatment options?

What is dog diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease that causes a dog’s blood sugar levels to become too high. It can be caused by genetic or lifestyle factors and affects dogs in a similar way to us, causing a number of unpleasant effects. If left untreated, diabetes can be life-threatening, but when managed correctly it shouldn’t impact your dog’s quality of life.

Understanding the biology of diabetes

When your dog eats, their food is broken down into smaller nutrients that pass into the bloodstream. Some of the food will be broken down into a type of sugar called glucose, which is used to fuel the body. When glucose is detected in the blood a hormone called insulin is released, helping your dog’s cells to absorb and use the glucose. Dogs with diabetes may not make enough insulin, or the insulin they produce may not work correctly. These problems with insulin prevent the cells from taking in glucose, starving them of fuel and causing glucose to build up in the dog’s blood, poisoning the organs.

What are the types of diabetes?

There are several types of diabetes:
  • Insulin-dependent diabetes (also known as type I diabetes) - dogs with this type of diabetes don’t produce enough insulin to help the cells absorb glucose. This is the most common type of diabetes in dogs
  • Insulin-resistant diabetes (also known as type II diabetes) - dogs affected by this condition produce insulin, but the body cells become resistant to its action so it does not work as it should, preventing cells from pulling in enough glucose
  • Gestational diabetes – female dogs can sometimes become insulin-resistant when pregnant

What causes diabetes?

It’s not always clear why dogs develop diabetes. Some dogs may be more likely to develop diabetes because of their genes, others may be more at risk due to environmental factors, or it can be a mix of genetics and lifestyle. The most common cause of diabetes is ‘immune-mediated’ disease where the body attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin and destroy them. Pancreatitis is also a significant contributor to approximately a quarter of diabetes in dogs.

Which dogs are most at risk of diabetes?

Research published by the VetCompass programme at the Royal Veterinary College, partially funded by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, found that the following dogs are most commonly diagnosed with diabetes:
  • Dogs with other conditions, such as obesity, pancreatitis, hyperadrenocorticism (also known as Cushing’s disease)
  • Older dogs (those over eight years old and especially those between 10 and 13 years old)
  • Female dogs
  • Male neutered dogs
  • Dogs that have previously been on steroid treatment
  • Border Terriers and West Highland White Terriers

What are the symptoms of dog diabetes?

Signs that your dog may have diabetes include:
  • Being thirsty
  • Urinating a lot
  • Changes in how hungry they are
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Urinary infections
  • Their breath smells sweet
  • Poor eyesight
If your dog shows any of these signs, contact your vet for advice.

Can diabetes be cured?

Sadly not, but it can be managed. With help from your vet, your dog can still have a good quality of life. Gestational diabetes will often resolve by itself after birth.

Preventing diabetes

The number of dogs affected by diabetes seems to be increasing, and although we can’t always know which dogs will be affected, you can reduce your dog’s risk by:
  • Feeding them a balanced and healthy diet
  • Avoiding overfeeding or giving them fatty foods
  • Keeping your dog active and healthy
  • Regularly seeing the vet for check-ups
  • Carefully considering whether to spay your dog. Female entire dogs and neutered male dogs have been suggested to be more at risk of diabetes. Spaying is a complex decision with lots of factors to consider and is not always black and white. Talk to your vet about this decision and make sure you do thorough research before making a final choice

How is diabetes diagnosed in dogs?

If you suspect that your dog may be affected by diabetes, then contact your vet for advice. Your vet is likely to test your dog’s blood and urine for glucose and will talk to you about any signs that your dog has shown.

Managing your dog’s diabetes

If your dog is affected by diabetes, then your vet will be able to work with you to help create a treatment plan. This may involve:
  • Regular insulin injections (usually two a day). Your vet will show you how to do this
  • Monitoring your dog’s glucose levels
  • Keeping an eye on your dog for signs of diabetes
  • Regular check-ups with your vet
  • Regular and consistent exercise
  • Watching out for complications of diabetes, such as cataracts or urinary tract infections
  • Having a carefully maintained diet. Some dogs may benefit from a dog food specifically designed for diabetic dogs, such as PURINA® PRO PLAN® VETERINARY DIETS Canine DM Diabetes Management. If the diabetes has been caused by pancreatitis, dogs would be better being fed PURINA® PRO PLAN® VETERINARY DIETS Canine EN Gastrointestinal. The diet should always be fed in two equally sized meals at the same time each day, and treats should be avoided.

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