Diabetes is on the rise amongst pets as well as people. These days, around one out of every 300 dogs is diagnosed with diabetes. While some breeds are more predisposed than others, any dog can develop diabetes, especially if they’re overweight, like so many pets are.
Could you spot the symptoms of diabetes in your dog? Without treatment, diabetes can lead to blindness and death, so you need to learn the symptoms of diabetes in dogs. Let’s talk about what diabetes is, how to spot it, and how you treat it if your dog develops it.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, also known as “sugar diabetes,” is a metabolism disorder that affects the glucose-insulin connection. It causes the body not to be able to use glucose, a type of sugar, properly. Cells use glucose as their primary source of energy with the help of insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas.
As you can imagine, many problems can occur when your dog’s cells can’t properly get energy. Diabetes causes many complications, including blindness and death, if left untreated.
Types of Diabetes
There are two different types of diabetes mellitus. They work differently, although they have the same symptoms and similar outcomes.
Type 1 (Insulin-Deficiency) Diabetes
Most dogs (and some people) have type 1 diabetes, where their pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin. It’s not usually caused by diet, although managing your dog’s diet after diagnosis will be part of the treatment plan, along with daily shots of insulin.
Type 2 (Insulin-Resistance) Diabetes
Most people (and cats, interestingly) deal with type 2 diabetes, where the pancreas produces insulin, but the body becomes resistant to it because there is too much sugar coming in. It’s often associated with a diet that is high in carbohydrates.
Type 2 diabetes is rare in dogs, but it can be found in some obese pups.
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs
The symptoms of diabetes in dogs will vary depending on how advanced the disease is before being diagnosed. Early symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:
- Excessive thirst, emptying their water bowl faster or more frequently than usual
- Weight loss, despite eating the same as usual, because the dog is no longer efficiently converting nutrients from their food
- Increased urination is not just a side effect of being thirstier than unusual; it’s also because your dog’s body is trying to get rid of excess blood sugar through the urine
- Increased appetite can be caused by your dog’s cells not getting the energy they need because their cells can’t efficiently use glucose for energy
Without treatment, diabetes symptoms can progress to include:
- Vomiting (especially if pancreatitis triggered the diabetes)
- Lack of energy
- Depressed attitude
- Loss of appetite
- Dull, dry, or thinning fur
Eventually, untreated diabetes can lead to serious health problems like:
- Kidney failure
- Cataracts (causing blindness)
- Enlarged liver
- Urinary tract infections
- Ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition with symptoms that include rapid breathing, lethargy, vomiting, dehydration, or sweet-smelling breath
How Do Vets Diagnose Diabetes in Dogs?
First, your vet will take a sample of your dog’s urine to check for glucose and ketones, which are chemicals produced by the liver when the body doesn’t have enough insulin. If the vet finds ketones and high glucose levels in the urine, a blood test will confirm if your dog has high blood sugar levels, which would indicate that they have diabetes.
Diabetes Risk Factors
Several risk factors make a dog more likely to develop diabetes. Some of the most common diabetes risk factors in dogs include:
- Cushing’s disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Age 5 or older
- Being an intact female
- Being on certain steroid medications
- Auto-immune disorders
- Breed (including Schnauzers, Pugs, Beagles, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, and German Shepherds)
Treating Diabetes in Dogs
Treating diabetes in dogs requires a 3-pronged approach that includes insulin, diet, and exercise.
Most diabetic dogs require insulin at least once a day, if not after every meal. It may take a few months of working with your vet to determine the best type and dose of insulin for your dog to give them the best quality of life.
The shots are injected under the skin, not into a vein, and it is something that pet owners can do themselves. When done correctly, it isn’t painful for your dog. To help prevent soreness, you will want to rotate the location where you inject your dog. Ask your vet for guidance, but the best injection locations tend to be near the shoulder blades or hip bones.
Ask your vet what type of diet your diabetic dog should eat. Usually, vets recommend food that is high in fiber and quality protein and low in fat, with complex carbohydrates that will help slow the absorption of glucose.
While exercise is essential for all dogs, it’s especially recommended for diabetic dogs. A moderate and consistent exercise routine can help manage their weight as well as minimize spikes and drops in blood glucose levels.
Managing Your Dog’s Diabetes
It can be tricky at first to manage your dog’s diabetes while you’re still figuring out the best way to give your dog their insulin shots, and your vet is determining the best type and dose of insulin. You may need to make several trips to the vet during this time. Eventually, though, managing your dog’s diabetes becomes just a part of your daily routine, and your dog could live for many more happy years.