Dogs And Diabetes

Diabetes in dogs has some similarities to diabetes in humans, and also some major differences. Here at Leave No Paws Behind, we are very familiar with diabetes, as my son is a type 1 diabetic, and Chauncy, our shelter rescue, was diagnosed with diabetes a couple of years ago.  This post will hopefully educate you to symptoms, treatments, dangers, and successfully living with, dogs that have been diagnosed with diabetes. Dogs can live long, healthy lives with proper treatment and monitoring.

There are two key components to fueling the body, glucose and insulin. The body breaks down nutrients from food (carbohydrates) into glucose (also known as blood sugar) that the body can use as fuel. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that either allows the body to use glucose as fuel, or store it for later use.

Diabetes in dogs generally presents itself in one of two ways. Most common in dogs is a lack of insulin (Insulin deficient, the body doesn't produce any). The pancreas is not functioning properly and produces no insulin.  Less common is when the dog's body struggles to utilize the insulin it is producing (Insulin resistant). In both cases, glucose (blood sugar) builds up in the blood stream and isn't being pulled out and utilized by the cells that need it, essentially starving the cells/muscles/organs, and forcing the body to start breaking down it's own fats and proteins to use as fuel. This causes excess blood sugar to build up, and that can lead to serious consequences like organ damage, blindness, and/or ketoacidosis. There is no cure for diabetes, but it can be managed successfully.

Diabetes can be a silent, invisible disease. Often there are no "physical" indicators. Here is a list of symptoms that may require a trip to your vet, as they could be indicators that your dog has diabetes:

  • Constant thirst and excessive water consumption
  • Increased urination, and if house trained, a sudden increase in "accidents"
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy, lower than normal energy level
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Sweet or fruity smelling breath
  • Increased appetite with continued weight loss
What causes diabetes? Diabetes is an autoimmune disease. Normally, the immune system protects the body from disease and infection. An autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in the body. No one knows for sure what triggers an autoimmune disease like diabetes, but there are a few known risk factors that may be indicators. In dogs, these can be things like genetics, age (most dogs are diagnosed in middle or older age), weight, and a proclivity  to pancreatitis. Again, if any of the symptoms listed above have presented themselves, a trip to the vet to be checked out is advised.

Long term effects of uncontrolled or poorly managed diabetes can be:
  • Seizures
  • Blindness
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • Kidney Failure
  • Ketoacidosis
To properly diagnose diabetes, a blood test and urinalysis are performed, measuring the dog's blood glucose level, and may show other indicators like liver enzymes and electrolyte imbalances. The sooner diabetes is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better the chances for a normal life. 

Once properly diagnosed, treatment can begin. Diabetes is a frustrating disease. There are so many variables to what raises or lowers blood sugar, that managing the disease often feels more like an art form than a scientific process. It isn't as simple as "x amount of carbs plus y amount of insulin = good blood glucose level". The key to proper management of diabetes is to maintain a good average blood glucose level, and to minimize high or low blood glucose levels. 

Treatment will not be the same for all dogs, and will be determined by your vet. In many cases, maintaining good blood glucose levels will require daily insulin injections. Humans that are insulin dependent and practice multiple daily injections will often times utilize two different types of insulin, a daily dose of a slow acting, time release insulin (a basal rate, background, or continuous supply), and a fast acting insulin taking to cover foods o correct high blood sugar levels (a bolus, or single dose given all at one time). A person that is on a pump will generally only use the fast acting insulin, and the pump will have a program that will release small amounts all day long, and a single dose at the time of carbohydrate consumption or to correct a high blood sugar.

Dogs will generally receive one or two injections of insulin each day, a predetermined, consistent quantity. It is important that these injections are given at the same time every day, and that the quantity of food is measured. Since the amount of insulin given is already predetermined, it is extremely important that feedings are always the same quantity. When diagnosed and formulating a treatment plan, your vet will recommend a diet and provide a proper feeding quantity. The insulin dosage will be based on the dogs weight and that particular food/quantity. If that diet needs to change for any reason, or the animals weight changes, the vet will need to be notified and involved in case the insulin dosage needs to change. Treats need to be minimized (consult with your vet) or very low in glucose as that extra food is not part of the measured daily dosage of insulin.

If you have a dog that has been diagnosed with diabetes, fear not. With consistent veterinary care, maintaining a healthy weight, daily exercise, and good blood glucose management, your dog can live a long and healthy life.