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Understanding Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs


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To understand diabetes, you need to understand how blood sugar levels are regulated in the body. Glucose is a type of sugar. When a dog eats, his digestive system breaks down many of the components of his meal into glucose, which is absorbed into the blood stream. Rising blood glucose levels trigger the pancreas to secrete insulin, a hormone that binds to glucose and moves it out of the blood and into cells where it can be used as a source of energy or converted into other substances and stored for later use.

"With proper care, many dogs with diabetes can live happily for many years."

When a pet has diabetes mellitus, his pancreas either does not secrete enough insulin (i.e., Type One diabetes) or his tissues cannot respond to the normal amounts of insulin that are present (i.e., Type Two diabetes). In either case, there is too much glucose in the blood and not enough within cells, and his body cannot function normally.

How Did My Dog Get Diabetes?

Most dogs have what is called Type One diabetes, which develops when the immune system attacks and destroys the pancreatic cells responsible for producing insulin. The reason why this occurs is unclear, but genetics plays a role. Type One diabetes occurs more commonly in certain breeds, for example poodles, schnauzers, samoyeds, spitz, keeshonds, and some types of terriers, and has a tendency to run in families. Females are more likely to develop diabetes than males are. Unlike most cats and many people who develop Type Two diabetes, obesity and diet do not play much of a role in the development of canine diabetes.

The Effects of Diabetes

Owners of diabetic dogs often notice increased thirst and urination, weakness, and weight loss despite a normal or even ravenous appetite. Reoccurring infections are also possible, and dogs typically develop cataracts as the disease progresses. Left untreated, severe diabetes can cause electrolyte disturbances, extreme dehydration, seizures and death, a condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Veterinary Care

Most cases of diabetes can be diagnosed based on a combination of clinical signs, a higher than normal blood glucose level and the presence of glucose in the urine. Additional lab work may be needed if the initial results are ambiguous.

Diabetes Syringe

In some cases, oral medications will adequately lower blood sugar levels, but the great majority of dogs require twice daily insulin injections and a strictly regulated diet to control their diabetes. Diabetic regulation is usually started in the veterinary hospital so that glucose levels can be closely monitored. If a dog is suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, intravenous fluids and other treatments will be necessary to stabilize his condition. Once a dog's diabetes is under reasonable control, he is sent home.

Home Care

Committed owners are key to successfully managing canine diabetes. Insulin injections need to be given at approximately the same time every day, usually about 12 hours apart. Your veterinarian will determine what type of insulin works best for your dog. Always make sure to use proper insulin syringes when treating your dog.

A diabetic dog's diet needs to be closely monitored. High fiber diets are ideal and are usually prescribed by a veterinarian. Carefully measured portions should be offered just before an insulin injection is due. Treats are kept to a minimum and any that are given should be approved by your veterinarian and offered at roughly the same times each day. Daily exercise levels should also be consistent.

Glucose Monitor

Regular monitoring of a diabetic dog's blood glucose levels is very important. Owners can learn to do this at home with a hand-held blood glucose monitor or bring their dogs into the veterinary clinic for the procedure. Never increase your dog's insulin dose without first talking to your veterinarian. If your dog is acting confused, weak, lethargic, or "off" in any way, it is always safer to give him some food, skip the insulin injection, and call your vet than to give insulin when he might not need it. A low blood sugar level (i.e., too much insulin) is much more dangerous in the short term than is a high blood sugar level. If your dog collapses or has a seizure, rub a dissolved sugar solution, honey, or Karo® syrup on his gums and get him to the vet immediately.

Managing a diabetic dog takes dedication. Most dogs require life-long treatment with petmeds, but with proper care they can live happily for many years.


The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.