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Diabetes in Dogs

1 December 2022

Written by Dr. Joann Bennett, BVetMed MRCVS Veterinary Surgeon
Reviewed by Dr Jill McMaster BVM&S MBA MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon and in-house expert at BorrowMyDoggy on 6 Jun 2023

November marked National Pet Diabetes Month - Jo Bennett, My Family Pet and Bridge Vet Centre Vet, talks about what diabetes is, and what to watch out for…

Jo Bennett, My Family Vets

What is diabetes, exactly?

Diabetes comes about when a dog’s pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin. It’s a common hormonal disease, especially in older dogs, and although treatable, is sadly incurable.

Usually, a healthy dog’s pancreas will produce insulin to prevent blood sugar levels from becoming too high. When this stops working, dogs with too much sugar in their blood can suffer from hyperglycaemia.

Diabetes tends to affect female dogs more than males, and is more common in certain breeds such as Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds and Springer Spaniels.

What if my dog has diabetes and I don’t know?

This is why vets always advise owners to have their dogs checked up every 6 months, especially as they get older. They’ll be able to pick up on conditions such as diabetes early, and begin treatment right away.

Diabetic dogs usually have one or more of the following symptoms. These are:

  • Drinking more than usual
  • Eating more than usual
  • Urinating more than usual
  • Losing weight

If your dog shows these clinical signs, contact your vet right away. Individually, the symptoms listed above can belong to a number of health problems, so it’s still worth seeking veterinary attention if your dog shows one but not all, e.g. their appetite and weight are fine but they’re going to the toilet more often than usual.

Diabetes is often manageable with the correct treatment and many diabetic dogs have long and healthy lives, but if it is left untreated, it can lead to severe health problems… so it’s always best to get help from your vet if you’re concerned.”

What causes it? Does it affect some dogs more than others?

There aren’t necessarily any “causes” of diabetes in dogs, although certain lifestyle factors can put dogs at a greater risk.

Some of these lifestyle factors, owners have no control over. These include:

  • Age (dogs aged 7-10 are most commonly diagnosed)
  • Sex (70% of diabetic dogs are female)
  • Breed (diabetes is most common in Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Dachshunds and Springer Spaniels)

That said, there’s one factor that owners do have control over: DIET. A dog who eats an unhealthy diet (and is overweight as a result) is more likely to develop diabetes than a dog on a healthy diet – the same goes for many health problems, including arthritis.

What goes wrong in a diabetic dog?

Diabetes is an incurable disease where a dog’s body can’t properly control blood sugar levels. (Blood sugar = glucose.)

Usually, after a dog enjoys a tasty meal, their blood sugar levels increase and they’re provided with all-important energy. To make sure blood sugar levels don’t get excessive, the body produces a hormone called insulin that works to regulate blood sugar levels and convert glucose into energy successfully.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas can’t produce insulin (Type 1) or when the body resists or fails to process insulin (Type 2).

What’s the prognosis for a dog with diabetes?

If diabetes isn’t treated, it can lead to serious health problems.

Although it is lifelong treatment, and it can take a bit of work to stabilise a diabetic dog, the good news is that diabetes can usually be managed and when done so, diabetic dogs can lead active and happy lives.

Type 1 diabetes is far more common in dogs. A dog with Type 1 diabetes will need insulin treatments, usually every day for the rest of their life. Giving your dog an insulin injection may sound scary, but your vet will talk you through it thoroughly and provide all the support you need.

If your dog is diabetic, you’ll be advised to attend regular check-ups with your vet – just to make sure everything is okay and to pick up on any further health complications before they get worse.

At home, it’s useful to remember that a suitable balanced diet can help to keep your dog’s blood sugar levels under control. Feeding a healthy diet and keeping your dog at a weight appropriate for their breed is a key part of being a responsible owner – whether your pet is diabetic or not.

For more help and advice on managing your dog’s diabetes, have a chat with your local vet.

How do you care for a diabetic dog?

Type 1 Diabetes (far more common than Type 2) means the dog will need daily insulin injections for life. This is easy enough once you get the hang of it… and your vet will show you how to do it.

They’ll also need regular check-ups with the vet. As an owner, make sure you stay vigilant and contact your vet ASAP if something isn’t right.

At home, a suitable balanced diet will be a great help. Eating the correct food can keep your dog’s blood sugar levels stable. Once again, your vet will be able to advise on what is the best diet for your specific dog.

With all the right measures in place and plenty of care from their owner, a diabetic dog can enjoy a full, happy and healthy life!

This article is for information only, and should never replace any advice, diagnosis or treatment from your veterinary surgeon.  Always contact your local vet or out of hours vet without delay if you have any concerns about your dog.

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