Diabetes In Dogs

What Is Diabetes In Dogs?

Diabetes is a widespread condition where blood glucose (sugar) levels are higher than normal, impacting the body's ability to convert food into energy.

Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, regulates blood sugar levels. When the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, diabetes occurs, preventing sugar from entering cells for energy. Consistently high blood sugar can cause serious health problems over time.

In dogs, undiagnosed or untreated diabetes can develop into a severe condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).

If your dog is vomiting, has diarrhea, reduced appetite, or appears lethargic, contact your vet immediately to see if urgent care is necessary.

Types Of Diabetes In Dogs

There are mainly two types of diabetes in dogs:

Type I—Also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, similar to Type I diabetes in humans. This is the most common type found in dogs.

In Type I diabetes, the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed, leading to a complete lack of insulin. This damage can result from autoimmune attacks on the pancreas or chronic pancreatitis. Dogs with this type require lifelong insulin therapy.

Type II—Also known as non-insulin-dependent diabetes, similar to Type II diabetes in humans. This type is usually associated with obesity but is very rare in dogs.

In Type II diabetes, the pancreas produces less insulin, and the body's cells do not respond well. This results in less glucose entering the cells and higher glucose levels in the blood.

Diabetes Symptoms In Dogs

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Cataracts

If diabetes in dogs is not managed or treated, it can lead to severe and eventually fatal consequences. Some common long-term and secondary effects include:

  • Seizures: Low blood sugar can cause hypoglycemic seizures.
  • Liver disease: Diabetes can lead to a fatty liver, resulting in elevated liver values.
  • Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA): This life-threatening complication occurs when a diabetic dog acquires a secondary condition, such as pancreatitis or a urinary tract infection. This forces the body to break down fat for energy, producing ketones that acidify the blood.
  • Hyperglycemic hyperosmolar syndrome (HHS): This severe complication occurs when blood sugar remains too high for too long, leading to extreme dehydration and disorientation.
  • Diabetic neuropathy: This neurological damage can, in rare cases, lead to paralysis.

Diabetes Causes In Dogs

Several factors can lead to diabetes in dogs. Most dogs develop Type I, or insulin-dependent diabetes, often caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leading to a complete or partial loss of insulin production.

Additional risk factors and complications include:

  • Genetics
  • Elevated hormone levels (progesterone, growth hormone, and cortisol)
  • Cushing's disease
  • Chronic pancreatitis
  • Obesity and high-fat diets

Females, as well as middle-aged and senior dogs, especially those that are obese, are at a higher risk for diabetes. Certain breeds are more susceptible to diabetes, including:

  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Australian Terrier
  • Bichon Frise
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Keeshond
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Miniature Dachshund
  • Norwegian Elkhound
  • Poodle
  • Pug
  • Samoyed
  • Tibetan Terrier
  • Yorkshire Terrier

Diabetes Diagnoses Of In Dogs

Vet may suspect diabetes in dogs based on physical exam results and observed symptoms. To confirm a diabetes diagnosis, they must find consistently high blood and urine glucose levels.

Additional tests your dog might undergo include:

  • Blood chemistry and complete blood count (CBC)
  • Urinalysis
  • Fructosamine test
  • Radiography (X-rays)
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Cushing's disease tests
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Pancreatitis blood tests

Diabetes Treatment In Dogs

For straightforward cases, treating diabetes in dogs mainly involves insulin therapy and dietary changes.

Insulin is the primary treatment for dogs with diabetes.

Insulin is administered via subcutaneous injections, which are injected under the skin. Most dogs need insulin injections twice a day. The insulin dose is typically tiny, and the needles are very fine. Most dogs handle insulin injections well, but it's important to rotate the injection sites daily to avoid scar tissue, which can hinder insulin absorption.

Dietary management is also crucial in treating diabetes in dogs. It's important to feed your dog the same food at the same times every day. This consistency helps regulate blood sugar more effectively.

Prescription diets are available for diabetic dogs. These diets are usually high in fiber and have balanced fat, protein, and carbohydrate ratios to help control blood sugar levels.

Consult your Veterinarians to determine the best diet for your dog's needs.

Managing And Recovering From Diabetes In Dogs

Dogs with diabetes need lifelong monitoring and treatment, typically involving insulin and dietary control.

After diagnosis, your dog will likely need frequent vet visits to find the best insulin dose to manage their blood sugar. Once stabilized, vet visits may be reduced to every three to six months, including some blood tests to ensure good diabetes control.

There are four primary methods to monitor a dog's response to insulin treatment:

  • Blood Glucose Curve: This is the most accurate method, involving your dog staying at the vet for a day while blood samples are taken every one to two hours. These results are plotted on a chart, and based on the curve, your vet may adjust the insulin dose.
  • Freestyle Libre: This involves placing a small sensor on your dog's skin to measure blood glucose painlessly. Glucose levels can be frequently checked via a device reader or smartphone app, especially for anxious or uncooperative dogs.
  • Fructosamine Test: This provides a general idea of blood glucose regulation over the past two to three weeks and is used as a long-term monitoring tool.
  • Urine Glucose and Ketone Measurements: These are simple and inexpensive home tests using strips placed in the urine stream. The results help your vet determine if your dog's diabetes is well managed.

The main goals in managing diabetes in dogs are to reduce symptoms, maintain healthy blood glucose levels, and improve quality of life. Unlike humans, veterinarians do not aim for very tight glucose control in dogs so that target glucose levels might be higher.

The prognosis for diabetic dogs varies. Uncomplicated cases are generally easier to manage and may only require a few vet visits per year. Complicated cases can be challenging and may require the expertise of an internal medicine specialist.

Always follow your vet's guidance when adjusting insulin doses. If your dog is not eating or is vomiting, consult your vet before administering insulin. Signs of low blood sugar, such as weakness, "star-gazing," or tremors/seizures, require immediate veterinary attention.

If you notice increased drinking or other symptoms returning, inform your vet. They might need to check your dog's blood work for proper diabetes control.

Diabetes Prevention In Dogs

While diabetes in dogs cannot be prevented, there are steps pet owners can take to help manage their pet's health.

All dogs should have an annual wellness exam and blood work with their vet.

Senior dogs, usually those over six years old, should visit the vet every six months. These exams and tests can detect changes early, allowing for timely treatment or lifestyle adjustments to improve quality of life and extend lifespan.

A high-quality diet and regular exercise is also important to keep your dog lean and active.

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