Sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is a common hormonal disease in dogs, characterized by an inadequate production of the hormone insulin by the islet cells in the dog’s pancreas.
Insulin enables glucose to pass into cells, where it is metabolized to produce energy for metabolism. Diabetes mellitus therefore impairs the body’s ability to metabolize sugar, resulting in high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and high urine sugar (glycosuria).
There are two types of sugar diabetes in dogs – Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes is congenital and can occur even in young dogs less than 1 year of age, similar to juvenile diabetes in people.
Type II diabetes is an acquired type that occurs mostly in middle-aged dogs, similar to adult-onset diabetes in humans. This type is also commonly known as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM).
Most canine diabetes mellitus is Type II IDDM.
Canine diabetes mellitus affects all breeds of dogs, but some breeds have higher incidence, such as Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Miniature Schnauzers, Keeshonden, and Poodles.
Type II IDDM in females is three times as common as in males. The average age of onset is 6 to 9 years.
Causes of Diabetes in Dogs
There are several factors that may trigger sugar diabetes in dogs. They include:
- Genetic Predisposition: As mentioned above, some dogs have higher incidence of diabetes and appear to be genetically predisposed.
- Obesity: Similar to people, dogs who are overweight are more prone to develop diabetes.
- Certain Diseases and Infections: Infectious viral diseases, pancreatic imflammation and infections, and Cushing’s disease can also cause diabetes in dogs.
- Certain Drugs: Some drugs can interfere with insulin, leading to diabetes especially after long-term use (e.g. glucocorticoids, hormones used for heat control).
Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs
At the onset of the disease, canine diabetes symptoms include:
- Drinking a lot of water
- Frequent urination
- Having a large appetite, but still losing weight
Dogs with more advanced diabetes show the following symptoms:
- Appetite loss
- Lethargy and weakness
Untreated diabetic dogs are more likely to develop infections, commonly infections of the bladder, kidney, or skin.
Fat accumulates in the liver of diabetic dogs, leading to enlarged livers.
Cataracts are also common in diabetic dogs which can lead to blindness.
Finally, if untreated, dogs with diabetes can develop neurological problems, showing signs of abnormal gait.
Some dogs with diabetes may develop diabetic ketoacidosis, which is an accumulation of ketones (acids and byproducts of fat metabolism) in the blood.
Since a diabetic dog does not have enough sugar to be metabolized for energy, fats are instead metabolized leading to ketone build-up.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is life-threatening and has to be treated immediately.
Dogs with diabetic ketoacidosis shows symptoms such as:
- Rapid breathing
- Breath with odor of acetone (smells like nail polish remover)
Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs
Diabetes in dogs is managed long term by daily injections of insulin and through dietary control.
Depending on the extent of pancreatic failure, the amount of insulin needed is different from one diabetic dog to another.
The insulin needs of the individual dog are determined by collecting small blood samples for glucose levels every 1-2 hours for 12-24 hours. This is called an insulin-glucose-response curve.
After a week of insulin treatment, the dog will have to return to the clinic for another blood test so that a new insulin-glucose-response curve is obtained. Adjustments regarding dosage and timing of injections are then made.
In general, small dogs need insulin injections more frequently, usually twice daily. Large breed dogs may only require one dose of insulin daily.
Oral hypoglycemic agents are not effective in dogs because of poor absorption.
Insulin needs are closely related to the type of food eaten by the dog.
Canned and dry kibble foods that have high fiber and complex carbohydrates concentrations are recommended for diabetic dogs, since the two components allow for slow food absorption and can minimize blood sugar fluctuation after meals.
As a result, the chance of hyperglycemia occurring is reduced.
Obesity greatly reduces tissue responsiveness to insulin and makes diabetes difficult to control, so if your dog is overweight, he needs to be placed on a weight-reducing diet.
As the pet loses weight, less insulin will be needed. To prevent severe hyperglycemia after eating, ration the food into equal portions and feed your dog 2 to 3 times a day, offered prior to the insulin injections.
It is essential that your diabetic dog be fed and injected with insulin at the same times each day.
Here is a natural supplement that is very effective in improving the production and bio-availability of insulin for diabetic dogs:
This supplement contains herbs (e.g. bilberry, fenugreek, burdock) that can help maintain and support the health of the pancreas so that its function to produce insulin is maintained.
In addition to its effectiveness in balancing sugar levels, this supplement is a health tonic which supports the immune system, and promotes digestive and cardiovascular health.
Beware of Insulin Overdose
An overdose of insulin causes the blood sugar level to drop significantly below normal, resulting in a condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
Insulin overdose may be the result of using the wrong syringe, changing the type of insulin, or improper administration.
Hypoglycemia is an emergency and should be handled quickly.
See our page on Hypoglycemia in Dogs for symptoms and treatment.