Sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) is a common hormonal disease in dogs. It is the result of a dog’s pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin.
Insulin enables glucose to pass into cells. The cells metabolize the glucose to produce energy. Diabetes mellitus therefore makes the dog’s body less efficient in metabolizing sugar. This results 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 diabetes in dogs is Type II IDDM.
Diabetes affects all breeds of dogs, but some breeds seem to have a higher risk of developing the disease. For example:
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Labrador Retrievers
- Miniature Schnauzers
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 dog breeds are more prone to diabetes.
- Obesity: Similar to people, dogs who are overweight are more susceptible 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, dogs with diabetes show these hallmark symptoms:
- 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
Problems Resulting from Diabetes
Without treatment, 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, without treatment, 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 for energy, the body metabolizes fats instead. This leads to ketone build-up.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is life-threatening and dogs with this condition should get treatment 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
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. The only treatment is daily injections of insulin for life and through dietary control.
Depending on the extent of pancreatic failure, insulin needs are different from one diabetic dog to another.
To determine the insulin needs of an individual dog, the vet will collect 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 return to the clinic for another blood test, so that the vet can obtain a new insulin-glucose-response curve. The vet can then make adjustments regarding dosage and timing of injections.
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.
The diet of a diabetic dog can closely affect his insulin needs.
Diabetic dogs should have a higher fiber diet with higher complex carbohydrate concentrations. These two components allow for slow food absorption and can minimize blood sugar fluctuation after meals.
This can reduce the chance of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar level) occurring.
Obesity greatly reduces tissue responsiveness to insulin and makes diabetes difficult to control. So, if your dog is overweight, he needs a weight-reducing diet.
As the dog loses weight, he will need less insulin. To prevent severe hyperglycemia after eating, ration the food into equal portions. Feed your dog 2 to 3 times a day, offered prior to the insulin injections.
It is essential that you feed your diabetic dog and inject him 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. As a result, the pancreas can better maintain its function to produce insulin.
In addition, this supplement is a health tonic which supports the immune system. It also promotes digestive and cardiovascular health.
Beware of Insulin Overdose
An overdose of insulin causes the blood sugar level to drop significantly below normal. This can cause 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 you need to take quick action to save the dog.
See our page on Hypoglycemia in Dogs for symptoms and treatment.