Diabetes can affect many animals, including dogs, cats, horses and pigs, as well as humans. It is a chronic illness that can’t be cured, however, it can be managed, allowing your dog to carry on enjoying their life and doing the things they love.
The type of diabetes most often seen in dogs is sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus), which is a disorder with their metabolism that affects how they convert food into energy. Understanding what diabetes in dogs can cause and how to spot the signs can ensure that your pet gets the treatment they need as early as possible.
What is dog diabetes?
When a dog has diabetes, it means they can’t produce enough insulin to control their blood sugar level. This can mean their blood sugar gets dangerously high. Typically, diabetes is caused by the body mistaking its insulin-producing cells for something else, so it attacks and destroys them. It can also occur after a dog has had repeated bouts of pancreatitis.
Blood sugars are needed to provide energy to the cells around the body and insulin is needed to get the sugar into those cells. When a dog has diabetes and is not producing enough insulin, it means the sugar is unable to get into the cells and so stays on the blood. This can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels, as well as starving cells that need energy.
It is important that diabetes in dogs is treated as it is a very serious condition that can lead to death if left untreated.
What are the symptoms of diabetes in dogs?
Knowing the symptoms of diabetes in your dog can help ensure they get treatment as quickly as possible. The earlier you can get your dog treated for diabetes, the better chance they have of enjoying a long and healthy life.
Common early symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:
- Increased thirst
- Increased hunger
- Increased urination
- Weight loss
- Lethargy/low energy
If your dog’s diabetes isn’t treated, it can result in a more serious condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is when ketones build up in the body because cells haven’t been able to get energy from blood sugars. Symptoms of DKA include:
- Sweet smell breath (often described as smelling like pear drops or nail polish remover). Although only some people can smell ketones.
- Not eating/no appetite
- Low energy
- Looking unsteady on their feet
If your dog is showing signs of DKA, you should get them emergency treatment by contacting your vet straight away, especially if your dog has already been diagnosed with diabetes or has shown other diabetes symptoms.
How is diabetes in dogs diagnosed?
Diabetes in dogs can be diagnosed by blood and urine tests, so the process is fairly simple. If your dog has any of the symptoms of diabetes and you are taking them to the vet, you may be instructed to collect a fresh urine sample to take with you.
How is diabetes in dogs treated?
If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, they will need to be treated for the condition for the rest of their life. Treatment takes effect fairly quickly, so they should be feeling better within a week or two and be back to themselves once they have stabilised.
Treating diabetes in dogs involves insulin injections, controlled feeding and controlled exercise – all of which will soon become routine. Their insulin injections will need to be administered twice a day, 12 hours apart. This should be at set times and within an hour of feeding, usually just before or even as your dog is eating.
Although it is important to be consistent with the treatment of Diabetes, there is also some flexibility in the dosing and feeding. It can seem overwhelming to have to do everything at the exact time every day. Aim for 80% perfection and for the remaining 20% of injections and feeding to be within an hour or two of the usual time.
Your vet will be able to fully instruct you on how to give the injections and will be able to give you advice on how to make it as stress-free as possible.
Controlled feeding is also important as you need to ensure your dog’s blood sugar levels stay as steady as possible. As such, you will need to feed them twice a day, 12 hours apart. You’ll also need to ensure they have the same food every day and the same amount.
It’s important that they aren’t given treats between meals, or they are kept to a minimum and are very low calorie, such as carrots. as this can cause their blood sugar to rise. Similarly, some foods are better for dogs with diabetes as they allow for a slow release of sugar, which keeps your dog’s sugar levels steadier.
When exercising your diabetic dog, you’ll need to make sure they are getting the same amount of exercise at set times each day. This is because exercise uses up blood sugar, so getting too much exercise or not enough in a day can affect their blood sugar levels.
If you have any questions about how best to look after your diabetic dog, your vet will be able to talk through all the options with you and ensure you have all the support you need.