Diabetes mellitus most often affects middle aged or older dogs, and is the most common metabolic disorder of dogs. About one in 200 pet dogs are estimated to develop the condition. Females are affected twice as often as males. Although any dog can develop disease, there appears to be an increased incidence in Beagles, Cairn Terriers, Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Miniature Schnauzers, Keeshonden, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Doberman Pinschers.
Dogs & Diabetes
Common signs pointing to canine diabetes include:
- Increased appetite
- weight loss
- increased thirst
- increased urination, or sticky urine
- breaks in house-training
- sudden blindness (from cataracts)
- breath that smells like nail polish remover
WHY DOGS GET DIABETES
There are two kinds of diabetes that affect dogs. Type I (insulin dependent) happens when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, a hormone that makes it possible to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream into the cells for energy. Type II diabetes happens when the dog’s body can’t use the insulin produced by the pancreas. Even though affected dogs process food into glucose, the diabetic animal is unable to use this energy and slowly starves.
Insulin resistance is often seen in dogs suffering from hyperadrenocorticism (also called Cushing’s Disease). It can result from overuse of steroid drugs. Body fat also can suppress insulin function, which means obesity doubles, triples or quadruples risk for diabetes. Damage to the pancreas also can cause the disease.
HOW DIABETES CAUSES SYMPTOMS
Since the glucose produced by digested food can’t be used, the blood levels of glucose get higher and higher. The dog’s still hungry, so she eats more and more, creating a vicious cycle. Eventually, all that sugar ends up in the urine, which in turn pulls more and more water out of the dog’s body. That increases urine volume.
Increased urination makes the dog thirsty, so she drinks more and more water—which adds to urine volume. That’s why the first sign you’ll likely see is your dog needing to go outside more, or even a break in house training. Eventually, dogs start to lose weight from their body being unable to use the glucose for energy. Finally, since the body can’t use glucose, it instead starts to burn its own tissues for energy (ketoacidosis), creating a destructive process that can ultimately result in coma and death.
DIAGNOSING & TREATING DIABETES IN DOGS
Diagnosis is based on the signs of disease, along with evaluation of the blood and urine. Sugar and sometimes acetone in the urine along with a high blood sugar indicate diabetes mellitus. Pet owners are the first line of defense, and should contact the veterinarian as soon as one or more of the signs are noticed.
Diabetes mellitus cannot be cured, but in most dogs, it can be controlled. Treatment addresses any complications of the disease, and replaces the insulin the dog’s body cannot provide. Management is accomplished more easily in some patients than in others, however.
Dogs suffering from Type II (non-insulin dependent) diabetes mellitus improve when fed high fiber diets. These diets appear to reduce insulin requirements and also help overweight dogs lose weight. High fiber diets help relieve the surge of glucose that increases insulin requirements shortly after eating certain foods, and are helpful in any dog that suffers from diabetes mellitus. Most dogs with the condition, though, also require insulin injections.
All Dogs Are Different
The trick is to find the right type and amounts of insulin, balanced with proper diet and exercise. The mixture most appropriate for your dog’s condition must be determined by your veterinarian. Typically, the dog’s blood and urine glucose levels are monitored for several days, and hospitalization is often required to obtain these baseline readings. Even then, adjustments to the dose may be necessary, and the dog should be reevaluated by your veterinarian two or three times a year.
Dog owners usually become quite adept at giving their dogs insulin injections once the dosage has been determined by a veterinarian. Most dogs require twice daily beneath-the-skin injections. In addition to insulin, how often and how much the dog is fed and exercised influence treatment success. Too much or not enough of either may cause problems. Therefore, the diabetic dog’s diet and exercise must remain constant, with regularly scheduled feedings, and no unauthorized snacks or romps.
DEADLY COMPLICATIONS, KNOW THE SIGNS!
Diabetic coma may result if not enough or too much insulin is given, if the dog doesn’t eat on schedule or exercises too much, or if the insulin has expired and isn’t effective. The dog loses consciousness, and can’t be roused. This is an emergency that your veterinarian must address.
Too much insulin can cause insulin reaction, referred to as hypoglycemia. Symptoms include:
- Head tilt.
In the case of hypoglycemia, giving the dog a glucose source, such as Karo syrup or honey, should reverse signs within five to fifteen minutes. Then get your dog to the veterinarian immediately.