Diabetes can affect dogs and other pets much the same as humans. It’s a chronic disease with no cure; however, with proper care, it can be easily managed.
Modern medicine has evolved enough to give dogs with diabetes a better chance of living a long and healthy life.
We at FeedFond are here to guide you on all there is to know about diabetes in dogs. This complete guide will help you identify signs of diabetes in dogs and take some of the necessary steps.
But first, we have to understand a common definition: what is diabetes?
Contents & Quick Navigation
- Diabetes in Dogs
- Types of Diabetes in Dogs
- Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis
- Other Side-Effects Due to Diabetes
- Risk Factors for Diabetes in Dogs
- Breeds Prone to Diabetes
- Common Complications Due to Diabetes
- Proper Medicine
- Proper Food for Treating Dogs with Diabetes
- Proper Exercise for Diabetic Dogs
- Life Expectancy
- Monitoring and Managing Diabetes in Dogs
- Success Stories
Diabetes in Dogs
Diabetes Mellitus (commonly known as “sugar diabetes”) is often seen in dogs. This metabolism disorder occurs when the dog’s body is unable to produce the required amount of insulin to break down food.
Metabolism is a process when food is broken down into energy. This can also happen when a dog’s cells fail to use insulin.
Trivia: Mellitus in Latin means “honey sweet” in reference to the high sugar levels present in the urine and blood.
What Happens When Your Dog is Diabetic?
In layman terms—body cells, both human and animal—needs a sugar called glucose to function. Glucose is gathered from food by breaking down carbohydrates. The hormone “insulin”—produced by an organ called the pancreas—helps extract glucose from the blood.
In sugar diabetes, the cells stop taking in the glucose and are starved. The glucose-filled sugary blood surrounds the organs and starts damaging them.
The elevated high blood sugar level is known as “hypoglycemia” where the cells cannot utilize the insulin naturally. When left untreated, it can cause a myriad of health problems.
Today, one in 300 dogs are diagnosed with diabetes—mostly senior and middle-aged dogs. The number of affected dogs has tripled since 1970. But we’re happy to say that many diabetic dogs are living a healthy life despite the alarming figures.
Types of Diabetes in Dogs
Let’s begin with what we know about diabetes in general. Humans are exposed to three types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. The most common amongst them is type 2.
Type 1 diabetes takes place when the body’s immune system attacks the beta cells (which produce the insulin in the pancreas) and destroy them. The reason behind this attack is believed to be due to a certain combination of the genes. But there is ongoing research that suggests it can be due to a trigger.
Type 2 diabetes is when the beta cells (present in the pancreas) fail to make enough insulin for the body. As a result, blood sugar levels climb up to dangerous levels. A case where the muscle cells resist insulin and don’t take enough glucose is also classified as type 2 diabetes.
And finally, gestational diabetes happens during pregnancy and is caused by hormonal changes.
Many believe that dogs are generally subject to Type 1 diabetes, but this is technically wrong.
There are no “types” that classify diabetes in dogs. UK’s Royal Veterinary College classified diabetes in dogs in two forms: Insulin-Deficiency Diabetes (IDD) and Insulin-Resistance Diabetes (IRD). None of them match any known human type diabetes.
#1. Insulin-Deficiency Diabetes (IDD)
In dogs, with Insulin-Deficiency Diabetes the dog loses the beta cells which create insulin in the pancreas. The glucose levels increase and they require external insulin to keep the blood-sugar in the blood balanced.
In IDD, the beta cells are attacked and destroyed by the immune system. Other reasons include genetic defects in the dog and inflammation of the pancreas. This is the most common form of diabetes amongst dogs.
#2. Insulin-Resistance Diabetes (IRD)
In Insulin-Resistance Diabetes, the dog’s body produces insulin, but the cells are not utilizing or responding to it. Insulin acts as a key to open a passage that allows glucose to pass into the cell. In this case, the produced insulin isn’t working properly.
Some of the reasons for IRD are pregnancy, endocrine diseases, and steroid treatments. In dogs, most commonly, dioestrus (a period of sexual inactivity between recurrent periods) can also cause insulin resistance.
In terms of hormones, diabetes closely resembles pregnancy and closely bears a resemblance to human gestational diabetes.
This is why it is said that dogs most commonly incur Type-1 (Insulin-Deficiency Diabetes) because of the similarity with human Type-1 diabetes.
If your dog has Insulin-Dependent Diabetes, they will require regular insulin injection to keep their glucose level balanced. Type-2 or IRD is mostly seen in cats.
Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis
Diabetes can be a silent disease. If you take your dog for regular checkups, the veterinarian may find it through routine blood tests. Other than that, diabetes can sneak up on your dog.
Still, there are some signs and symptoms which will let you know that your dog might have diabetes.
Look Out for the Following Signs:
- Increased Urination
- Increased Hunger
- Weight Loss
- Excessive Thirst
- Fruity Breath
Diagnosis of Diabetes in Dogs:
A simple blood test is required to measure your dog’s glucose level. This is the most efficient way to test for diabetes.
You have to remember that a high glucose level doesn’t always mean diabetes and the veterinarian may run additional tests to make sure.
After the initial diagnosis, you should let your veterinarian test and get a “serial blood glucose–concentration curve”. This test is done by measuring the dog’s glucose level over several hours.
This test will allow the vet to set a precise amount of insulin required daily and prescribe the appropriate dose and schedule.
The treatment will require regular testing to ensure it’s effectiveness. A fructosamine test will show the average control of your dog’s glucose level over the past one to three weeks. And a glycated hemoglobin test will show the effects of the insulin treatment of the past two to four months.
Most people think a simple blood glucose test will determine the diabetes level.
In reality, the test just shows the glucose levels at that exact moment; extensive testing is required to get detailed information for long-term treatment.
Other Side-Effects Due to Diabetes
If you are late in catching your dog’s diabetes, there are some signs that tend to be more noticeable.
An advanced diabetes case will include the following:
- Loss of Appetite
- Lack of Energy
- Depressed Attitude
- Chronic Skin Infections
Although there are various causes that may lead to these symptoms, the chances of your dog having diabetes are very high if they show one or more of these signs, so do get them checked out.
Risk Factors for Diabetes in Dogs
Risk factors for diabetes are a vital thing that should be kept in mind.
Common factors aiding the disorder are:
autoimmune disease, obesity, chronic pancreatitis, genetics, certain medications and irregular protein deposits in the pancreas.
A detailed explanation of what each does is given below.
Diabetes can happen at any age, but it mostly affects middle-aged to senior dogs. Most commonly dogs above the age of 5 develop diabetes.
Neutered male and unspayed female dogs are at high risk of getting diabetes. The risk factor is almost twice than that of an intact male dog.
Autoimmunity disease is when the body sees some of its own cells and tissues as foreign particles and attacks them. In diabetes, the immune system attacks the pancreas and destroys the insulin-producing beta cells.
Autoimmunity can be triggered by a number of things which include:
- Antibiotic drugs
- Various toxins (e.g. heavy metal, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, mold, etc)
- Food allergies
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Irritable bowel disease
4. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
GMOs can be loosely defined as any living organism whose genetic structure has been changed through the use of modern biotechnology. They are widely used in the production of many medications and genetically altered food, especially in corn and soy that are found in kibble.
Glyphosate and Bt toxins are common GMOs present in crops at very high levels—both are highly toxic and dangerous.
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin is a bacteria that produces a type of protein toxic to insects.
These toxins kill worms and larvae that harm the crops. As the toxin comes from a living organism, it’s considered organic in nature and most farmers use it.
When the dog eats a food that has the Bt toxin, he will have it inside his digestive system for the rest of his life.
They mix with the stomach bacteria and can continue over generations as a pregnant mother can pass along the toxin through the placenta. It’s a vicious toxin that creates endocrine disrupting chemicals.
N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine, a.k.a glyphosate, was created to prevent damage to the crops. It’s a broad-ranged herbicide used to destroy unwanted vegetation. The goal was to create cheap crops with minimal losses.
However, weeds and crop-eating insects are excellent adapting to the environment. They became resistant to the GMOs and started to grow alongside crops, unaffected.
To fight the unwanted vegetation, farmers poured more herbicides to kill the bugs and weeds.
The chemicals used in crops are in the food—both ours and dog’s—and they can’t be washed off.
These toxins cause oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. DNA damage is also very likely to happen. That’s why it’s very important to eat and feed your dog as much as organic food possible.
Inflammation in the body indicates there’s a healing process going on in the area. The process gathers immune cells (white blood cells) and removes dead and unwanted tissue to fight off infections.
Some of the factors resulting in inflammation are:
- Foods, like sugar and gluten
- Body fat
Inflammation is very dangerous when it gets out of hand. If it does, it can cause pancreatitis, autoimmune disease, intestinal permeability (leaky gut) and various other chronic diseases.
Obesity is one of the leading cause of diabetes. It’s unfortunate that many veterinary specialists don’t take it seriously.
Research shows that more than 50% dogs in the USA are overweight. Besides diabetes, obesity can cause heart disease, skin problems, arthritis and other diseases.
Fat cells in the body discharge hormones that promote inflammation. This contributes huge risk factors to both pancreatitis and diabetes.
It’s important to know that proper food and exercise can have a huge effect on a dog’s chances of becoming diabetic.
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The pancreas plays a vital part in the body’s digestive system and produces hormones that control the blood sugar level.
In dogs, the organ is located behind the stomach and the small intestine. A study shows that 25% of diabetic dogs are diagnosed with pancreatitis.
In pancreatitis, the insulin-producing beta cells inside get destroyed by the immune system. This results in no insulin being produced in the body and no glucose (and other important stuff) gets in the blood cells.
Pancreatitis is most commonly associated in dogs with a high-fat diet.
Chronic pancreatic conditions are the worst possible scenario, but there are one-time situations which can be damaging too. It’s best to monitor your dog’s fat intake.
Besides GMOs, there are many other toxins which can increase the chances of a dog getting diabetes. The most common of is endocrine-disrupting chemicals and molds.
BPA and Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Bisphenol A or BPA, in short, is an industrial chemical that’s used to make plastics and resins.
BPA directly acts on pancreatic cells, disrupting the insulin-making process. This chemical is also closely linked to obesity and cancer.
Aflatoxin and other Molds
Certain molds produce a poisonous carcinogen called aflatoxin, which grows on soils. This toxin has led to serious illness for many pets, even death.
Acquiring aflatoxin-free corn is almost impossible. This corn is used in animal food, but might be too moldy for humans. Fish and meat can also be tainted by this mold.
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Vaccines are important, but they are best given to puppies which will protect them for life. When vaccinations are given they bypass the immune system. However, unnecessary vaccinations will create more antibodies and will leave your dog open to chronic diseases, including diabetes.
Diet doesn’t necessarily cause diabetes, however, it opens up your dog to many other factors that cause risk. Inflammation, pancreatitis, autoimmune diseases, metabolic syndrome and obesity are common problems related to diet.
Check out our diet guide found later in the article. We will discuss the usefulness of proper diet later in the article below.
11. Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic Syndrome is a group of conditions which includes high cholesterol, excess body fat, blood, and sugar pressure.
A recent study shows that besides humans, dogs are also at risk of these conditions.
Experts agree that the problem can be solved with weight loss; however, as obesity and the metabolic syndrome go hand-in-hand, it’s unclear if diabetes causes metabolic syndrome or vice versa.
Breeds Prone to Diabetes
Mostly middle-aged and senior dogs are affected by diabetes. It is one of the most common endocrine diseases in dogs; however, you will hardly see it in puppies because it rarely occurs in dogs under the age of one.
A study published in a renowned veterinary journal in 2003 showed that mixed-breed dogs are more likely to incur diabetes than purebred dogs; and even among pure breeds, the level of susceptibility varies significantly.
Common Complications Due to Diabetes
Uncontrolled diabetes opens up many avenues to major threats to a dog’s health. These diseases damage the body severely—early detection and proper treatment are essential.
Here are some of the major complications caused by diabetes:
Like humans, dogs are also susceptible to getting Diabetic Cataracts—the clouding of the lens of the eye. Within just 6-16 months of diagnosis, over 80% of canines develop cataracts.
The chances of dogs getting cataracts also increases with a dog’s age. It doesn’t matter how controlled the blood sugar level is—well-cared and controlled dogs are also susceptible.
Cautions and Remedies
Surgery is the only option to save dogs from blindness. There are fewer complications and greater success in operations when cataracts are caught in the early stages.
Hypermature cataracts create uveitis (inflammation), which causes pain, redness in the eyes, and pupil constriction.
There is a 95% chance of success if there is no pre-surgical inflammation contrasting to the rate dropping down to 50% with the presence of inflammation.
Phacoemulsification (modern cataract surgery) is the preferred process to remove the cloudy lens. An artificial lens is then placed after surgery in place of the operated one.
Cataracts are the most common ocular disorders in diabetic dogs.
There are other complications such as low corneal sensitivity and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye).
Did you know that humans and dogs share similar diabetic complications risks?
2. Diabetic Nephropathy
Diabetic nephropathy is a kidney problem which occurs in 40% humans. It’s conclusive to say that this disorder takes many years to develop; however, in dogs, the exact affected percentage is unknown as it’s more commonly seen in cats.
Cautions and Remedies
Early stages of high albumin levels in urine (hyper albuminuria) are seen in Diabetic Nephropathy. It’s closely followed by high blood pressure (hypertension) and an increased UPC (urine protein-to-creatinine) ratio. Chronic suffering from these effects may lead to kidney damage.
If the blood sugar levels are controlled in the early stages, damages may be reversed.
3. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
Urinary tract infections are very common in diabetic dogs. The reason lies with having high levels of blood sugar in the urine. The bladder, where urine is stored, makes an excellent breeding place for bacteria.
Cautions and Remedies
More than 50% of diabetic dogs tested positive for UTIs. Some were hidden and not detected with normal urinalysis. It is highly recommended that diabetic canines should be regularly tested for UTIs.
Treatment for urinary tract infections is an antibiotic that lasts 6-8 weeks.
4. Mouth and Gum Infections
Besides getting urinary tract infections, diabetic dogs are also prone to mouth and gum infections. When the blood sugar levels are high, the dental plaque gets seeded with bacteria which can attack internal organs. Mostly kidneys and heart are exposed to attack.
Cautions and Remedies
It’s best to brush your dog’s teeth regularly and get their gums cleaned and checked for infection.
5. Liver (Hepatic) Disease
Liver disease in diabetic canines happens from altered fat metabolism, caused by diabetes. More than 70% of diabetic dogs are diagnosed with high liver enzymes.
Cautions and Remedies
Ultrasound tests and biopsies should be done to test the primary and secondary hepatic disease stages.
6. Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
Studies show that over 23% of dogs with diabetes test positive with hyperadrenocorticism. Usually, parent canines develop this disease before the inception of diabetes—10% of the dogs have both.
Cautions and Remedies
The most common cause of this disease is a harmless tumor spreads throughout the body. Middle-aged and senior dogs are most seen with such diseases.
Unfortunately, there is no definitive diagnostic test for Cushing’s disease as there are many ways this disease can metastasize. Your vet will decide what test to run depending on the dog’s condition.
7. Hypothyroidism (An Underactive thyroid)
In case of Hypothyroidism, a glucose intolerance occurs which can lead to diabetes. However, an underperforming thyroid and Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism) don’t usually happen together.
The thyroid hormone deficiency may result in creating a resistance to insulin absorption.
Cautions and Remedies
It is important to remember that while receiving thyroid hormone replacement, insulin levels will also fluctuate. That is why proper adjustment of dosage must be done or else the dog might get severely hypoglycemic (low blood sugar). Make sure your dog’s vet keeps an eye on it.
It’s best to test for hyperadrenocorticism and hypothyroidism after a dog’s diabetes levels are controlled. If not, there is a high chance that their diabetic test results may vary or test results will be skewed.
8. Hyperlipidemia (genetic disorder)
Hyperlipidemia is another disorder related to diabetes. However, if the blood sugar levels are controlled, the situation usually improves.
As this genetic disorder is related to fat in the diet, the high triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood which your body uses for energy) in the blood can also be linked to Cushing’s Disease. This increases the chance of incurring acute pancreatitis.
Cautions and Remedies
Reducing fat intake in the diet will lower the triglyceride levels and prevent your diabetic dog from further complications.
Any insulin resistance disorder can be caused by corticosteroids (drug therapy), estrus (heat cycle), and other anti-insulin antibodies in addition to the above causes.
All insulin resistance should be investigated thoroughly with dogs who need multiple doses (1 unit or more) of insulin respective to per pound of body weight.
Ketoacidosis is a complication related to diabetes when a dog’s body produces high levels of blood acid called “ketones”. This condition generally develops when the body fails to produce enough insulin to balance the glucose level in the blood.
This “life-threatening” condition is commonly accompanied by lethargy, vomiting, rapid breathing, dehydration and a fruity breath. Any conditions such as stress, fasting, infection, recent surgery and underlying health condition combined with low insulin level will trigger this complication.
Cautions and Remedies
It is highly recommended that diabetic canine owners carry handy “Ketone testing sticks” and test their dog’s urine if any of the above symptoms occur. If the test comes positive, a veterinarian should be consulted urgently.
Besides the above complications, may other concurrent disorders can affect a diabetic dog. Other disorders include renal and liver insufficiency, cardiac insufficiency, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, extreme obesity, and cancer. These make diabetes itself very difficult to control.
Since there are many medicine labels with varying qualities, you should always focus on the treatment plan rather than the medicine labels.
Your effort in treating diabetes would be to keep the glucose level as close as possible to normal. It should be done so that they don’t develop further diabetes-related problems in the future.
When & How Should You Give Insulin Shots to Your Dog?
In general, diabetic canines need one/two shots of insulin daily, and it can be administered just before or after a meal.
Although experts say that it’s safer if the insulin is given beforehand, either way, make sure they eat—insulin without food would be highly unsafe.
There are many cases where people fail to follow insulin instructions. It’s one of the prime reasons why the proper effect is achieved.
It’s always a good idea to observe your vet when insulin is injected and later do the same with the doctor present. Then you’ll know if you’re doing it right or wrong.
After the regimen has begun, frequent monitoring is required to figure out whether or not the insulin is working properly.
The first few tests should be done weekly; when the dog is stable the tests can be three to six months apart.
Proper Food for Treating Dogs with Diabetes
For felines and humans—who have type 2 diabetes—proper diet plays an important role in its cause and treatment.
Many times a high-protein, low-carb diet along with a weight loss program is more than enough for a type 2 diabetic treatment.
But for dogs, who suffer from Insulin Deficiency Diabetes (similar to type-1), diet effects little to none. Rather, diet can actually affect many other risk factors.
It’s important to know what kinds of nutrients a dog needs.
There are six nutrient classes: proteins, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and water (most don’t count water, but it’s important!). The first three are sources of calories and will provide energy to your dog.
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Dogs are carnivores. They require meat to stay healthy. It’s the most expensive of all food classes and manufacturers try to put the least amount of protein as possible into their food.
A minimum of 30% protein is essential for a dog to minimize the risk of diabetes.
For overweight dogs, the amount should be normal and increased for underweight dogs. Keep the fat percentage low and refrain from feeding too many carbohydrates.
A dog doesn’t actually need carbohydrates. Manufactures use carbohydrates to hold the kibble together. Carbohydrates get broken down very fast into glucose and affect the blood sugar levels.
For dogs it’s better to choose carbs that have a low-glycemic index, meaning they will release glucose slowly and steadily. Common examples include some whole grain products and most fruits and vegetables, legumes and fructose.
You may want to include some carbohydrates in your dog’s food if you can keep the amount steady. It is the best way to keep insulin levels stable; however, sensitive stomach foods increase the blood sugar level, which is not recommended for diabetic dogs.
Many confuse fiber and carbohydrates as the same thing. In reality, fibers are indigestible carbs—they don’t contribute to any calories. Dogs don’t really need fiber in their diet, but it’s quite helpful.
Fiber slows the glucose release preventing any sort of unexpected damaging spike; however, a large amount of it will decrease the overall nutritional value of the diet.
A little fiber in a canine diet will make then feel full and help them lose weight.
It’s important to start adding fiber slowly to meals and feed plenty of water so that your dog doesn’t get constipated—nobody wants that.
Fat is an important part of the canine diet as it’s the basis of all hormones. However, fat increases the chances of pancreatitis, which ultimately leads diabetes.
As many homemade raw foods and raw frozen diets carry a lot of fat, it is recommended that you feed your dog extra portions of leafy green vegetables to balance the fat. This is a must do for overweight dogs or a breed that’s prone to diabetes.
The vegetables will increase the fiber content in the meal and will help keep the fat down.
Fats are not always bad.
Here are a few types of fat that you need to look out for.
- Omega-3 (need to be supplemented)
- Coconut Oil (should be used in moderation)
5. Other Additions
There are a few other additions such as antioxidants, probiotics, turmeric, berberine and digestive enzymes which will minimize the risk of diabetes in your dog.
Antioxidants prevent inflammation, degenerative disease, tissue damage and aging by fighting the free radicals in the body.
Tumeric is an excellent antioxidant which also helps beta cells in the pancreas regenerate.
Probiotics help the good bacteria in your dog’s stomach and keep the gut healthy. They also give a good boost to the body’s immune system.
Berberine can be found in Oregon grapes and it’s a long used herb in China for treating diabetes; however, it’s important to consult a holistic vet or herbalist before using it.
Digestive enzymes aid your dog to squeeze more nutrition from the food and reduce the burden to a compromised pancreas. They also help with the digestion.
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Proper Exercise for Diabetic Dogs
For humans with type-2 diabetes, exercise can be a blessing. It lowers the blood sugar and reduces the need for added insulin; however, in dogs, who have similar to type-1 diabetes, it can good or bad—too much exercise can lead to hypoglycemia.
Whenever you take your dog out for exercise, you should maintain proper fitness schedules.
Be consistent in exercising your diabetic dog and avoid unplanned strenuous activities.
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With proper care, a diabetic dog’s lifespan can be the same as any normal dog.
Studies show that the diabetic dogs of same age and gender have the same survival rates compared to non-diabetic dogs.
The biggest risk of a diabetic dog lies in the first six months when the glucose levels are regulated through insulin therapy.
However, they are safe once their condition is stabilized and with sufficient care, they go on leading a healthy and happy life.
Diabetic dogs are more at risk to kidney diseases, infection, and liver/pancreatic disorders. They are more likely to be killed by these than diabetes.
Monitoring and Managing Diabetes in Dogs
Untreated diabetes can cause comas and eventually, death, so careful monitoring is essential. For owners, it can be expensive, stressful and time-consuming. Many owners get overwhelmed by all that’s involved.
However, with a little bit of planning, you can easily avoid any complication and stress.
Your commitment to your furry friend is all that’s needed. Your vet will also help you with the planning.
Do not panic. Panicking will lead to mistakes which may be fatal for your dog. Many owners use a logbook, calendar entries or spreadsheets to keep track of everything.
While the routine to take care of your diabetic dog may be burdensome at first, you will get used to it with each passing day.
Diabetes is a challenge that can be successfully won over and you and your dog can enjoy a good, happy life beating this disorder every day.
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