Dog Diabetes – What Does This Diagnosis Mean For My Dog?

Just like you and I, our furry companions can develop the life changing condition known as diabetes.

Not only can this condition deeply impact their overall health, but it will require quite a few lifestyle changes going forward.

So what is diabetes in dogs, and what does this diagnosis mean for your pup?

In this article we will dive into the details of diabetes mellitus in dogs, and help you better understand how you can support your pup going forward.

Dog Diabetes - What Does This Diagnosis Mean For My Dog

What Is Diabetes In Dogs?

Diabetes mellitus in dogs is a condition that develops as a result of insufficient function of the pancreas.

The pancreas is responsible for producing beta cells, which produce the insulin that helps to regulate blood sugar levels in the body.

When a dog has diabetes mellitus, this means their pancreas is failing to produce the insulin needed to properly regulate the glucose within the body.

If there is not enough insulin being produced, this leads to high glucose (blood sugar) levels in the bloodstream.

To better understand why diabetes is such a serious complication in dogs, it’s important to understand the roles of both glucose and insulin.

Glucose, or blood sugar, is essentially the fuel that gives our cells energy.

Glucose travels throughout the body through our bloodstream, providing fuel wherever it lands.

Insulin, on the other hand, is the hormone that is in charge of delivering the glucose to its end location.

Insulin tells the cells when they should grab the passing glucose, acting as the body’s gatekeeper for fuel.

When the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to carry out the system we described above, this leads to an excessive buildup of glucose within the bloodstream.

Not only will the cells not receive fuel as they normally would, but this can lead to serious health complications over time.

The cells within a dog’s body are essentially starved of the energy needed to carry out basic tasks, so the body must resort to breaking down other fats and protein for energy.

This process can damage multiple body systems over time, ranging from eventual kidney failure to heart damage.

Diabetes can develop as a result of insufficient insulin production from the pancreas (this is the most common form), or can develop when the body is not able to properly utilize the insulin that is present (less common, but is seen in overweight dogs).

Why Do Dogs Get Diabetes?

Diabetes can develop in any furry friend, but there are a few factors that put a dog at risk.

Ranging from age to overall health status, some dogs are simply more prone to developing this condition than others.

Some of the most common traits that have been tied to diabetes mellitus in dogs include:

Weight

Obesity is one of the most common factors that contribute to diabetes in dogs for two reasons.

Excess weight can make a dog more at risk of developing insulin resistance, and can also cause them to suffer from pancreatitis at some point.

Pancreatitis can cause lasting damage to the pancreas, making it more challenging for the body to produce insulin.

Age

Diabetes is most common in dogs 5 years and older.

There are some rare cases that develop at a younger age, but this is typically a disease that plagues senior dogs. 

Underlying Conditions

Some medical conditions such as chronic pancreatitis and Cushing’s disease can cause damage to the pancreas, increasing a dog’s chance of developing diabetes down the line.

Steroid Use

Long term steroid use can create high levels of glucose within the body over time, leading to diabetes in some cases.

Though this is often cured when stopping the use of steroids, it is a possibility to keep in mind.

Sex

Diabetes can occur in a dog of any sex, but it is most common in females, especially intact females.

While there is no direct explanation of how a dog develops diabetes, the factors listed above show you the many pathways to a diabetes diagnosis in our canine friends.

In most cases, diabetes can be prevented when sterilizing your dog at an appropriate age, helping them maintain a healthy weight, tending to underlying health conditions as they develop, and maintaining a close relationship with your vet.

What Are The Symptoms Of Diabetes In Dogs?

When a dog is first diagnosed with diabetes, there are usually a few common symptoms displayed at home that led to their vet appointment.

Every case will vary based on how severe their case is, but there are a few signs and symptoms associated with diabetes mellitus in dogs.

Some of the most common symptoms of diabetes in our canine friends include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss

Each of the symptoms above are a direct reflection of the body’s inability to access the fuel needed to power the cells.

Weight loss is a result of the body having to breaking down fat cells, increased urination is the body’s attempt to flush excess glucose from the body, excessive thirst is the body trying to make up for this loss of fluids, while increased appetite is the body trying to take in the energy it is deprived of.

While the above symptoms are most common in dogs with diabetes, there are a few symptoms that are often displayed in the later stages of diabetes.

Dogs with late stage or improperly managed diabetes may experience anorexia, lethargy, vomiting, and decreased stamina, and cataract development.

Each of the symptoms discussed should be taken seriously in our canine friends, and should always warrant an immediate trip to the vet.

Diagnosing Diabetes In Dogs

If your vet suspects diabetes in your canine companion, there is a standard approach to accurately diagnosing the condition.

First, they will gather a detailed history on your dog’s daily behavior at home.

They will ask about urinary habits, diet habits, and any other questions that could help them create a detailed medical history.

Next, your vet will typically suggest performing both urinary and blood diagnostics.

If excessive levels of glucose are present in the blood and urine, this will help them come to the diagnosis of diabetes in your pup.

They will also search for any evidence of ketones in your dog’s urine as well, as this can be a sign of diabetic ketoacidosis in your pup.

DKA is a life-threatening condition that develops as a result of unmanaged diabetes, and will require intensive care in the hospital to resolve.

Treating Diabetes In Dogs

Diabetes in dogs can be managed with daily insulin injections and a close relationship with your veterinarian.

To help you better understand the treatment options available to your dog, let’s break it down by time of diagnosis to long term management.

Stabilizing Your Dog

When your dog is first diagnosed with diabetes at your vet’s office, your dog may first need to stay in the hospital to figure out the best plan of action going forward.

This is due to needing to perform a glucose curve to determine the best insulin dose for your dog going forward, and to correct your dog’s current diabetic crisis.

If your dog is currently experiencing a medical crisis due to their diabetes, such as DKA, they will often require anywhere from 3 to 5 days in the hospital.

Standard glucose curves may only involve 24-48 hours in the hospital, or some vets may even feel comfortable with doing this on an outpatient basis.

A glucose curve is performed by measuring your dog’s blood sugar after meals, and determining what dose of insulin brings them into a normal glucose range.

Every dog is different, so it is never a one size fits all approach when determining their best insulin dose.

You will likely have to come to your vet’s office multiple times in the first few months of their diagnosis to make sure they are responding appropriately to treatment.

Long Term Management

Once your vet has determined the best plan of action for your pup, your dog will often be managed with twice daily insulin injections, as well as a strict diet plan going forward.

Your vet will likely prescribe a diabetic diet that your dog enjoys most, and will advise you to never offer any food outside of their approved diet.

The success of daily insulin injections depends on a stable and unchanging diet, meaning it is important to never stray away from their diet plan.

Your vet will either suggest regular check ups going forward to monitor their glucose levels, or may even prescribe an at home glucometer to monitor your pup’s situation on your own.

Every case will vary, so it’s best to follow your vet’s guidance going forward.

It’s also important to inform your vet of any changes in your dog’s health or behavior going forward, as even the simplest health complication can send dogs into a diabetic crisis.

Even one round of minor GI upset is enough to throw off your dog’s progress, so we strongly advise pet owners to keep their vet in the loop at all times.

Preventing Diabetic Complications In Your Dog

If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, you may be curious as to how you can limit any potential complications going forward.

Every pup is different, but there are a few common suggestions when it comes to keeping your diabetic pup happy and healthy.

  • Only offer the dose of insulin that your veterinarian prescribes. Do not offer any more or less at any point without speaking to your vet first.
  • Always stick to the diet your vet recommends for your diabetic dog. If your dog stops enjoying their diet at any point, speak with your vet before switching to a new diet.
  • Only give your dog insulin AFTER they eat, never before.
  • If your dog stops eating for any reason, do not give their insulin until you speak to your vet. Insulin on an empty stomach can drop your dog’s blood sugar to a dangerous level. This is one of the most common diabetic complications we see in the emergency hospital.
  • If your dog is showing any signs of illness, diabetes related or not, always speak with your veterinarian. Even minor illnesses can impact your dog’s progress, so it’s important to always keep your vet in the loop.

By following the suggestions we mentioned above, you can offer your diabetic dog the best chance at success!

What If A Dog Does Not Receive Treatment For Diabetes?

Managing diabetes in your dog can be a cost commitment, leading some owners to wonder what will happen if they don’t address their dog’s diabetes immediately.

Some owners just cannot afford to keep up with monthly insulin prescriptions, leading them to shy away from treatment going forward.

This happens, and simply means you need to be aware of the signs of a dog suffering in their condition.

If a dog’s diabetes is unmanaged, they will enter a diabetic crisis at some point.

The time frame will vary in each dog, so it’s best to look out for any sign of suffering to know when it’s time to say goodbye.

Some of the signs that it may be time to say goodbye to your dog with diabetes include drastic weight loss, anorexia, vomiting, chronic infections, weakness, and neurological symptoms.

If at any point you think your pup is struggling, it may be time to discuss quality of life with your veterinarian.

If you are looking for more advice on when it may be time to say goodbye to your dog with diabetes, you can review our article on the topic here.

Life Expectancy Of Diabetes In Dogs

When a dog is diagnosed with diabetes early on and is well-managed with daily insulin, they can go on to live a full life with few medical complications.

Many cases of diabetes in dogs will just require extra care on our part, but it does not necessarily cut back on your dog’s ability to live a long life.

A close relationship with your veterinarian can increase the likelihood of a healthy future in your pup, and cut down on any risks associated with the condition.

The prognosis is a bit more guarded if your dog is not well-managed by daily insulin injections, has gone into DKA at any point, or has any underlying medical conditions in addition to their diabetes.

If this is the case with your furry friend, we suggest speaking with your vet about their opinion on life expectancy.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, diabetes is just as serious in dogs as it is in humans.

Be sure to review the information we discussed above, and you can best help your canine friend going forward.

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