Diabetes in dogs is an incurable disease of the pancreas. It is estimated that roughly one in every five hundred dogs will contract diabetes at some point in their life. Fortunately, while the symptoms of an undiagnosed case can be serious, most dogs these days live a long and healthy life when provided with appropriate care.
What is Diabetes in Dogs?
Insulin is a hormone, responsible for transporting sugars (in the form of glucose) together with other essential substances such as lipids, into cells. In essence, insulin can be thought of as a postal service, ensuring that the cells that make up your dog’s body receive all the “parcels” they need to function smoothly.
In canine diabetes this system is disrupted, meaning that the cells suffer from a lack of supplies.
There are two recognized forms of diabetes mellitus. The first of these, known as Type I, results from a shortage of insulin being produced by the pancreas. In this form, it’s almost like there aren’t enough postmen to deliver all the parcels being dispatched.
The second, known as Type II, results from the bodies inefficiency or inability to use the insulin it is creating. This leads to an issue known as “insulin resistance”, and can be likened to lazy postmen who don’t read the addresses correctly, or just don’t bother delivering them.
In dogs, only one of these two forms have been identified; all diabetic dogs consequently suffer from Type I diabetes.
How Do Dogs Get Diabetes?
Veterinarians are still investigating the exact causes of diabetes in canines. What we do know is that it is not considered an infectious disease; just because one of your dogs contracts it, does not necessarily mean any others in close contact will.
It seems that certain breeds are far more likely to contact Type II diabetes. Small breeds are particularly at risk, with breeds like pugs, miniature and toy poodles, cairn terriers and bichon frises being particularly affected. Some larger breeds like Samoyeds are also regularly afflicted.
This affinity for certain breeds suggests a genetic pre-disposition, which may be passed on from mother to pup.
Additionally, female dogs and neutered males have a far greater incidence than entire males. Age also seems like a factor, with very few dogs under the age of one year suffering.
Lastly, overweight dogs are more likely to suffer.
The “poster child” of a typical diabetic dog would therefore be an obese, middle-aged, female poodle, though of course almost any dog can be affected.
The important thing to realize if your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes is that it is quite unlikely to be your fault. Apart from ensuring that your dog is not being overfed, there is little that can be done in advance to prevent the onset of diabetes.
What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?
At its most extreme level, diabetes in dogs can be a thoroughly debilitating disease. It can lead to blindness, coma and even death. The sooner that diabetes can be identified in your dog, the sooner treatment can begin. While remission is unlikely, an early diagnosis ensures minimal damage has been done, and gives your dog the best possible chance of a long and relatively normal life.
There are a number of symptoms seen in diabetic dogs. The following should all be seen as red flags, that should lead to a rapid veterinary visit:
Increased urination – As metabolites cannot make their way into the dogs cells, the concentration builds up. To compensate, many dogs urinate more frequently, in order to flush out their systems effectively. Note that in more severe cases this may lead to “accidents” around the home, even in well-trained dogs.
Increased thirst – Diabetes affects the flow of glucose around the body, but tends not to lead to dehydration. A dog that is urinating more than usual will often drink far more fluids to stay hydrated. If you find that your dog’s water bowl is being emptied much quicker than usual then this may be a clear sign that something is amiss.
Increased Appetite – Despite eating a healthy diet, the lack of sugar getting to cells can be reflected in a growing appetite. Quite simply, your dog is trying to eat more food, with a hope that these extra calories make up the difference.
Weight Loss – When the body cannot properly utilize or store the nutrients being consumed, weight loss can occur, even in cases when food intake has actually increased.
Lethargy – Lack of energy is quite common, as diabetes robs your dog of the compounds it needs to maintain his or her typical activity levels.
Loss of Sight – One of the most worrying symptoms of diabetes in dogs is the potential for loss of sight. Cataracts can arise swiftly – sometimes in just a day or two – leading to partial or total blindness. If you find that your dog seems to be banging into objects, or you notice his or her eyes have rapidly turned a “milky” colour, then this too may be a sign of diabetes.
Note that blindness caused by diabetes is not necessarily irreversible. In some cases, rapid action from an experienced vet can return your dog’s vision to normal.
How Is Diabetes Diagnosed in Dogs?
Diabetes is quite simple to diagnose in household pets. Typically a blood or urine sample is taken, and this is then tested for blood-sugar levels. This is a simple and quick test, which will definitively diagnose diabetes in your dog.
How is Diabetes Treated in Dogs?
There are a number of different treatments which can be very effective for canine diabetes. The first of these, as with humans, is regular insulin injections. These may be given once or more per day, though the correct dosing is critical.
In many cases your dog will be admitted to the vets for observation. Following a tried-and-tested process your vet will then monitor blood sugar levels in response to insulin provision, in order to deduce the optimal dosage for your pet.
Thereafter you will be able to take your dog home, and administer the treatment yourself. This is nowhere near as bad as some pet owners assume; both the needle and the necessary dose are small, and normally both pet and owner soon get used to the routine. Many dogs show little to no discomfort, and live out happy, healthy lives for years to come.
Note: Extra thought must be given to diabetic dogs in terms of kennelling. If you plan to leave your dog behind when you go on holiday, be sure to check that they have experience in dealing with diabetics.
In terms of medication, regular insulin injections are the answer. However, there are also a number of behavioural changes that can be made. Firstly, overweight dogs tend to suffer more, so under such circumstances a veterinary-monitored weight loss regime is wise.
Gentle exercise seems to have a positive impact, so be sure to seek veterinary advice on the matter. In many cases, vets will advise you to continue with your standard walking regime, rather than pandering to your dog’s lazier side.
Lastly, consider splitting your dog’s food into a number of smaller meals. The result of this is more frequent ingestion of nutrients, giving your dog’s digestive system more opportunities to absorb them. Two feeds per day, spread 12 hours apart, is a common recommendation.
Whatever your vet suggests it is important to follow their guidelines closely, and to report anything which concerns you. By following this advice closely you should be able to look forward to a long and pleasant relationship with your pet.