Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes is a disease that can affect any dog. It occurs when your dog's body is unable to produce enough insulin, or effectively use the insulin it produces, to control blood sugar levels. This leads to damaging high blood sugar levels and often other health complications.

Luckily, whilst diabetes in dogs is incurable, it is reasonably easy to manage. The vast majority of dogs with diabetes will go on to lead full and happy lives.

What is diabetes in dogs?

Diabetes is a hormonal disease which is unfortunately incurable. Just as in human diabetes, there are two forms of the disease in dogs; type 1 and type 2. Both types are characterised by problems involving insulin, the hormone produced by the pancreas which helps to carry glucose around the body to fuel cells.

Type 1 diabetes is by far the most common form. Dogs with type 1 diabetes do not produce any insulin naturally, and so require regular insulin injections.

In type 2 diabetes, dogs can produce some insulin, but their body isn't able to use it properly. It is much rarer for a dog to have type 2, but it does happen.

Both types can affect any dog from the age of 18 months upwards, although it is most common in senior dogs, females, and neutered males. If left unmanaged, diabetes can cause several health problems and complications if your pup develops any other health conditions. 

What are the symptoms of diabetes in dogs?

Not all diabetic dogs will show symptoms of the disease, but often there are a few signs you can spot. The most common symptoms are:

  • Increased thirst (and subsequently increased urination)
  • A growth in appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss, despite eating the same as or even more than usual.
  • “Sweet” smelling breath
  • Low energy
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Cataracts, recognised by cloudy looking eyes

To diagnose diabetes your vet will carry out a blood and urine test to check for high levels of sugar (hyperglycaemia). High sugar levels could indicate that insulin is not directing glucose to the body's cells as it should.

High blood sugar can sometimes occur due to stress so your vet may want to repeat the test a few times over a number of weeks, especially if your dog hasn't displayed other symptoms.

What are the risks of diabetes in dogs?

Diabetes is not usually life threatening on its own but can lead to dangerous complications. If your dog has diabetes, he can’t access glucose to fuel his cells and so it can be difficult for their bodies to fight infections and other diseases without it. 

As unused glucose builds up in the blood stream it can cause damage to organs such as heart, kidneys, eyes, blood vessels and nerves. 

The most common risks associated with untreated diabetes are cataracts and urinary tract infections. A cataract is the clouding of the eye which develops slowly and can eventually lead to a complete loss of vision. However, whilst none of us want our four-legged friends to lose their sight, it is some comfort to know that blind dogs usually live very full lives thanks to their other incredibly powerful senses.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) come in various forms but are usually very uncomfortable for your dog. They may experience an inability to hold their bladder, discomfort around their groin and even pain when urinating. UTIs are common and usually fairly easy to manage, but diabetes can cause them to keep returning.

How do dogs get diabetes?

Any dog can develop diabetes during their lifetime, but there are some factors which increase the risk of developing the disease. There are:

  • Genetic pre-disposition to the condition
  • Obesity (which causes cells to be more resistant to insulin)
  • Females and neutered males are at a higher risk due to hormone changes

Pug sitting in long grass

  • Age (diabetes occurs more frequently in senior dogs)
  • Certain breeds are more prone to diabetes, including Dachshunds, Poodles, Pugs, Beagles and Springer Spaniels. 

You can help to keep your pup safe from diabetes by keeping them on a complete and balanced diet, avoiding feeding human snacks, and ensuring they get a good amount of exercise. Our advice on Obesity in Dogs may be useful if you're looking for ways to keep your dog's weight healthy.

How is diabetes in dogs treated?

Diabetes requires ongoing treatment which is likely to be required for the rest of his life, and this can be expensive. Luckily, most insurers will support with diabetes treatment on an ongoing basis, to reduce the burden of this lifelong expense. However, it may be difficult to find cover if you are switching pet insurance providers after a diagnosis.

Once diabetes has been diagnosed by your vet, they will usually recommend ongoing treatment such as:

  • Regular insulin shots (up to twice a day)
  • Careful monitoring of symptoms
  • Regular medical check ups
  • In some cases, they may recommend special food which is high in fibre.

Many people worry about injecting their pets but there is no need to be scared of hurting them. Your vet will show you how to administer the medication quickly and safely, and the needles are so small that your pup will barely feel them.

Your vet will also show you how to check the blood sugar levels of your dog with a small pin prick blood test. Both you and your dog will soon become accustomed to these and with lots of cuddles they can be positive experiences. 

Diabetes is a life-long condition so its best to choose a Lifetime pet insurance policy that will cover the on-going vet care needed. Explore your options on our compare dog insurance page, and make sure you never have to make a decision about vet care based on cost.