Here’s What You Need To Know About Diabetes In Dogs

The causes, signs and treatment of dog diabetes, according to a vet.

dog diabetes

Did you know that dogs can develop diabetes?

According to Banfield’s State of Pet Health (which analyzes data from more than 2.5 million dogs across the U.S.), it’s estimated that 1 in 300 dogs will develop diabetes during their lifetime. And unfortunately, that statistic is growing.

Diabetes in dogs develops because of an imbalance of insulin, which is the hormone that helps control your dog’s blood sugar level and metabolism. When your dog’s body doesn’t make enough insulin, stops making it or has an abnormal response to insulin, diabetes can occur.

We spoke with Dr. Sara Ochoa, a veterinarian in Texas and consultant for DogLab, to find out more about diabetes in dogs — how the disease develops, warning signs of diabetes in dogs and how we, as pet parents, can best treat the condition if our dogs are given this diagnosis.

Here’s what you need to know about canine diabetes.

What causes diabetes in dogs?

Diabetes in dogs is very similar to diabetes in people. Its formal name, diabetes mellitus, means the dysregulation of the body’s blood sugar.

“Your dog’s pancreas produces insulin in response to high levels of sugar in their body,” Dr. Ochoa told The Dodo. “In a diabetic dog, they do not produce enough insulin, or there is another concurrent problem where their body does not react to the insulin appropriately, resulting in very high blood sugar.”

While genetics can sometimes be a factor in diabetic dogs (as well as sex; female dogs are at a slightly higher risk of developing diabetes, per the ASPCA), dogs who are overweight are also at high risk for developing diabetes. And this means you can actually help prevent your dog from getting diabetes.

“Keeping your dog at a healthy weight, feeding him an appropriate diet and not giving them too many treats can help prevent diabetes,” Dr. Ochoa said.

Other factors worth noting — canine diabetes has been known to occur as a side effect of medication, particularly steroids. It can also occur as a result of Cushing’s disease, or from an excess of certain hormones, which sometimes develops when a dog has not been spayed.

Symptoms of dog diabetes

The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are weight loss (despite having a healthy appetite) and more frequent water drinking and urination.

“You may even notice some hair coat changes or changes within your dog’s eye, such as cataracts or loss of vision,” Dr. Ochoa said. Other signs of canine diabetes to watch out for include:

  • Change in appetite
  • Sweet-smelling or fruity breath
  • Unusual weakness or lethargy (Since diabetes can lead to a sugar high then sugar low, your dog may seem alternately wired and then exhausted without any apparent explanation.)
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections (as diabetes weakens the immune system)
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic skin infections

How to treat diabetes in dogs

At this time, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. But there are a few recommendations when it comes to managing your dog’s diabetes prognosis so he can live a happy and comfortable life, according to Dr. Ochoa:

  1. Daily insulin injections: A diabetic dog will require daily insulin injections to help regulate blood sugar levels. Make sure that you are giving those insulin injections as close to 12 hours apart as possible. (This is very important!)
  2. Diet: Your vet will recommend a diet that’s good for your diabetic dog. He should be fed only this food and never anything else or any treat from the table. And whenever you feed him, you’ll need to make sure it’s the exact same amount each time.
  3. Exercise: Your dog will need plenty of exercise to stay healthy. Taking your dog for a walk or playing in the backyard will help keep him healthy and active.

Screenings for underlying issues, such as urinary tract infections, should also take place regularly.

Diabetic dog food

As mentioned above, a specialized diet with diabetic dog food is vital to your dog’s health.

“When I diagnose a dog with diabetes, I will switch them to a diabetic food, such as Hill’s Prescription Diet,” Dr. Ochoa said.

Simply put, diabetic dog food is a must for dogs being treated for diabetes, and your veterinarian will be able to make their recommendation on the right one for your pet based on his weight and examination.

While diabetes in dogs is not curable at this time, if managed correctly with daily insulin shots, diabetic dog food and exercise, your pet should be able to live a happy and comfortable life. As with many diseases, early detection is key, so keep an eye on the symptoms of diabetes in dogs, and contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog has diabetes.