Diabetes can affect dogs as they get older. Learn more about the disease and what you can do to try and prevent it, or how you can support your dog if they already have it.
What is dog diabetes?
Diabetes is a common hormonal disorder in dogs. It happens when their pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, or their body doesn’t respond properly to insulin.
Insulin is the hormone needed to absorb sugar (or glucose) into the bloodstream, which is then carried to other parts of the body to be used as energy. If not enough insulin is produced (in the case of type one diabetes) or it's not used properly (in type two diabetes), the sugar can’t pass from the bloodstream to the organs. This can result in dangerously high levels of sugar in the blood, called hyperglycaemia.
What causes diabetes in dogs?
Dogs typically develop type one diabetes, which occurs when not enough insulin is produced. This is usually due to the insulin-creating cells in the pancreas being damaged or destroyed for various reasons. Although less common, dogs can also develop type two diabetes when the body doesn’t respond correctly to insulin. It’s important to bear in mind that both of these are quite different from diabetes that is seen in humans.
In very rare cases, dogs as young as 18 months of age can develop type one diabetes; however, most are diagnosed between 7 and 10 years old. Female dogs can also develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
The exact cause of diabetes in dogs is largely unknown, but certain breeds, including miniature and Toy Poodles, Pugs and Yorkshire Terriers, are much more at risk of developing type one diabetes. Overweight dogs are also at risk of type two diabetes, as well as intact (un-neutered) females and those receiving certain steroid medications. In general, female dogs appear to be more prone to diabetes than males.
Symptoms of dog diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes include:
- increased urination
- excessive thirst and hunger
- sudden weight loss.
Diabetes can also cause:
- bladder infections
If you spot any of these signs, speak to your vet as soon as possible for a full diagnosis. They’ll usually take urine samples and perform blood tests, as high levels of glucose in either can be a good indicator of diabetes.
Although there’s no failsafe way to prevent diabetes in dogs, there are a few things you can do to help minimise the risk.
Overweight dogs are much more at risk of developing type two diabetes, so feeding your dog a healthy, balanced diet and cutting back on treats can drastically cut their chances of developing the disease. Make sure you provide plenty of space and opportunities to exercise, including regular playtime and walks, to keep them active and healthy.
Unneutered female dogs are at a higher risk of developing the condition, due to fluctuations in their hormones, so it’s a good idea to spay them as soon as possible.
Regular health checks can also play a key role in spotting the early signs of diabetes, as well as ensuring your dog is the right weight and size for their breed to avoid further issues. As your dog gets older, regular blood and urine tests will also help spot signs of diabetes as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for dog diabetes. However, it can be managed with regular insulin injections and a healthy diet. If left untreated, diabetes can be fatal.
Most dogs with diabetes will need insulin injections twice a day to maintain a healthy blood sugar level, which your vet will be happy to show you how to administer. Many dog owners are understandably apprehensive about giving their pet injections, however, they’re fast, painless and quickly become routine.
If your dog is overweight, changing their diet can be hugely beneficial. Switching to smaller portions of high-quality dog food that provides all the nutrients your pet needs is a great place to start. It’s important to make any dietary changes slowly; your vet will be able to introduce a diet that best suits your dog’s needs.
Diabetic dogs will require regular health checks with a vet to monitor their condition and prescribe the appropriate insulin drug.
With the right diet, plenty of exercise, and regular insulin injections, dogs with diabetes can lead long, happy lives.