Diabetes in dogs: What you should know

Diabetes doesn’t only affect humans; cats and dogs suffer from it as well. In fact, 1 in 300 dogs will become diabetic during their lifetime, according to the Banfield State of Pet Health Report 2016. Find out what the symptoms are and how you can successfully manage your dog’s diabetes together with your veterinary healthcare team. 

Female vet examines dog

Have you ever felt like you could just eat and eat without ever getting enough? For a diabetic dog, this feeling isn’t caused by an appetite gone rogue but by a dire physiological need: No matter how much an affected dog eats, it’s never enough. Here’s why.

Glucose and insulin help keep the organism going

“A diabetic dog is progressively losing their ability to produce insulin,” explains Dr. Grant Beckett, Technical Marketing Senior Associate Director, Pet Therapeutics, at Boehringer Ingelheim U.S. “As levels of insulin decrease, the dog’s body becomes unable to take up glucose (sugar) into the cells. Put simply, the cells are starving even as the very sugar they need to support cellular function circulates through the dog’s bloodstream. This process manifests itself in symptoms you can look out for.” 

When you should contact your veterinarian for a diabetes screening

There are three common symptoms for diabetes in dogs. Frequent urination as the dog tries to get rid of excess sugar. Thirst and constant drinking as urinating frequently causes dehydration. Constant hunger and begging for food because the glucose from your dog’s food can’t reach the cells due to a lack of insulin, causing them to feel famished.

When you observe any of these symptoms, please call your vet immediately to get your dog’s health status evaluated. Persistent high levels of blood sugar are toxic for the dog. If diabetes is left untreated, the disease progresses. This can go from seizures to a coma and ultimately diabetes is lethal. But it doesn’t have to get this far! 

Your dog has diabetes. Now what?

To manage your dog’s diabetes, you need to either maintain your dog’s healthy diet or switch to one. You need to give insulin injections once or twice a day. And you need to closely collaborate with your veterinary healthcare team.

Having your dog diagnosed with diabetes can be a shock: diabetes requires careful, lifelong management that the owner – and indeed the whole family – needs to adjust to. Injecting your canine companion with insulin can also feel scary if you’ve never done it before, but your veterinarian can guide you through the process. 

How often you need to inject your dog depends on the type of insulin they receive and the veterinarian’s advice. The fewer times insulin injections are necessary, the easier it is to adjust to the treatment routine – both in the beginning and in the long run. 

Early disease-detection: regular check-ups are important 

“In humans and in cats, type II diabetes, which is related to lifestyle, is the more common presentation. In dogs, diabetes is often immune mediated,” relays Grant. “The immune system causes a sequence of events that destroys beta cells, the cells which produce insulin. Only in very small populations does dog obesity contribute to diabetes.” 

“This is something that I want to stress to dog owners: Many people feel incredibly guilty when their dog is diagnosed with diabetes. They think that they somehow caused it. But more often than not, it’s nobody’s fault – dog owners can’t control this! What you can control, however, is that you regularly take your dog to their veterinary check-up. Go at least once a year, and as your dog gets older, maybe even twice annually. This increases your chances of diagnosing diabetes and other possible conditions in your dog early on.”