Diabetes is the most common hormonal disorder in dogs. Diabetes interferes with the ability to transport sugar through cell membranes, leading to imbalances in blood glucose levels. Insulin injections can treat diabetes in dogs, but must be administered carefully to avoid hypoglycemic shock.
Types of Diabetes in Dogs
Like humans, diabetes in dogs can take two forms. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce sufficient insulin to control blood glucose levels.
Type 2 diabetes, or insulin resistant diabetes, occurs when the pancreas produces sufficient or excess insulin, but the insulin cannot transport sugar across cell membranes.
Risks Factors for Diabetes
In dogs, diabetes usually develops between the ages of five and seven. Intact females appear to be most susceptible to diabetes, as the female hormone cycle alters blood glucose levels.
As with humans, diabetes in dogs is linked to obesity. Certain breeds are also more susceptible to diabetes than others, including Poodles, West Highland White Terriers, Miniature Schnauzers, and Dachshunds.
Symptoms of Diabetes
Diabetes in dogs is a progressive disease: imbalances in blood glucose levels develop gradually, and symptoms are often missed until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
Initial symptoms of diabetes in dogs include increases in thirst, urination and appetite. Despite the increase in appetite the dog may lose weight. As diabetes progresses other symptoms appear, including:
- chronic bladder infections
- increased bacterial/fungal infections
- liver disease
- prostate infections
- rear leg weakness
- skin infections
As blood sugar levels become increasingly unstable, sugar is passed in the urine, and waste products called ketones build up in the body.
High ketone levels lead to ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that can result in coma and death. Dogs suffering from ketoacidosis usually collapse from severe dehydration and have a distinct “nail polish remover” odor.
Diagnosing Diabetes in Dogs
Diagnosing diabetes in dogs begins with a physical exam and symptom history. Urine is checked for glucose concentration. Blood is checked for blood glucose levels and ketone and creatinine concentrations (creatinine is a waste byproduct usually filtered out of the body by the kidneys).
The dog must fast, usually for twelve hours, before a blood glucose test. Normal blood glucose levels in dogs range from 75 to 120 mg/deciliter. Diabetes in dogs may raise blood glucose levels as high as 200 mg/deciliter.
Initial Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs
Many dogs with diabetes are already suffering the effects of ketoacidosis at the time of diagnosis. A period of hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize blood glucose levels. Dogs with ketoacidosis require intensive care, intravenous fluids and treatment with soluble insulin.
While insulin pills are sometimes available to humans as an alternative for insulin injections, no oral medication is approved to treat diabetes in dogs. As a result, dog owners have to learn to administer insulin injections and test blood glucose levels.
Each dog’s diabetes is unique and the amount of insulin necessary per injection varies depending on the animal’s weight, breed, eating habits and individual blood glucose levels. Generally, diabetic dogs require one or two insulin injections a day.
Recording a dog’s reaction to his insulin injection is vital. Keep a diary noting the time and amount of insulin given, the amount of food eaten, any diabetic symptoms and blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels can be estimated by using urine test strips, which can be bought at most drug stores.
Your veterinarian will show you how to administer insulin injections and use urine test strips. Maintaining a regular schedule of feeding and insulin injections is vital for maintaining healthy blood glucose levels.
Incorrectly dosed insulin injections can cause a life-threatening complication called hypoglycemic shock. If too much insulin is administered, blood glucose levels drop dramatically and symptoms of hypoglycemic shock develop:
Hypoglycemic shock is a medical emergency, requiring prompt veterinary care.
If you suspect hypoglycemic shock in a diabetic dog, feed the dog a liquid sugar syrup (never solid sugar) and get the dog to the veterinarian’s immediately.
Feeding Diabetic Dogs
Diet is a vital part of treating diabetes in dogs. A high fiber and protein diet with restricted carbohydrates and fats is recommended. A regular feeding schedule is also a must, as changes in feeding times affect blood glucose levels.
Generally, a diabetic dog should receive one third of his daily food allowance thirty minutes before insulin injections, with the balance of his food provided eight to ten hours after the insulin injection.
Obesity must be controlled in diabetic dogs, but weight loss should not be rapid. Weight reduction over the course of three or four months is best. The total daily food should be approximately 2/3 of the dog’s previous food amount and spread into three or four separate meals.
Avoid canned foods while the dog is losing weight. Semi-moist food, which is too high in sugar for diabetic dogs, should also be eliminated.
Exercise for Dogs with Diabetes
Regular exercise on a consistent time schedule is best for diabetic dogs. Exercise affects blood glucose levels, so irregular or excessive exercise can cause imbalances in blood glucose, including the possibility of hypoglycemic shock.
Intact females should be spayed if diabetic, to prevent female hormones from affecting blood glucose levels and interfering with insulin injections.
Diabetes in dogs is a challenge for dog owners, and not everyone can cope with the added demands of caring for the diabetic dog. Some owners opt for euthanasia. Other owners find that with careful monitoring of blood glucose levels and insulin injections it is possible to control their dog’s diabetes.