Dog Diabetes: Introduction
Dog diabetes is on the rise. Banfield Pet Hospital, a national veterinary hospital chain, has observed a 32 percent increase in canine diabetes cases since 2006 (cats had a 16 percent upsurge). Comparatively, incidences of the disease in humans have risen only 10 percent in the last four years.
Like humans, dogs can develop Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes. Unlike humans, however, Type 2 diabetes is relatively uncommon in dogs.
Type 1, which is caused by limited insulin production in the pancreas, has fewer preventable risk factors than Type 2. But reducing obesity in an overweight dog — a risk factor for both types of diabetes — may help lower his odds of developing this disease.
Is Your Dog at Risk for Diabetes?
Canine diabetes is a common condition. However, certain dogs are more prone to it than others. Risk factors for the disease include the following:
- Age: While the juvenile-onset version of the disease sometimes occurs in puppies, diabetes is more likely to appear in dogs 7 to 9 years old.
- Sex: Female dogs are twice as likely to develop the disease as males.
- Breed: Diabetes has been observed at higher rates in Australian Terriers, Bichon Frises, Cairn Terriers, Fox Terriers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Keeshonden, Poodles (toy, miniature and standard), Pugs, Samoyeds and Schnauzers (both miniature and standard).
- Health conditions: If your dog has pancreatitis or Cushing’s disease, she is at a higher risk for diabetes.
- Medications: Glucocorticoids and progestogens have a negative effect on insulin production in a dog’s body.
- Obesity: Obesity is a preventable risk factor. Reducing your dog’s weight through diet and exercise can help reduce her odds of getting diabetes and other serious health conditions.
Dog Diabetes Symptoms & Signs
The main early symptoms of the disease are increased thirst, increased appetite, frequent urination, unexplained weight loss and sweet-smelling breath.
Another sign of diabetes is high glucose levels showing up in your dog’s urinalysis. Many veterinarians recommend that dogs have this general test once or twice a year. As a result, regular urinalyses — especially in older dogs — can be a method of early detection of diabetes and other disorders. Discovering and treating the disease in its early stages can prevent it from becoming worse.
If diabetes goes undiagnosed and untreated, symptoms can become serious, leading to cataracts, enlarged liver, neurological problems and an increased number of infections.
Signs that your dog may have an advanced case of diabetes include sluggishness and lethargy, loss of appetite, dehydration, weakness, coma and diabetic ketoacidosis.
When diabetic ketoacidosis occurs, it means your dog’s body is metabolizing fats — rather than sugar — for energy. It’s caused by severe hyperglycemia, and it’s a life-threatening emergency. If you notice your dog has any of these symptoms paired with acetone on the breath (a smell similar to that of nail polish remover), take him to the veterinarian’s office or emergency veterinary clinic right away.
Treatments for Diabetes in Dogs
Once your dog’s diabetes is confirmed — usually through a complete blood count, chemistry panel and urinalysis — your veterinarian will likely recommend a treatment approach that involves the following:
- Exercise: To ensure your dog’s energy output is regular, make sure she receives approximately the same amount of exercise each day. Otherwise, her insulin may need to be adjusted.
- Diet: Generally, a diet high in insoluble fiber is ideal for diabetic dogs. There are a number of dog food brands offering prescription high-fiber formulas. It’s important that you keep your dog’s meals on a very regular schedule and don’t alter the amount of food from meal to meal. Your veterinarian might also recommend that you eliminate treats from your dog’s diet. An early component of diabetes management may also include adjusting an obese dog’s diet to aid weight loss.
- Insulin injections: If your dog has diabetes, insulin shots may become a way of life for her. Your veterinarian will train you to administer the insulin and advise you on frequency and dosages — although it sometimes takes several weeks or months of blood-sugar testing for your veterinarian to come up with the proper dosage.
- Glucose monitoring: Home monitoring of glucose levels is a good way to keep an eye on your dog’s diabetes. However, you shouldn’t make any changes to her insulin dosage based on glucose readings until you’ve verified the changes with your veterinarian.
- Disease management: In addition to the methods listed above, you will also need to make sure any other existing health conditions your dog has are under control — especially hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.
If your dog has Type 2 diabetes, weight management may be the only treatment needed. However, Type 2 is much more common in humans and cats than it is in dogs.