Caring for Diabetic Dogs
Diabetic dogs can lead happy, healthy lives, but they need a little more care and medical management than dogs without diabetes. Dog diabetes treatment is an ongoing process, but with the help of your veterinarian, you can establish a diet and medication routine that works well for your dog.
Here's what you need to know about how to know if your dog has diabetes, what treatment will entail, and what your life together might look like.
What is Diabetes in Dogs?
Diabetes in dogs works very much like diabetes in humans, although it isn't classified into types one and two in quite the same way as it is in people. In humans, all cases of diabetes are classified into type 1 or type 2. These types exist in pets too, but they're unclear. Typically, pets are simply said to be diabetic, not categorized into a type.
Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities between human and dog diabetes. Diabetic dogs’ bodies can't use glucose properly. Since the body depends on glucose to provide energy to the cells, this failure to regulate it properly is extremely dangerous. Glucose levels are controlled by insulin. Insulin enables the sugars that are absorbed from food to move from the bloodstream into the cells, where they can be used as energy for the body.
Without sufficient insulin, glucose stays in the bloodstream, accumulating there in high levels. This is called hyperglycemia. The body gets rid of the glucose by sending it into the urine, along with a lot of the body's water. Meanwhile, the cells don’t get the glucose they need, and they begin to starve. The body responds by converting muscle and fat to sugar for the cells to use.
Does My Dog Have Diabetes?
Only a veterinarian can diagnose diabetes, but there are a couple of key symptoms of diabetes that may let you know your dog may have this disease. As your dog’s body rids itself of excess glucose in the urine, they're likely to drink a lot of water and urinate large amounts frequently.
Because your dog's body isn't getting the energy it needs, they may seem excessively hungry. As their body breaks down muscle and fat to be turned into energy for their cells, they lose weight, and muscles appear atrophied. These symptoms are strong indicators that your dog may have diabetes.
Is My Dog Likely to Become Diabetic?
Any dog might become diabetic, but it usually occurs in dogs that are between 4 and 14 years old. Sadly, most dogs are diagnosed between 7 and 10 years of age, which means that many dogs spend years experiencing the symptoms and discomfort of diabetes without being diagnosed or treated.
Obese dogs are more likely to become diabetic dogs. Certain medications, especially when taken over a long period, such as corticosteroids, can trigger diabetes. Other diseases of aging like overactivity of the adrenal gland, heart disease, or pancreatitis may also cause diabetes to develop. If any of these are true of your dog, it's even more important to keep a close eye on them for signs of diabetes.
How are Diabetic Dogs Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will listen to the symptoms you describe, such as increased thirst and urination and weight loss, and may agree that diabetes might be the culprit. They’ll run tests to look for the hyperglycemia that is so typical of diabetic pets.
Additional blood tests and a urine culture can help to confirm the diagnosis and check to see if your pet is suffering from a urinary tract infection, which may cause similar symptoms to diabetis and confuse the diagnosis.
Treating Diabetic Dogs
Learning that your dog has diabetes is the beginning of what will likely be a lifelong maintenance of the disease. However, handling diabetes in dogs is very manageable for the average pet owner. There are two primary components to treatment for diabetic dogs: medication and lifestyle.
Replacing the insulin that your dog doesn't have themselves is the primary treatment for diabetic dogs, just as it is for humans. Treating dog diabetes with insulin requires giving injections of insulin undo the skin.
Many owners are intimidated to learn they will need to give their pets injections, but diabetic dogs typically handle this treatment very well. Most don't even appear to notice the injections. The needle is extremely small, and the injection is quick. Diabetic dogs who are taught to stand still for their injections in exchange for a favorite treat or toy often even look forward to the experience.
Diet and Exercise
Pets with a high-fiber diet who are not fed excessively or given table scraps, and pets with a good exercise regimen, are much more likely to manage their diabetes well. Some dogs can even get off of insulin after a commitment to diet and exercise.
It can be difficult for owners of diabetic dogs to stick to a diabetic dog diet, particularly when it comes to treats and table scraps. After all, when your dog has to have injections, you naturally want to give them some treats. However, controlling diet is a critical factor in your dog's recovery. Consider healthy, high-fiber treats like green beans or carrots instead of fatty, high-calorie dog treats or table scraps.
Most dogs love exercise, so encouraging your dog to go for an extra walk or chase the ball a little bit more is likely not going to be an issue. Some dogs who have been very obese may have problems with their joints, so talk to your veterinarian about swimming or another low-impact activity to help your dog shed some pounds without stressing their joints.
What Happens if Diabetes Goes Uncontrolled?
Unfortunately, diabetes is all too often diagnosed for the first time when it reaches a critical level. Early signs like excessive urination and small amounts of weight loss can easily go unnoticed for years. However, when sugar levels in the bloodstream get to a certain point, it acts like a poison, causing damage to organs throughout the body, such as kidneys, heart, and eyes.
Your dog may experience cataracts, recurring urinary tract infections, or seizures. Chronic low insulin levels can result in ketoacidosis. This condition is likely to occur when something else happens, such as a stressor like a groom or if your dog doesn't eat for an extended period.
Owners of diabetic dogs should always carry ketone testing sticks. If they suspect their dog is going into ketoacidosis, they can find out with these testing sticks. When a diabetic dog is in ketoacidosis, they should be brought to the emergency veterinarian immediately.
OKC Vet Campus Can Diagnose and Manage Your Diabetic Dog
Diabetic dogs can live wonderful, full lives, but they do need a little bit more involvement from a veterinarian than dogs without diabetes. The veterinarians at OKC Vet Campus will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan that works.
We also offer a full range of other care, such as boarding, grooming, and daycare. We can develop a fitness schedule to help you dog safely shed the pounds, including social play with other dogs if that's something your dog would enjoy. Because our medical staff is on hand, your dog's diabetes can be effectively managed during grooming, boarding, and exercise. Call us or fill out our Contact Form today!
1. Is managing diabetic dogs expensive?
The primary expense in managing diabetic dogs is the insulin they need to have injected daily. Depending on your dog's size, it typically costs between around $20 and $150 per month to supply them with the insulin they need. Some insurance will cover some of the costs of insulin, depending on when you got the coverage.
2. What happens if I give my dog too much insulin?
Insulin overdoses and underdoses can look similar, resulting in seizures, weakness, and loss of appetite. It's extremely important to know exactly how much insulin you have given at any time. If you see these signs and aren't sure whether it's because of over or under-dose, it's time to bring your dog to the emergency vet.
3. How common are diabetic dogs?
As many as 1% of dogs will develop diabetes in their lifetime. Since many dogs live a long life while being medically managed for diabetes, there are likely a fair amount of diabetic dogs among the general population.
4. What is the life expectancy of dogs with diabetes?
Survival of dogs with diabetes is highly variable. Studies have found that a median survival time was 964 days, but there was a great deal of diversity between the longest and shortest lived dogs. Following your veterinarian's guidelines regarding diet, exercise, and medication sets your dog out for the longest and happiest life.
5. Is there any trick to giving insulin injections?
Many pet parents worry about giving their diabetic dogs insulin injections, but the truth is that most dogs handle it very well. It's good for insulin to be given with food, so time meals along with insulin, and give your dog their favorite healthy treat just after the injection.