Because November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, we’re reposting this story originally published in February 2010.
Diabetes is a growing epidemic in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “As of 2007, 23.6 million people – 7.8 percent of the population – have diabetes.”
You may be surprised to learn that pets can suffer from diabetes as well. In fact, “One in every 400 to 500 dogs develops diabetes mellitus,” writes Sara Jackson for Animal Wellness Magazine.
With those numbers increasing because of pet obesity (one-third of U.S. dogs are reportedly obese), canine diabetes is on the rise as well.
What is Canine Diabetes?
Dogs can become diabetic either because of a breed predisposition to the disease or due to obesity caused by a poor diet and lack of exercise.
Diabetes mellitus (DM) is one of the most common hormonal dog diseases. As described by ilovedogs.com, it occurs “when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is needed to transport glucose (sugar), amino acids and minerals from the blood to muscles and other cells. When there is not enough or no insulin, glucose cannot move into the cells and the glucose level in the blood and urine rises to abnormally high levels.”
If DM goes untreated, it can be life-threatening for a pet. Dogs with DM are usually dependent on insulin shots for the rest of their lives, writes Jackson.
DM is split into two categories, which includes Type I diabetes “similar to juvenile-onset (Type I) diabetes in humans,” writes Norma Bennett Woolf for Dog Owner’s Guide, and an “acquired type that is similar to adult-onset (Type II) diabetes in humans.”
The majority of dogs with diabetes have Type II, which is commonly referred to as IDDM. But a second form of the disease exists called diabetes insipidus. Also an endocrine disease, diabetes insipidus differs from diabetes mellitus in that it results from a deficiency in vasopressin, “the antidiuretic hormone that controls water resorption by the kidneys,” writes Woolf.
What are the Risks and Causes of Canine Diabetes?
Dogs prone to diabetes can develop the disease either because of their genetics, environment or lifestyle. In some cases, dogs suffer from the disease because of a combination of these factors.
Genetically, some breeds with a stronger susceptibility to diabetes include Keeshonden, Pulis, Miniature Pinschers, Cairn Terriers, Poodles, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers and Beagles. Owners with these particular breeds should be aware of the potential for diabetes to develop in their pet.
The following are other potential risk factors and/or causes that could result in canine diabetes, according to Woolf and ilovedogs.com:
Senior dogs (onset of diabetes generally occurs between 7-9 years of age)
Unspayed female dogs (reproductive hormones place them at higher risk)
Autoimmune pancreatic cell destruction
Pancreatitis or other pancreatic infections
Prescription drugs, steroids and reproductive hormones
Other hormonal diseases, such as Cushing’s Disease
It’s also important to consider a dog’s weight when it comes to diabetes. Obese animals are more susceptible to the disease.
What are the Symptoms of Canine Diabetes and How is it Diagnosed?
If you have a breed of dog susceptible to diabetes, then it’s important to take note of the potential symptoms involved with the disease. Your pet may exhibit any of the following symptoms, depending on the severity of his illness, according to Jackson, ilovedogs.com, and Woolf:
Increased thirst (polydipsia), appetite (polyphagia), and urination (polyuria)
Loss of appetite
Decreased resistance to bacterial and fungal infections
Liver and bladder problems
Cataracts and blindness
If you find any of these symptoms prevalent in your dog, immediately bring him in to see a veterinarian. A vet can then take the steps necessary to make a proper diagnosis.
“Diagnosis depends on evaluation of early symptoms, a physical examination, and lab tests to ascertain the amount of glucose in the blood and urine,” writes Woolf. “A single test for hyperglycemia (excess blood glucose levels) may not be sufficient, especially if the levels are only slightly elevated, so veterinarians may want to run more than one.”
Your veterinarian will likely follow these basic steps in diagnosing your dog:
Question you about your dog’s medical history
Perform a physical examination
Perform a urine test to check for glucose and for signs of urinary tract infection
Take a blood sample for a blood test
X-rays and ultrasound scanning may be required if complications or concurrent diseases, such as pancreatitis, are suspected.
If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will go over a plan of action for treatment.
Treating and Managing Your Dog’s Diabetes
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. As Jackson describes, a pet with diabetes will require delicate, daily care throughout his lifetime. Caring for a dog with diabetes requires a big commitment and dedication to your pet’s health.
Treatment of diabetes requires daily administration of insulin to your pet, either via injection (the most common and safest method) or with oral hypoglycemic agents. This process includes monitoring your dog’s blood glucose levels on a daily basis.
Most veterinarians will show pet parents how to monitor their dogs’ blood sugar at home using a blood glucose meter (that is similar to what humans use), writes Dr. Mike Richards for VetInfo.com.
“It appears that about 50 percent of veterinary clients can manage this task readily and most can manage it with encouragement from their vet and the vet’s staff,” writes Dr. Richards.
He strongly recommends investing in a blood glucose meter that will make it easy for you to draw blood from a wriggling dog.
The type of insulin should be discussed with your veterinarian to determine what’s best for your dog. The most commonly used is human NPH insulin – either Humalin N (Rx) or Novalin NPH (Rx) – explains Dr. Richards, since these are more easily attained.
“Some vets prefer PZI insulin and there is now an insulin approved for use in dogs (Vetsulin Rx) that is pork based and may work more consistently for dogs, since pork insulin is closer to dog insulin than the human products,” writes Dr. Richards. He recommends not exchanging insulin types too often, but instead trying to continue using the same insulin for optimal results.
Injecting your dog with insulin can be a fussy ordeal. The following tips from BD.com can help make this task as comfortable as possible:
Spend as much training time as you need with the veterinarian to make sure that you understand how and when to give your dog insulin.
It is not necessary or desirable for you to try keeping your dog’s blood glucose at “normal” levels of 80-120 mg/dL. This puts your pet at risk of hypoglycemia (very low blood glucose).
Diabetic dogs can experience large day-to-day fluctuations in blood glucose levels, even if their food and insulin are kept constant. This is why it may take several months for the veterinarian to fine-tune your dog’s insulin doses.
It is best to inject insulin immediately after your dog has eaten. If your dog eats only some of his food, vomits or does not eat at all, your vet may suggest that you decrease the insulin dose by half. Never skip the insulin dose entirely, but follow your veterinarian’s advice. If your dog does not eat for two meals in a row, call your veterinarian before injecting insulin.
If you inject your dog twice a day, try to give the insulin at the same general time each day, such as after breakfast and dinner. If these times vary occasionally by 30 to 60 minutes, it probably won’t matter.
If you are not sure whether an insulin injection should be given, call your veterinarian for advice.
Cold insulin hurts. Do not take insulin from the refrigerator and inject it immediately into your pet. Let the insulin come to room temperature, which may take about an hour.
Always praise your dog or give him a treat after an injection to associate the insulin therapy with a pleasant experience.
Although Vetsulin pork insulin is approved for once-a-day dosing, veterinarians generally do not favor once daily insulin therapy because it makes it more difficult to regulate a dog. Once-a-day insulin therapy is used only when the owner is not able to give the dog two injections a day, or in those cases where a dog can be well-regulated with one daily injection. Your veterinarian can recommend a proper dosing regimen for your dog.
Unopened vials of insulin should be stored in the refrigerator. Write the date you opened the vial on the label as a reminder to discard it after one month.
Dr. Richards also suggests creating a “blood glucose curve” to plot out your dog’s blood sugar levels throughout the day. You can create this chart by noting your dog’s blood glucose level at the time of his first meal in the morning and every two to four hours thereafter, for at least 12 to 16 hours.
“Plotting the blood glucose numbers on a chart allows visualization of when the level is too high, too low or just right,” says Dr. Richards. “The pattern of rises and falls in blood glucose allow the veterinarian or the client to see if the problem is an overdose of insulin, an underdose of insulin or resistance to the effects of insulin.” This chart will be a valuable tool for both you and your veterinarian as you work on creating the best treatment plan for your dog.
Although diabetes cannot be cured, and your dog will continue to need insulin injections for the rest of his life, there are additional things you can do to ease his diabetes.
“Diet, herbal remedies and supplements, along with a change in lifestyle, are all keys,” writes Jackson.
A healthy diet that’s high in dietary fiber can reduce glucose absorption from your dog’s stomach, leading to better glycemic control. Dr. Rob Butler, a veterinarian consulted by Jackson, says that “Insoluble fiber may be of most benefit.”
Increase your dog’s intake of dark green, leafy veggies, whole grains, and complex carbohydrates to help combat his diabetes. His diet should be high in protein, moderate in fat and low in carbohydrates.
Antioxidants and Omega 3 fatty acid supplements can make a difference in your diabetic dog’s health. In addition to changes in diet and supplementation, increased exercise can help your dog maintain a healthy weight and contribute to managing his diabetes.
The Economics of Canine Diabetes
For any pet parent, finding out a beloved dog has diabetes can be a huge blow, not only emotionally, but financially as well.
“Unfortunately, for many people, cost is a prohibitive factor in treating diabetic dogs. Because of this, many are prematurely put to sleep,” says Jackson.
The commitment to your diabetic dog’s care is enormous. But despite your financial situation, a dog suffering from diabetes must receive the care he needs to live a healthy life.
“Not treating is not an option; in most places, providing needed veterinary care is required under dog neglect/cruelty laws,” veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve told Jackson. “People have to make sacrifices, do the legwork, and get creative; or else be ready to make some hard decisions about re-homing or euthanizing the dog.”
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.