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Health & Wellness

Diabetes in dogs

And the early warning signs

There are conditions that affect people as well as pups. And unfortunately, diabetes is one of them. So if you’ve noticed changes in your pup’s appetite, bathroom habits or energy levels, in addition to the formation of cloudy eyes, you’ll want to ask your veterinarian about diabetes in dogs. Luckily, this condition is manageable. 

“Diabetes is a condition in which the body does not process sugar in a normal way due to a lack of insulin, a hormone released from the pancreas that allows the body to use sugar as an energy source,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, says. “This leads to high levels of sugar in the blood.”

What causes diabetes in dogs? 

According to Dr. McCullough, although people can experience two types of diabetes (type 1 and type 2), dogs are only affected by type 1, which means their bodies can't produce insulin. Sugar diabetes is the informal name for diabetes in dogs. 

“Diabetes is caused by the destruction of the cells that make insulin by the immune system, chronic pancreatitis and breed-related genetic causes,” Dr. McCullough adds. 

Female pups (usually older than 6 years) and breeds like bichon frises, Labrador Retrievers, miniature schnauzers, poodles, pugs and Yorkshire Terriers are more likely to develop diabetes because of their genetics, Dr. McCullough says. Chronic pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, can also be a risk for developing diabetes. 

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs

There are some telltale signs that signal your pup is struggling with diabetes. Take your dog to the vet if you notice the following symptoms: 

  • Increased thirst
  • Increasingly frequent urination
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Cloudy eyes (otherwise known as cataracts)
  • Decreased activity or lethargy

How do veterinarians diagnose diabetes in dogs? 

According to Dr. McCullough, veterinarians diagnose diabetes in dogs by performing a thorough veterinary examination, which includes a nose to tail physical exam to evaluate all of their body parts. Blood and urine testing may also be necessary, she adds. 

How to treat diabetes in dogs

Unfortunately, Dr. McCullough says there’s no cure for diabetes in dogs. However, there are some treatment options your vet could recommend to manage the condition — one being insulin injections that are given throughout the rest of your dog’s life. 

Diabetes can cause long-term health risks for your dog, including cataracts (which can lead to loss of vision), weakness in the hind legs, tremors or seizures, low blood sugar, high blood pressure or urinary tract infections (UTI). In these cases, your vet will likely recommend treatment for your dog’s diabetes and their secondary condition, too, Dr. McCullough adds.

Diabetic dog food

Your veterinarian may also recommend a diet specifically for diabetic dogs. Dr. McCullough says that while obesity is not a risk factor for dog diabetes, maintaining a healthy body condition can help prevent other conditions which can complicate your dog’s diabetes treatment. 

“Veterinary recommended diets for dogs with diabetes are typically high in fiber,” Dr. McCullough explains. 

How to prevent your dog from developing diabetes

There’s no way to prevent your dog from developing diabetes, but regular veterinary examinations, in addition to blood and urine testing, can help detect it early. 

Diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs

Another long-term risk of diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis. According to Dr. McCullough, it occurs when there are high levels of acids, otherwise known as ketones, in a dog’s blood caused by the extra buildup of glucose (sugar in a dog’s blood). 

“Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening illness that causes vomiting and diarrhea, abdominal pain, weakness, elevated heart rate, lethargy and dehydration,” Dr. McCullough says. Talk to your veterinarian about the risks of diabetic ketoacidosis. 

Diabetes insipidus in dogs

It’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian about diabetes insipidus, too. Dr. McCullough explains that this occurs when a dog lacks the antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which usually tells the kidneys to conserve water.

“Without ADH or without the ability to respond to ADH, the kidneys cannot conserve water and diluted urine is then produced, and dogs are at risk for severe rapid dehydration,” she adds. 

With these tips, you’ll know how to spot diabetes early and get your pup the care and treatment they need to manage their diabetes. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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