Did you know that dogs can get diabetes? How do you spot it and what does it mean for your pooch if they’re diagnosed with the disease? We take a closer look.
What is canine diabetes?
Although you may not hear about it that often, dogs can get diabetes. Just like humans, when your pooch is diabetic, it means that their pancreas stops making insulin.
The pancreas is a small organ in your dog’s abdomen that lies next to the stomach. It plays an important role in helping your dog to digest their food by releasing digestive enzymes and producing insulin.
Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your dog’s blood. It allows glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter your dog’s tissues, where it can be used as a source of energy. If your pooch lacks insulin, their blood sugar levels will rise, which can cause a range of potential problems.
Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
Doggy diabetes – or, to use the correct veterinary term, canine diabetes mellitus – comes in two forms: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 canine diabetes – this is the more common type of diabetes, although it still only affects 0.34% of dogs, according to a study. It occurs when a dog isn’t able to produce enough insulin.
Type 1 canine diabetes is irreversible and means that your dog will need to be given insulin so that their body can use the glucose it needs to generate energy. Type 1 diabetes is usually due to an autoimmune response, rather than your dog having a poor diet or being overweight.
Type 2 canine diabetes – this type of diabetes is rarer. In this case, the dog’s pancreas does make insulin, but the body doesn’t respond well to it, so glucose isn’t able to move from the blood into the cells.
Type 2 diabetes tends to affect older, overweight dogs. However, as with humans, this kind of diabetes can be reversed through weight loss, the right diet and exercise.
Dogs at higher risk of diabetes
Female dogs are more likely to develop diabetes than male dogs, and dogs tend to develop the disease around the age of 7-9.
Dogs that have had pancreatitis or Cushing’s disease are more susceptible to diabetes, and obesity can increase your dog’s chances of developing diabetes.
Among different breeds:
- Those at higher risk of diabetes include Cairn Terriers, Fox Terriers, Dachshunds, Poodles, Pugs, Miniature Schnauzers and Springer Spaniels.
- Those at lower risk of diabetes include Boxers, Cocker Spaniels, Collies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and American Pit Bull Terriers.
Signs to look out for
What are the signs that your dog might be developing diabetes? Early indications of the disease include:
- Increased urination – your dog asks to go out more often to urinate because their body is trying to get rid of excess glucose by excreting it in their urine.
- Excessive thirst – your dog just can’t seem to drink enough water. This is because your dog is losing more fluid than normal and their body is trying to compensate.
- Unexplained weight loss - even though your dog is eating the same amount of food as normal, they’re losing weight because their body isn’t converting the food into nutrients efficiently.
- Increased appetite – the same lack of nutrients can drive your dog to eat more in the hope of getting more energy from their food.
More advanced signs of diabetes include a loss of appetite and a lack of energy. If left untreated, diabetes can cause serious problems for your pet, including cataracts, an enlarged liver, seizures and kidney failure. It can also lead to something called ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition that can be signalled by sweet-smelling breath.
Treatment for canine diabetes
If you notice any of these symptoms, your first stop should be your vet to ask their advice. The earlier you seek help, the better. Your vet will be able to diagnose whether or not your dog has diabetes by carrying out a blood or urine test.
If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will discuss treatment, which is likely to include:
- Regular insulin injections – up to twice a day. This may sound alarming, but dog owners usually adapt to this routine reasonably quickly and easily.
- A balanced diet that will help to regulate your dog’s blood sugar. Most often, this will be a high-fibre diet that contains good quality protein and is low in carbohydrates.
- A regular, consistent exercise routine that will help your dog maintain both a healthy weight and low blood sugar levels. It’s best to avoid over-long or strenuous bouts of exercise as this could make your dog’s blood sugar levels drop too low.
- Regular check-ups with your vet to monitor the condition.
With the right combination of medication, diet and exercise, most dogs with diabetes will live a long and happy life.
How to prevent doggy diabetes
Here are a few things you can do to help prevent your dog developing diabetes in the first place:
- Enjoy regular walks with your dog – this will help your pooch stay at a healthy weight and regulate their blood sugar levels.
- Give your dog good quality food that’s high in protein and low in ‘filler’ carbohydrates.
- Ensure that your dog stays at a healthy weight. A combination of a good diet and the right kind of exercise should do it. (PS: Don’t share your pizza, however much they beg.)
- If you have a female dog, have her spayed, as intact female dogs are more likely to develop diabetes.
If in doubt, ask your vet
If you suspect that your dog might be developing symptoms of diabetes, especially if they seem particularly hungry or thirsty, ask your vet to give them a check-up.