Diabetes in Dogs
Canine diabetes is a disease in which the body is unable to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels due to a deficiency of insulin (type 1 diabetes). Normally after food is ingested, it is broken down into glucose and absorbed into the blood stream. The presence of glucose in the blood causes the pancreas to secrete insulin. Insulin is a hormone required to move glucose from the blood into body cells where it is then used for energy. Without insulin, the cells of the body starve and shut down, which can eventually lead to organ damage such as blindness, kidney failure, nerve and muscle weakness.
Diabetes is a common dog health problem and 1 out of every 500 dogs will develop diabetes. The average age for canine diabetes is 7 to 9 years old. Samoyed, Australian terrier, miniature schnauzer, miniature poodle, toy poodle and pug breeds are at increased risk for developing diabetes.
Diagnosis of Canine Diabetes
The classic symptoms of canine diabetes are increased water consumption and increased urination; weight loss despite a voracious appetite; and blindness due to cataract development. Dogs with diabetes can be underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.
The diagnosis of canine diabetes is based on the appropriate symptoms and persistently elevated blood and urine glucose. It is common for dogs with diabetes to have other medical problems and all dogs should have a complete blood count, blood chemistry panel, thyroid analysis, urinalysis, urine culture and blood pressure performed. Abdominal ultrasound and chest xrays may also be warranted depending on your veterinarian’s exam findings.
Treatment of Canine Diabetes
Once a diagnosis of canine diabetes has been made it is important to understand that your dog will probably remain diabetic for life and that the best treatment is insulin injections. This is unlike cats or humans who more commonly have Type 2 diabetes and frequently become non-diabetic due to residual pancreas insulin secretion. Insulin injections, appropriate diet and exercise regimens, together with establishing an excellent relationship with your veterinarian, are vital to the success of treating a diabetic dog.
There is not one diabetes diet that is best for all dogs and a high quality natural dog food will work well for most dogs with diabetes. Your veterinarian may recommend a specially formulated diabetes diet that is higher in fiber and lower in fat and calories, especially if your dog is overweight or obese. The same amount and type of food should be fed twice daily, at 12 hour intervals, just before insulin administration in order to prevent large fluctuations in daily blood glucose. Treats and table scraps should be avoided during mid-day as these can cause spikes in blood glucose.
Exercise “burns up” glucose the same way that insulin does, therefore, moderate amounts of daily exercise are recommended for your dog with diabetes. Overly strenuous exercise can lower blood glucose levels dramatically, resulting in hypoglycemia and should be avoided. In addition to improving blood glucose regulation, exercise also promotes weight loss and healthy bones and muscles.
Many pet owners would prefer pills instead of injections, however, no pill is as effective as insulin for the management of diabetes in dogs. There are several forms of insulin available and your veterinarian will make the best selection for your dog. Most dogs require insulin injections twice daily (12 hours apart and after meals) for best control of their diabetes symptoms. Your veterinarian will teach you how to handle and store the insulin, give the injection and how to monitor your dog. It is common that your dog will require multiple dose changes (especially the first year) and possibly even change to a different insulin. Good communication and regular rechecks with your veterinarian will help them make these decisions.
Monitoring Canine Diabetes
There are several aspects to monitoring a diabetic dog and your veterinarian will work with you to create a protocol that fits your lifestyle and your dog’s needs. Monitoring will always include evaluating your dog for diabetes symptoms and signs of illness and may involve checking urine or blood glucose levels.
As your diabetic dog becomes well regulated, you should detect lessening of their water consumption and urination, improved energy, a more normal appetite and a stable body weight. Almost all dogs with diabetes will eventually develop cataracts, but their development can be delayed with excellent monitoring at home. You should watch your dog for signs of hypoglycemia and report these to your veterinarian immediately as they can be life threatening and are an indication that your dog has received too much insulin. Signs of early hypoglycemia include voracious hunger and shivering which can progress to weakness, stumbling and seizures if hypoglycemia goes unrecognized. If you see these symptoms, immediately try to feed your pet and get medical attention. If your dog develops gastrointestinal upset or refuses to eat, contact your veterinarian for advice.
Your veterinarian may recommend testing your dog’s urine for glucose and ketones. Urine dips can improve diabetic management by alerting pet owners and veterinarians to important changes before symptoms appear. Changes that may be relevant to your dog include large fluctuations in the glucose present in the urine, absence of glucose in the urine or the development of ketones in the urine. Your veterinarian will advise you how often to test and when to contact them to discuss results.
A fairly recent study showed that 85% of dog owners successfully performed long term home glucose monitoring with little or no difficulty performing the procedure. It is important to use an at-home device which is accurate in dogs. The most commonly recommended units are the ALPHAtrak (Abbott), AccuCHEK (Roche Diagnostics), and Glucometer ELITE (Bayer). There are also systems available which can monitor blood glucose continuously. Not all dogs require at-home blood glucose monitoring and your veterinarian will counsel you.
Even in the absence of obvious problems, your diabetic dog should see the veterinarian two to three times each year. It is common for diabetic dogs to develop urinary tract infections and other disorders that may complicate their management. You should keep a daily log of observations for your veterinarian to review. This log should include assessment of appetite, activity level, water consumption, urine frequency and volume and weekly measurements of body weight. Include the urine and blood glucose measurements on this log sheet if requested by your veterinarian
Prognosis for Canine Diabetes
Dog’s can have an excellent quality of life and live long healthy lives with diabetes. Keeping a watchful eye on your diabetic dog’s symptoms and routinely reporting to your veterinarian will allow you to successfully manage your dog’s diabetes.