What is diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is a condition in which there is a problem with the production or response to insulin. Insulin is released from the pancreas, which is an organ that sits next to the stomach, and it tells the cells around the body to absorb sugar from the blood that they then use for energy. If there is a lack of insulin, or if the body doesn’t respond to it properly, then the cells are unable to absorb sugar from the blood and they are therefore starved of energy, while the blood sugar level remains high. The cells instead must use other sources of energy, such as fat and muscle protein, which can lead to toxic by-products that can make the dog extremely ill (diabetic ketoacidotic crisis).
What causes diabetes in dogs?
Almost all diabetic dogs suffer from Type I diabetes – as in humans this means that the pancreas is unable to produce insulin, and so insulin injections must be given as a life-long treatment. In most cases this is caused by the dog’s immune system accidently attacking the pancreas, although it can also be caused by severe pancreatitis where the pancreas becomes inflamed and damaged. This damage to the pancreas means it is no longer able to produce insulin, resulting in diabetes mellitus.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The symptoms tend to be non-specific, but include:
- Increased drinking and urination
- Increased hunger
- Weight loss (often despite a good appetite)
- Lethargy and weakness
- Increased tendency for skin and urinary tract infections
If left undiagnosed or untreated dogs can develop diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) – this is an emergency, life-threatening crisis where the blood becomes acidic due to a build-up of toxins. The dog becomes extremely lethargic to the point of collapse and coma; they normally start vomiting and are completely of their food. They need immediate veterinary care otherwise this condition can be rapidly fatal.
How is it diagnosed?
The vet may be suspicious of diabetes based on the clinical history and physical examination. They will suggest taking blood and urine samples to confirm the diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. Further tests may be needed to rule out any conditions that may interfere with the treatment of the condition.
Sign up to PocketVet now to speak to a vet.
How is it treated?
The following treatments form part of the management plan for dogs diagnosed with diabetes mellitus:
- Your dog will be prescribed with insulin for twice daily injections. These are given under the skin and you will receive thorough training on how to give them. Most dogs get very used to these injections and it soon becomes part of the daily routine.
- The injections should be given within an hour of food, ideally just before or as your dog is eating – this can also serve as a handy distraction when you are giving the injection!
- Monitoring blood glucose level
- This is an important part of the management plan for your dog, to ensure that they are receiving the correct amount of insulin and that their blood sugar level is not dropping too low. Hypoglycaemia can be very dangerous and can lead to collapse and seizures.
- Blood sugar monitoring can be done at home using a glucometer – a device used to check your dog’s blood sugar level using a little drop of blood from a skin prick. Your vet can give you thorough training on how to use this device.
- Monitoring can also be done using urine test strips, which measure the level of sugar in your dog’s urine. While these are not as accurate as a glucometer, these are easier to use as do not require any blood.
- Feeding routine
- Dogs should be fed at set times, 12 hours apart, to help regulate their blood sugar level.
- They should receive the same type and amount of food each day, and ideally should not receive treats in between mealtimes as this can cause an increase in their blood sugar level.
- Certain diets are recommended for diabetic dogs as they have a slower release of sugar.
- These diabetic diets are available in our shop by following this link.
- Consistent exercise
- Since diabetic dogs are less able to control their blood sugar levels, their exercise regime should be consistent to help avoid low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia).
- Spaying female dogs
- This can help to improve diabetic control, as the sex hormone progesterone can interfere with the action of insulin. Spaying your dog removes the source of progesterone.
What is the prognosis?
Most dogs can be stabilised on insulin although the treatment is lifelong. They will need regular check-ups at the vet and must be closely monitored. The life expectancy of diabetic dogs that are well managed with insulin is similar to other healthy dogs.