Donna partners with Dr. Cathy Alinovi, a retired veterinarian, to create informative pet health articles.
Learning your beloved pet has diabetes can be frightening for pet parents, but it is a treatable disease. With early detection and the proper diabetes management regimen, diabetic dogs can live healthy, comfortable lives. Retired veterinarian Dr. Cathy Alinovi shares tips for avoiding canine diabetes and techniques for caring for diabetic dogs at home.
Question 1: What Is Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Diabetes is a disorder of sugar balance in the body. When healthy humans and animals eat a meal, our pancreas, which is a tiny organ near the stomach and intestines, releases a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps the body put sugar from our meals into storage so the body can use it as needed.
In the case of diabetes, the sugar is not stored because the pancreas does not make enough insulin. Consequently, sugar is lost from the body by way of urine. These patients drink a ton of water, pee like crazy, and lose weight.
Q2: How Do Dogs Become Diabetic?
Dr. Cathy: The type of diabetes affecting dogs is believed to be autoimmune in cause. This means the immune system becomes confused and attacks itself (the pancreas) rather than attacking invaders such a virus.
Because diabetes is autoimmune, anything causing the immune system to overact can lead to diabetes. Things implicated in an overactive immune system include:
- Overuse of vaccines, especially in puppies
- Repeated use of steroid therapies
- Preservatives in food
Q3: What Health Complications Does Diabetes Cause?
Dr. Cathy: There are wide ranges of complications such as:
- Sugar in the urine, which causes bladder infections
- Severe weight loss
- Inflammation in the pancreas causes pancreatitis
- Dehydration from the inflammation
- Cataracts from the inflammation
- Slow healing times
Monitor Blood Glucose Levels
Q4: How Can Owners Protect Their Dogs From Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Reflecting on the answers to the preceding questions, the list of potential causes of diabetes is long. In short, this means almost anything can lead a dog to diabetes.
However, we should not run and hide our dogs from the world. Instead, dog owners who strive to get to the root of problems and not just treat the symptoms reduce their dogs' risk. Striving to provide the most natural environment and the most natural food (foods humans would eat) help prevent diabetes.
Top 10 Warning Signs of Canine Diabetes
- Drinking lots of water (increased thirst)
- Frequent urination
- Weight loss
- Smelly breath
- Smelly urine
- Sticky urine
- Not eating
Q5: What Is the Difference Between the Types of Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: In humans, there are two main types of diabetes: type I and type II. In humans, juvenile onset diabetes is type I; dogs get this type.
Type II is adult onset and related to diet; this is the type cats get. Type I diabetes can affect children, puppies and adults; hence, the name juvenile onset is a bit misleading.
Type I diabetes is often an autoimmune disease, which means something caused the body to attack its pancreas. The result can be diabetes.
There is a third type of diabetes sometimes discussed, type III. This diabetes develops because other disease conditions are going on.
Q6: Which Breeds Have a Genetic Predisposition for Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Here's a table I created for our readers showing those breeds.
Dog Breeds Predisposed to Diabetes
Q7: What Is the Relationship Between Obesity and Diabetes in Dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Obesity makes things worse. While obesity tends not to be the primary cause of diabetes in dogs, it is a complicating factor. Obesity means the dog has been either overeating, or overeating carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are our dogs' source of most sugars because carbs breakdown to sugar in digestion. Therefore, the more carbs a dog eats, the more sugar floods the body. The pancreas produces insulin, which is necessary to covert blood sugars to glucose for storage. An overworked pancreas can get tired, and this is what happens in type II diabetes.
However, the type I diabetic still needs to watch sugar as the body cannot put it away well. Weight loss helps many diabetics regulate their condition.
Q8: How Big a Factor Is a Dog's Age in Determining the Risk of Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Older dogs (those over six years old) are more likely to get diabetes, which is probably due to more lifetime exposures to things that stress the pancreas.
Interestingly, females are three times more likely to get diabetes than males.
Q9: How Do You Diagnose Diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Actually, it is a very easy diagnosis based on a urine sample and then confirmed with a blood test. Many vet clinics can diagnose diabetes in minutes.
How to: Administer Insulin
Q13: What If my dog needs insulin to manage the diabetes?
Dr. Cathy: Since this is the most common treatment method, your vet will train you to store the insulin, mix it gently, and give the shots at home.
Q10: What Is the Prognosis for Diabetic Dogs?
Dr. Cathy: Unfortunately, the prognosis can range from good to quite poor depending on how early the disease is discovered. If you notice changes in your dog early and it is diagnosed quickly, then your dog can have good quality for quite some time.
But, if you do not notice right away, your dog hides his symptoms, or other illnesses have been going on, you may not have much time left with your dog. It can be a very sad diagnosis to share. To make things worse, if there are multiple illnesses going on such as diabetes and pancreatitis or diabetes and Cushing's disease, the prognosis worsens.
Q11: What Treatment Methods Do You Recommend?
Dr. Cathy: Dogs need to be on insulin as it is a rare case where a diabetic dog can be managed without insulin. However, this is different for cats.
Diabetic dogs do best with insulin, meat-based diets without carbohydrates, and gentle to moderate exercise. Supplements can also help the body perform. I'll mention a few beneficial ones such as:
- Chromium and the B vitamin niacinamide improve the effect of the insulin that is present so less insulin has to be added.
- Niacinamide combined with omega-3 fatty acids improves the overall pancreatic function.
- Bitter melon, a fruit found in Asian and health food stores, is a source of naturally occurring insulin. Including bitter melon in your dog's diet can decrease the need for injectable insulin.
- L-carnitine, dandelion, blueberries, and ginseng each improve the body's ability to store sugar, again reducing the need for supplemental insulin.
- Inositol, at least in humans, helps with diabetic nerve pain. While it is not clear if dogs get nerve pain from diabetes, we all would like to see our dogs as comfortable as possible, so inositol may be helpful.
Digestive aids, such as betaine for stomach acid production or pancreatic enzymes, assist the entire digestive process, decreasing nausea, and improving the quality of life for the diabetic dog.
Vote for Your Favorite Pet
Q12: What Is the Role of Diet in Diabetes Management?
Dr. Cathy: Diet is a huge part of managing diabetes. Because diabetes results when the body can't store sugar, feeding sugar and carbohydrates in the diet complicates things by making it harder to regulate your dog's blood sugar levels.
Sadly, in order to make a piece of dry dog food kibble, there has to be 30% carbohydrate in the food just to get it to hold together.
To reduce carbohydrate intake drastically, you must move beyond dry dog food because even prescription dry dog foods for diabetic dogs are full of carbs.
Canned food, home-prepared food, and raw diets work exceptionally well for diabetic dogs. Be aware that treats can be a hidden source of carbs and sugars. Many treats contain sugar; check the ingredients for words like glycerin, sugar, dextrose, and fructose.
Safe treats might be small bits of real bacon. Dairy is undesirable as it can increase unwanted blood lipids (fats) which can predispose to diabetes, at least in humans. Finally, a detoxification diet to reduce the stress load on the body may be helpful.
Q14: Will I Be Able to Give my Dog Shots?
Dr. Cathy: This is definitely something you want to learn how to do. Insulin typically is given twice daily at mealtime, so it is best to do this at home. The needles are tiny and most dogs do great with shots at home.
Q15: Are There Alternatives to Insulin Shots?
Dr. Cathy: Humans have options like insulin pumps. Type II diabetics can take pills like glipizide. There are preliminary studies of different drugs that may prevent absorption of sugar in the intestines. However, if sugar is not included in the diet, then the medication should be unnecessary, and it has not been proven the medications make a difference.
Q16: What Else Should Pet Owners Know?
Dr. Cathy: First, diabetes and ham does not mix well. For those who feed healthy, balanced human food to their pets, I recommend avoiding ham, as it seems to have too much sugar for the diabetic dog to handle.
Next, sometimes diabetics accidentally get too much insulin so their blood sugar drops. These patients get dopey and non-responsive. Try a blob of honey in their mouths and go to the vet as soon as possible, regardless of whether the honey makes things better. Something else could be going on and the sooner you catch it the better.
Finally, managing a diabetic dog takes dedication; it can be hard work. Keep your dog's quality of life in mind at all times, as the downward spiral can be ugly and heart breaking.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2014 Donna Cosmato
What are your experiences with diabetes in dogs?
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 25, 2014:
Thanks Debraw50 for your kind words. I enjoy working with Dr. Cathy Alinovi to create these articles because I always learn so much about how to take care of my pets.
Donna Cosmato (author) from USA on March 25, 2014:
Thanks for reading and commenting on this dearabbysmom! We've been fortunate that none of our dogs got diabetes, but we lost a cat to the disease several years ago.
Nancy Owens from USA on March 23, 2014:
This is a great Hub. I love the way you organized it and presented the information.
Debraw50 on March 22, 2014:
Such a beautiful dog and this article is very interesting and good to know for pet owners.
dearabbysmom from Indiana on March 22, 2014:
I would be so sad to have a diabetes diagnosis in one of my dogs, but would do whatever it took to help manage it. Great information, and interesting that dogs don't have different kinds like humans!