Diabetes mellitus is a common condition that affects the concentration of glucose, or sugar, in your pet’s blood. Diabetes occurs when your pet’s body makes too little insulin, stops producing it completely, or doesn’t utilize insulin properly, preventing food from converting to energy.
According to the National Library of Medicine, diabetes affects one-third of all dogs. It seems to be more prevalent in certain small breeds such as Miniature Poodles, Dachshunds, Schnauzers, Cairn Terriers, and Beagles, but any breed can be affected.
There are a few different ways to treat diabetes in dogs: diet management, oral hypoglycemic agents (medications that help lower blood sugar levels), and insulin therapy. Your veterinarian will work with you to find the best treatment plan for your dog.
Type I and Type 2 Diabetes Explained
The cause of diabetes is unknown, but it is most likely polygenic (caused by more than one gene) and environmental. There are two primary types of diabetes mellitus in dogs:
- Type I – Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM)
- Type 2 – non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM)
Type I diabetes is also juvenile-onset because it usually starts when a dog is young. In type I diabetes, the pancreas stops making insulin altogether. Dogs with type I diabetes take daily insulin injections to regulate their blood sugar levels. Without insulin therapy, these dogs would die within days from a high blood sugar level called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA).
Type 2 diabetes occurs in mature dogs. Type 2 diabetics still produce some insulin but not enough to maintain normal blood sugar levels without help from medication such as oral hypoglycemic agents or Insulin. Dogs with type 2 diabetes may require prescription medication to keep their blood sugar under control, but they usually don’t need daily insulin injections.
Signs of Diabetes in Dogs
Here are some common signs of diabetes in dogs. If you notice any of these changes in your pet, contact your veterinarian.
- Excessive thirst and urination
- Weight loss, even with an increased appetite
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Bad breath
- Cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)
How is Diabetes Diagnosed?
The exact cause of diabetes is unknown, although it is believed to be related to genetics as well as lifestyle. Dogs that are overweight and inactive often develop the disease. Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination and take a medical history from you.
A blood test called a serum fructosamine level will be run to measure how well the dog’s insulin levels have been controlled over two to three weeks. Other tests that may be recommended include a urinalysis, complete blood count (CBC), and serum biochemistry profile.
How is Diabetes Treated?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the treatment of diabetes must be tailored to each dog based on his or her specific needs. The goal of treatment is to maintain the dog’s blood sugar at as near normal levels as possible.
Treatment options include:
Diet management and exercise – a diet that is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber can help keep blood sugar levels stable. Regular exercise helps the body use insulin more efficiently.
Insulin therapy – Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar for energy. Nearly all dogs with diabetes require insulin therapy to maintain normal blood sugar levels. There are many different types and brands of insulin available, so it is essential to work with your veterinarian to find the one that works best for your pet.
What Happens Without Insulin?
Insulin is responsible for converting sugar into energy. Without insulin, extra sugar in the blood leads to frequent urination and constant thirst. The body tries to get rid of the sugar by flushing it out in the urine. This can lead to dehydration and loss of essential minerals, such as potassium and sodium. The dog’s cells become starved for energy, leading to weight loss no matter how much they eat. In severe cases, diabetic episodes can be life-threatening.
High blood sugar levels also damage nerves and blood vessels throughout the body over time. Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication that affects the dog’s nervous system, causing him or her to lose coordination, have difficulty walking, and experience changes in sensation (such as numbness or tingling) in the dog’s extremities. Other problems associated with diabetes include cataracts, urinary tract infections, pancreatitis, skin problems, and liver disease.
What Type of Medication is Used?
Insulin therapy is necessary for dogs with IDDM to maintain normal blood sugar levels. There are 3 types of medications used to treat diabetes in dogs: rapid-acting, fast-acting, and long-acting. These medications help the dog’s body make more insulin or use insulin more effectively. The type of medication prescribed will depend on the severity of the dog’s condition and how well he responds to treatment.
Rapid-acting insulins are generally started at a low dose and then gradually increased as needed. Short-acting insulins are given once a dog begins to respond well to rapid-acting insulin therapy. Long-acting insulin is usually introduced after the pet responds well to short-acting medication.
Medications for Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (Type I)
Some common types of fast-acting medications include Humulin R (human insulin) and Apidra (glucagon-like peptide-one). These medications must be given by injection using a syringe or an insulin pump. They start working within minutes after administration and provide short-term control of blood sugar levels.
There are many different types and brands of insulin available, so it is crucial to work with your veterinarian to find the one that works best for your pet. Some common brands of insulin used in dogs include:
Apidra (glucagon-like peptide-one) – is a rapid-acting insulin that begins working within 15 minutes of administration and peaks in action within 2 to 4 hours.
Humulin N – intermediate-acting insulin that begins working 90 minutes after injection and peaks within 2 hours, and lasts for 12 to 18 hours.
Vetsulin – intermediate-acting insulin that peaks 4 hours after injection and lass 8 hours
Novolin N – intermediate-acting insulin that begins working 2-4 hours after injection and peaks in action after 4-12 hours.
Levemir (detemir) – long-acting insulin that starts working one to 2 hours after injection, reaches its peak at 6 to 8 hours and continues providing coverage for up to 24 hours.
Lantus (insulin glargine) – intermediate-acting insulin that provides consistent levels of glucose control for up to 24 hours which is why it may be the best option in some cases. It does not require a change in dosage based on food intake, exercise, or illness as other insulins do. There are many different brands of long-acting human insulin available, including Lantus (glargine), Levemir (detemir), Actos (pioglitazone),
Medications for Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2)
For dogs with NIDDM, diet management and exercise are the primary forms of treatment. A diet low in carbohydrates and high in fiber can help keep blood sugar levels stable, and regular exercise helps the body use insulin more efficiently.
As we mentioned, there are two primary types of diabetes mellitus in dogs: insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM). Type 2 diabetes is less common in younger dogs. The most common type of medication used to treat type 2 diabetes in dogs is oral hypoglycemic agents, including sulfonylureas, biguanides, and meglitinides.
Some common medications used to treat type 2 diabetes include:
Sulfonylureas – These medications help the dog’s body make more insulin or use insulin more effectively. Common sulfonylureas include glyburide (DiaBeta, Micronase), glipizide (Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL), tolbutamide (Orinase), and glimepiride (Amaryl).
Meglitinides: These medications help the dog’s body make more insulin or use insulin more effectively. Common meglitinides include repaglinide (Prandin) and Nateglinide (Starlix).
Alpha-glucosidase Inhibitors – These medications slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, helping to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. Acarbose is an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor that may be used in dogs with NIDDM, and it’s also used alongside other drugs that can cause low blood glucose when combined with acarbose. Common brand names for alpha-glucosidase inhibitors are Precose (acarbose) and Glyset.
Managing Diabetes in Dog’s Through Diet and Exercise
In addition, your dog’s diet must also be adjusted to help control blood sugar levels better. Low carbohydrate diets may be beneficial for some dogs with diabetes. It allows the body to use fat rather than glucose (sugar) as an energy source and decrease weight gain associated with high-calorie diets designed for working or hunting breeds of dogs.
Exercise plays a vital role in managing canine diabetes mellitus by helping keep excess weight off while improving insulin sensitivity which helps lower blood sugar even further. Diet and exercise alone can delay or prevent type 2 diabetes.
Exercise is beneficial for diabetic dogs; it helps lower insulin requirements and provides better glycemic control. Daily walking or play exercise for dogs with DM can be an effective ancillary treatment to help achieve glucose control at a lower insulin dose.
Aerobic exercise – involves a combination of endurance and strength training that increases the body’s demand for oxygen. Activities such as walking, swimming, or playing fetch are good aerobic exercises to help diabetic dogs maintain weight loss while improving glucose control through increased cardiovascular fitness.
In addition, your dog’s diet must also be adjusted to help control blood sugar levels better. Low carbohydrate diets may benefit some dogs with diabetes because they allow the body to use fat rather than glucose (sugar) as an energy source. Additionally, it helps decrease weight gain associated with high-calorie diets designed for working or hunting breeds of dogs.
- Dogs should eat the same meal content every day to avoid dips or spikes in blood sugar.
- Choose dog foods with sources of protein and low carbohydrates.
- If your dog is overweight, switch to a low-calorie diet.
- See the American Kennel Club’s nutrition guidelines for more information.
Monitoring Your Dog’s Glucose Levels
The nurse and the vet are your biggest advocates. Keep up with regular visits to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can monitor your dog’s blood sugar levels and recommend adjustments in medication if needed. This can also prevent possible complications and side effects from occurring. Typically your veterinarian will recommend visiting 2–4 times a year for a physical examination and possibly laboratory testing.
How Glucose Levels are Monitored
Aside from checking blood sugar levels, there are other methods veterinarians may use to help assess your dog’s diabetes status. This includes:
- Urinalysis – looks for ketones and protein in the urine and signs of infection.
- Fasting blood sugar test – measures blood sugar after your dog has not eaten anything for 12 hours.
- Glycosylated hemoglobin (ABA) test – shows average blood sugar control over a period of time (usually around two to three months). This is the most accurate measure of long-term diabetic control in dogs. With proper care and management, you can expect a happy, healthy life for your furry friend!
If you have a glucometer, you can monitor your dog’s blood sugar at home. If you don’t have one of these devices or are unsure how to use it properly, ask your veterinarian for guidance on obtaining and using an appropriate device. To get the most accurate reading from the meter:
- Let the test strip absorb some of your dog’s sample urine before inserting it into the machine. This will ensure that all necessary chemicals are present to give an accurate reading.
- Wipe off excess droplets after getting a fresh sample with tissue paper; this lessens chances of error during the testing process due to too much moisture on the skin used on fingers instead of the ear lobe.
How Diabetes Affect’s Lifespan
The good news is that diabetes is very treatable with proper care and treatment. Left untreated, however, diabetes can have life-threatening consequences.
If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it’s crucial to take him or her to the veterinarian for a rapid diagnosis and treatment. With early detection and treatment, most dogs with diabetes can lead long, healthy lives. For more information, see the AAHA guidelines for diabetes management.