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A dog having a diabetes check up

Diabetes in dogs: spotting the signs and how to help

Did you know diabetes is becoming more and more common in UK dogs? 

But what is it? How does it work? Which dogs are predisposed to diabetes and how can they be treated? 

Let's take a closer look at this serious, yet manageable, condition. 

A brief summary:

  • Diabetes stops the body’s insulin production and can lead to high blood sugar levels
  • Diabetes can lead to further health problems if left untreated
  • Symptoms include increased hunger, thirst and urination
  • Diabetes is incurable, but can often be managed successfully with insulin treatments and a healthy diet
  • A balanced diet plus plenty of exercise is the best way of preventing diabetes
  • If your dog is showing signs of diabetes, contact your local vet

What is diabetes?

Canine diabetes is one of the most common hormonal diseases in dogs. It’s an incurable disease in which a dog’s body cannot regulate its blood sugar (glucose) levels effectively. 

A diabetic dog runs the risk of their blood glucose levels becoming too high (hyperglycaemia) or too low (hypoglycaemia). 

Scientifically, how does diabetes work?

When a healthy, non-diabetic dog eats a meal, glucose is formed which supplies the body with energy by travelling through the bloodstream. Glucose levels rise after a dog ingests food and in order to make sure glucose (blood sugar) levels don’t become too high, the pancreas releases a glucose-regulating hormone known as insulin.

Sadly, a diabetic dog either:

  1. Can’t produce insulin at all
  2. Produces some insulin but not enough
  3. Produces insulin fine, but their cells can’t process it properly  

This means that after each meal, the dog is left with an unregulated amount of glucose travelling through their bloodstream. Instead of converting glucose into energy, their body relies on fat or protein stores. 

What type of dogs does diabetes affect?

In most cases, dogs are 7-10 years old when they’re diagnosed.

Around 70% of diabetic dogs are female and the disease is most common in Poodles, Miniature Dachshunds, Springer Spaniels, Miniature Schnauzers and Cairn Terriers.

That said, diabetes can affect any dog from as little as 18 months of age.

small dog on weighing scales

What causes dogs to get diabetes? 

One lifestyle factor that plays a huge role in predisposing a dog to diabetes is diet. 

Obese or overweight dogs, or dogs who consume too many carbohydrates, are far more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than dogs who are kept at a healthy weight and enjoy a suitable diet.

Diet and weight isn’t necessarily a cause of diabetes, but overeating can cause an overload of glucose to flow through the bloodstream. Type 2 diabetes occurs when as a result, the body becomes resistant to glucose altogether. 

How serious is diabetes?

If a dog’s blood sugar levels become too high or too low, they can be at a critical risk of major health problems. Even with treatment, a diabetic dog is at a higher risk of developing cataracts (eye problems) and urinary tract infections.

Luckily, diabetes is can often be successfully managed. With the right treatment plan in place, many diabetic dogs can live a long and happy life. 

Is my dog diabetic? What are the signs of diabetes in dogs?

Excess glucose passes through the dog’s urine, meaning that diabetic dogs go to the toilet more often than others. This makes them extra thirsty. Also, lack of glucose or failure to respond to it will make your dog feel excessive hunger, so they’re likely to eat more and beg for food regularly. Lastly, because the body burns off tissue instead of glucose, a diabetic dog is likely to experience weight loss. 

So, the following could be signs of diabetes:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Increased hunger
  • Weight loss (even though many diabetic dogs are overweight)

Remember: these symptoms can belong to other health conditions, especially if your dog displays some but not others. If your dog displays these signs, contact your vet so they can examine your pet thoroughly and properly diagnose their condition. 

golden retriever asleep on couch

How is diabetes treated?

Diabetes is common and can be treated - if diagnosed early and properly managed, many diabetic dogs lead active and happy lives.

A dog with Type 1 diabetes can’t produce any insulin, so will depend on daily insulin injections for life. The prospect of giving your dog regular insulin injections may sound daunting, but try not to panic. Your vet will show you how to do it and will answer all your questions and queries when you visit them in practice.

A diabetic dog will need regular check-ups to monitor their condition, and you should always let your vet know immediately if you notice any changes to your dog’s appetite or thirst, or if they appear dizzy at any time.

Can feeding a healthy diet help with my dog’s symptoms?

A balanced diet can massively improve the stability of your dog’s sugar levels.

There are many specialised diets available which can help stabilise your dog - your vet can advise on which is most suitable for your specific dog. 

Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes: what’s the difference? 

Type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas can’t produce insulin properly while Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas produces insulin fine but the body becomes resistant to it or fails to process it properly. 

Unlike humans and cats, most diabetic dogs suffer with Type 1 diabetes. This means their pancreas doesn’t produce insulin properly and that they’ll most likely need insulin injections throughout their life. 

Need more info?

Because diabetes can be very serious, it's best diagnosed and treated early. Always contact your vet if you spot any of the signs listed above.

Find your nearest My Family Vets practice using our Find a Vet page.