Recognizing and Managing Diabetes in Dogs [Must Read For Dog Owners]

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 2, 2018

Our furry dog and cat pals can, unfortunately, get many of the same diseases and ailments that humans can. Dogs and cats alike are susceptible to the animal form of diabetes. Diabetes in dogs isn’t common, but it happens. If wacky blood sugar levels go untreated, your dog can potentially suffer from further health issues. This includes problems with their kidneys, increased risk of urinary tract infection, and cataracts. Fortunately, diabetes can be manageable. In fact, there are many routes you can take as a pet owner. For instance, weight loss, insulin therapy, or other treatment, can help manage diabetes in dogs. If you take your veterinarian’s advice, you’ll likely keep your four-legged friend in good dog health.

diabetes in dogs fat dogs

What is Diabetes in Dogs?

Canine diabetes does similar things to the dog body as it does to the human body. The technical term for the disease, diabetes mellitus, refers to the most common type of diabetes. With diabetes mellitus, the pancreas has an impaired ability to make enough insulin. When cats or dogs don’t get enough insulin, their bodies can’t break down blood glucose properly. The lack of insulin results in an elevated blood sugar level in your pet.  Unfortunately, this could affect everything from the way your pet eats to the energy it has throughout the day.

Diabetes mellitus can potentially affect other organs in your dog’s body due to excess blood glucose concentration. It may also be a risk factor for cancer of the pancreas, heart disease, and more.

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

Numerous things can cause your pet to develop this disease, and your veterinarian can likely help pinpoint a cause. Some dogs, for example, have insulin resistance, which makes some of their cells unable to respond to insulin properly. Insulin resistance can, therefore, cause dog blood sugar to remain at elevated levels, resulting in the need for an insulin injection or another diabetes treatment.

Your dog’s veterinarian may also tell you that weight loss is necessary for your pet. Much like humans, cats and dogs should remain at a healthy weight to prevent their cells from becoming resistant to insulin. The more weight your pet carries on their body, the likelier they are to develop the disease.

It’s possible that your dog is simply more prone to diabetes than others. In some cases, an autoimmune disorder can cause the body to attack its own tissue, which can affect the dog pancreas ability to produce insulin to keep blood glucose levels in check. Some breeds are more susceptible to the disease than others, like Golden Retrievers and Poodles. If your pet has Cushing Disease, they may also be at risk for developing diabetes mellitus from an elevated blood glucose level from increased cortisol production.

Dogs and cats can also develop diabetic symptoms from their environments or the foods they eat. Toxins, like BPA and molds, can alter hormone levels in your pet, which can affect several parts of the body, including the pancreas and its ability to produce insulin.

Types of Diabetes in Dogs

The two terms you hear often with diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2. These terms refer to the types of diabetes mellitus your dog can have. Diabetes mellitus Type 2 is the most commonly-occurring type in dogs. Type 2 is sometimes referred to as adult-onset diabetes, but it can occur in dogs of any age. This type does not require insulin, as the body can still produce insulin. Instead, your dog’s body won’t be able to use insulin correctly, therefore requiring a treatment, like oral medication or a diabetic dog food, to help manage symptoms.

diabetes in dogs type 1

Type 1 diabetes mellitus is a more serious form of diabetes in dogs in which the body is unable to produce insulin to control blood glucose levels and blood sugar. Your dog may need insulin injections to keep their blood glucose level within normal range, which is why this type is sometimes referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.

diabetes in dogs type 2

You might have also heard the term diabetes insipidus. This is another form of diabetes that affects the body’s ability to process water correctly. A diabetic dog with this form of diabetes will dispel water through his urine more frequently than others, which could cause long-term side effects. This type of diabetes can be classified as central diabetes insipidus, dipsogenic diabetes insipidus, or nephrogenic diabetes insipidus, each of which affects different hormones that regulate urine production and water retention.

Common Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

diabetes insipidus

Diabetes mellitus and diabetes insipidus can affect dogs in different ways. Diabetes insipidus may cause an increase in urination.This is due to the body’s inability to absorb and retain water properly. A diabetic dog with this form of the disease may have extreme thirst, drink much more than usual, urinate frequently, and may get dehydrated quickly.

Since diabetes mellitus is a much more common type in dogs, it’s important that you’re aware of its common symptoms, some of which overlap with diabetes insipidus. The signs of diabetes in dogs with the form that affects insulin production may include:

  • Increased elimination of dog urine
  • Dehydration
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Sweet-smelling breath
  • Cataract formation

What Diabetic Treatment is Available for My Dog?

Treatment for diabetes mellitus in dogs depends on whether they have Type 1 or Type 2. Your veterinarian may also try a combination of treatments, depending on how your dog responds to trials. The following treatment methods are common possibilities for treatment for diabetes that help regulate blood glucose levels and curb symptoms related to diabetes.

Diabetic Dog Food and Weight Loss Treatment

It’s very possible that the treatment your veterinarian recommends for your dog is a weight loss regimen and healthy diet if he isn’t dependent on insulin injections. If your dog produces insulin correctly, then their body just needs to be able to process it correctly. Often, this can happen with a diet of diabetic dog food and exercise to help them lose weight and maintain a healthy weight.

Type 2 diabetes is a form of the disease that you can typically manage with the right diet to prevent it from turning into Type 1 diabetes.

Oral Medication Treatment

If your dog’s blood glucose levels still aren’t responding, your veterinarian might prescribe an oral medication. Oral medications may help dogs with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes when they’re combined with a healthy diet and strict exercise regimen.

Common medications for dogs include Metformin, which can reduce insulin resistance, and Glucotrol, which helps to lower blood sugar.

Dog Insulin Injections

dog insulin injection

Your veterinarian may prescribe insulin injections for your dog if they’re not responding to medications and a change in diet. Although giving insulin via a shot isn’t a top choice for most dog owners, it is usually the most effective method for controlling diabetes in canines.

Your dog may need insulin twice per day to manage their diabetes. Fortunately, most injections are relatively simple to administer, and dogs usually become used to them as part of their daily health regimen.

Other Treatments for Related Symptoms

It’s possible that your dog will need other treatments related to symptoms and health problems that stem from diabetes. For example, cataract surgery may be required to fix cataracts, a common symptom related to high blood sugar that causes severe cloudiness in the eyes and eventually, blindness.

Your dog may also require oral medications or a special diet for kidney and bladder infections caused by diabetes. Some dogs also suffer from liver disease or pancreatitis, both of which may require a special diet.

How Often Does My Diabetic Dog Need Checkups?

diabetes in dogs check up

You should be prepared to make frequent trips to your veterinarian if you’re dog has been diagnosed with diabetes. Your vet will want to monitor your dog’s blood glucose levels closely, find the proper course of treatment, and continue monitoring their symptoms and levels to ensure that the treatments are working properly.

It’s common for a veterinarian to have to tweak your dog’s course of treatment often until they find something that works. Plan to visit the vet about once each week after the diagnosis for close monitoring. After that, your vet may taper off visits to once every couple of weeks or once a month, but you’ll still need to go more frequently than with a dog with a clean bill of health.

Also, be sure to make an extra appointment if your dog’s behaviors, appetite, or health seems to change suddenly. It could be cause for concern, so it’s a good idea to get your dog a checkup just in case.

Final Thoughts: Taking Care of a Diabetic Dog

Taking care of your diabetic dog after their diagnosis is a big commitment. However, managing your dog’s diabetes will help them live a longer, healthier life. Keep up on vet visits to monitor your dog’s symptoms and ensure that they’re getting the best treatment for their needs. Additionally, don’t hesitate to ask questions during vet visits to make sure you understand everything your dog needs and how you can be an integral part of improving their health.


About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for