Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment - Vets on Call
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Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Causes and Treatment

By Sam Weeks | July 23, 2021

What is diabetes?

A disease that affects many animals including humans, dogs, cats, pigs, horses and apes, diabetes is a metabolism disorder that originates in the pancreas. In order to properly digest food and convert it to energy in the form of glucose, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. After food is broken down and glucose is formed, it is absorbed in the blood and transported to different parts of the body. Insulin is the hormone that tells cells in the body to absorb the glucose from the bloodstream and use it as fuel. 

The problem arises when the pancreas either doesn’t produce enough insulin (Type 1), or the cells in the body aren’t receiving the insulin’s command and thus are unable to extract the glucose from the bloodstream (Type 2). Both of these situations lead to high blood sugar, which can lead to organ damage. Additionally, when the cells in the body stop receiving the fuel they need to operate, the body starts breaking down its own fats and proteins and the unabsorbed glucose is secreted out through urine. This leads to weight loss and dehydration. If left untreated, diabetes can be dangerous. If you suspect that your dog may have diabetes, call one of our mobile vets immediately for an early diagnosis.

Is diabetes in humans and dogs different?

While Type-2 diabetes in both humans and dogs manifests in similar ways, a major difference in the manifestation of Type-1 diabetes in humans and dogs is in the amount of time it takes for symptoms to start showing. This is because dogs have a smaller number of alpha cells in the pancreas, in proportion to beta cells. While beta cells are responsible for the production of insulin, alpha cells produce a hormone called glucagon, which prevents blood sugar levels in the blood from dropping too low.

The relative lack of alpha cells means that the balance between insulin and glucagon is maintained and the body does not start showing symptoms of beta cell loss until significant loss has already occurred. This means that dogs are typically diagnosed with diabetes far later than their human counterparts.

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs:

  • Early Signs: a dog with diabetes may start drinking more water and urinating more frequently, often having accidents inside the house. They may also be losing weight despite eating normally, or may even be displaying an increase in appetite but still losing weight.
  • Advanced Signs: In addition to the above, in more advanced stages, your dog may become lethargic, have a rough, bristly fur coat, recurrent infections that don’t heal or may heal slowly, vomiting, be depressed and show a lack of interest in activities, and loss of appetite.
  • Severe Signs: Unregulated blood sugar for a long period of time can cause the body and its organs to break down, causing seizures, urinary tract infections, an enlarged liver, cataracts, ketoacidosis, strokes, severe weakness and abnormal breathing patterns.

Predisposition to diabetes:

There are certain dog breeds that may be naturally predisposed to diabetes. These include:

  • Bichons Frises
  • Dachshunds
  • Pugs
  • Poodles
  • Samoyeds
  • Terriers
  • Puli
  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • German Shepherds
  • Retrievers
  • Keeshonds
  • Pomeranians, and
  • Miniature Schnauzers

Dogs above five years are more likely to develop diabetes as they age, as are dogs that are obese. Similarly, unspayed females are twice as likely to develop diabetes than males. Female dogs may also develop gestational diabetes while pregnant or in heat, though this is usually temporary and disappears once the dog gives birth.

How a Vet Diagnoses Diabetes in Dogs

Some simple diagnostic tests are all that is needed to diagnose diabetes. These may include a urine sample test and a blood test, which can tell a vet of the levels of glucose in the bloodstream and urine. A blood test may also show electrolyte imbalances and high liver enzymes, both indicators of diabetes.

Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs

  • Exercise: For obese dogs, the first course of action a vet will prescribe is losing excess body weight. Obesity not only contributes to insulin resistance but also increases the risk of pancreatitis, which in turn often leads to diabetes. It is important for a diabetic dog to maintain a moderate but consistent exercise routine. But don’t overdo the walks and playtime, as this may cause spikes or drops in glucose levels.
  • Diet: A special diet that is rich in fibre and complex carbohydrates and has good-quality protein but is low in fat content is ideal. Work with your veterinarian to develop a feeding schedule and a diet plan for your diabetic dog.
  • Insulin: Your dog may need insulin injections once or twice a day. The frequency of injections will depend upon the initial testing a vet may conduct, which allows them to monitor the blood glucose at different times of the day. The timing of the shot may differ based on your vet’s findings, but as a general rule, it is usually recommended that the dose be given right after meals so it can be regulated based on how much your dog ate.

If you suspect that your dog has diabetes, get in touch with us at Vets on Call and get access to a mobile vet of your choice at your preferred time and day. All of our mobile vets carry all the pet diagnostic testing equipment needed to diagnose diabetes and are highly capable of doing so right in the comfort of your home. This includes blood test equipment as well as urine dipstick analysis tools. No more lab visits, no more collecting a sample of your dog’s urine and no more waiting in your local Richmond vet clinic or Brunswick vet clinic. With Vets on Call, your home is the clinic!

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