Diabetes In Dogs: Everything You Should Know

Diabetes In Dogs: Everything You Should Know

Diabetes in dogs impacts 1 in 300 dogs. Finn has everything you should about the disease, including common symptoms and potential treatments.

title card diabetes

The chances are high that you know someone with diabetes — researchers estimated that one in every ten people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease. 

But did you know that your dog can also develop diabetes? 

Finn has everything you should know about this complicated yet manageable veterinary health condition. 

What Is Diabetes?

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is an endocrine disease that impacts the body's level of natural insulin production. For dogs with a normal functioning endocrine system, the pancreas can secrete enough insulin hormone to move glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and into the cells, where it is used as energy. 

However, a diabetic dog has a body that can’t keep up with the necessary insulin production, leading to high glucose levels that cannot leave the bloodstream. 

article what is diabetes

This imbalance between insulin and glucose can happen for two reasons — their body naturally doesn’t produce enough insulin (known as insulin-deficiency diabetes), or their body isn’t responding appropriately to the insulin produced (known as insulin-resistant diabetes). Of these, insulin-deficiency diabetes is the most commonly diagnosed type of diabetes in dogs. 

However, no matter what type of diabetes a dog suffers from, the result is the same — the cells in the body start to become deprived of the fuel they need to function correctly. In an attempt to find the necessary energy, the body breaks down its stores of fats and proteins instead.  

Although diabetes is not a curable disease, it is usually manageable with the correct diagnosis, a proper treatment plan (including medications like insulin), and veterinary support. 

Are Some Dogs More Susceptible to Diabetes Than Others?

Any dog can develop diabetes, but some breeds tend to be affected more than others. If your dog’s breed is on this list, it doesn’t mean that they will get diabetes, however they may need to be monitored more closely for symptoms.

article risk breeds diabetes

  • Australian terriers
  • Bichon frises
  • Dachshunds
  • German shepherds
  • Golden retrievers
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Samoyeds
  • Pomeranians
  • Pugs
  • Toy poodles

In addition, research has shown that unspayed female dogs are two times as likely to develop diabetes than male dogs. Other medical conditions that may increase your dog’s likelihood of developing diabetes later in life include:

  • Certain autoimmune disorders
  • Certain infectious viral diseases
  • Chronic episodes of pancreatitis (because the pancreas produces insulin and can become damaged due to recurrent inflammation of the pancreas)
  • Cushing’s Disease (steroid overproduction is one of the hallmarks of this disorder)
  • Long term steroid use

Most diabetes in dogs develops between the ages of 4 and 14, although even younger dogs can receive a diagnosis if they have the right risk factors.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

The signs and symptoms of diabetes in dogs are similar to those that appear in humans, except that our dogs can’t tell us how they feel. 

As pet owners, it’s our responsibility to recognize the often subtle changes that might indicate our doggos are sick. Catching the symptoms early can help increase the chances of successfully managing the disease.

Early Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

article early signs diabetes

Diabetes doesn’t start with big, noticeable symptoms. Often, the signs that your dog is struggling with blood sugar regulation are far more subtle and can be easily missed if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here are some of the most common:

  • Excessive thirst (polydipsia) - Your dog may go from being a casual water sipper to aggressively draining the entire water bowl multiple times a day.
  • Frequent urination (polyuria) - Your dog may also experience more frequent urination or even have accidents in the house due to increased thirst. In addition, because water bonds to glucose, the body tries to help rid excess sugar through the urine. 
  • An increase in appetite (polyphagia) - Because the cells aren’t getting the energy they need to function, the body may trigger a hunger response more frequently in an attempt to gain more fuel. 
  • Weight loss - Even though your dog is likely eating more, you may notice that they seem to be losing weight. This is because, although your dog is taking in additional calories, the glucose in the food isn’t being processed for energy. 

Later Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

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If not caught early, diabetes can progress and lead to more advanced signs of the disease. Often, this indicates that diabetes is beginning to impact the dog on a more systemic level, which needs to be quickly addressed by your dog’s veterinarian. 

  • Chronic skin infections
  • Depression
  • Dull coat
  • Lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Visual impairment
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness

How Can You Treat Diabetes in Dogs?

Treating your dog’s diabetes always starts with an official diagnosis from their veterinarian. They do this the same way that human doctors do, usually by checking the blood glucose level. Your vet may also want to check your dog’s urine for excessive sugar levels.

Once your dog has been diagnosed, treatment starts by educating you on proper monitoring of your pet at home. This will usually include a daily glucose monitoring system to establish a glucose curve, a change in diet, and potential medications like insulin injections. 

Your vet will work with you to find the correct dose of insulin, which may change (especially from when your dog is first diagnosed to when more data is available). Expect that you will be making more frequent visits to the veterinarian for the first few months following diagnosis, as treatment plans are fluid and will change depending on your pet’s response. 

This may feel like a lot to handle, but pet owners are more than capable of successfully managing their dog’s diabetes when working in collaboration with their vet. Most dogs tolerate the change in their routine, especially if you make it as positive of an experience as possible. 

Don’t be afraid that you’re hurting your dog, as the needles used to inject insulin are so tiny that your dog may not feel them at all with the right distraction. 

What Are Side Effects of Untreated Diabetes in Dogs?

Untreated diabetes can have a wide variety of devastating and potentially fatal side effects in dogs. Every part of a dog’s body needs blood to function, which means that high glucose levels in the blood have the potential to reach and impact every system. 

Complications that may arise as a result of untreated diabetes in dogs include:

  • Cataracts (which may eventually lead to blindness)
  • Frequent skin infections
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver enlargement
  • Recurring urinary tract infections
  • Seizures

There is also a specific complication of diabetes that all pet owners should look for — diabetic ketoacidosis. Also known as DKA, diabetic ketoacidosis can occur suddenly and is potentially life-threatening. The condition is triggered by the liver breaking down fat instead of sugar for fuel, leading to the release of acids called ketones. 

As these acids build up in the body, they produce symptoms including rapid breathing, sudden lethargy, vomiting, and a sweet smell to the breath. Contact your vet right away if you suspect your dog may have DKA. 

How Can I Reduce Risk Factors for Diabetes in My Dog?

While you can’t change your dog’s breed, there are a few key risk factors for diabetes in dogs that you can control.

For example, obesity predisposes dogs to insulin resistance and can increase the severity of related symptoms. Recognizing that your dog may be overweight is half the battle. Once you have checked with your veterinarian, you can develop a game plan to help take off the excess weight. Weight loss strategies include more frequent exercise (try running with your dog!) and reducing calories. 

Another factor that you can control is your dog’s spay status. Unless you intend on breeding your dog, having your female dog spayed can drastically reduce the likelihood that she will develop diabetes later on in life. 

And finally, although it may be difficult, it’s crucial that you avoid giving your dog table scraps as much as possible. 

This leads to a greater chance of obesity and gastrointestinal upset, and it can also unnaturally raise their blood sugar and cause insulin imbalance. Treats should only make up about 10% of your pet’s daily calories, and that 10% should be spent wisely on appropriate, healthy treats. 

In Summary

Diabetes in dogs can seem scary, but don’t panic. Knowing what symptoms to monitor for and what risk factors can increase your dog’s risk of developing the disease can help prevent or manage diabetes far more successfully. 

Finn has your back, and we’re here with all of the tips and tricks you need to help your dog live a long and happy life. 


Canine Diabetes Overview | Merck Animal Health USA 

Interpreting glucose curves | AAHA 

Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs and Cats - Endocrine System | Merck Veterinary Manual



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