Up to 1 percent of all dogs may develop diabetes during their lifetime. Diabetes mellitus or just diabetes happens when there’s a lack of insulin or a lack of the body’s response to insulin. The disease is more common in older pets, but it can also occur in younger dogs. The good news is that with proper treatment, diet, and exercise, diabetic dogs can lead long and happy lives.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes occurs when the dog’s body cannot use glucose normally. Glucose (a type of simple sugar} is the main source of energy for the dog’s body cells. When food is digested, the body breaks down some of the nutrients like carbohydrates and protein and converts them to glucose. Glucose is then absorbed from the intestines into the blood and transported throughout the body as a vital source of energy.
Insulin is a hormone responsible for glucose delivery. Insulin is released by an organ called the pancreas. As glucose is being absorbed from the intestines into the blood, the organ pancreas will release insulin into the blood too. Insulin acts as a “gatekeeper” that tells the dog’s body cells to grab glucose (and other nutrients) out of the bloodstream and use them as fuel for energy production.
Diabetes occurs when this “glucose delivery” process isn’t working as it should. Here are two possible ways diabetes can happen.
- The dog’s pancreas is not producing enough insulin and it happens when the pancreas is damaged or not functioning properly. This is also known as insulin-deficiency diabetes. Without insulin, the dog’s body cells are unable to grab these glucose molecules from the blood leading to a rise in the dog’s blood glucose level. This is the most common type of diabetes in dogs. Dogs with this type of diabetes need daily insulin shots to replace the missing insulin.
- The dog’s pancreas is working well and is producing enough insulin, but the dog’s body is not responding to the insulin’s “message” to grab glucose out of the bloodstream. This is known as insulin-resistance diabetes and is more common in overweight dogs. Female dogs can also develop temporary insulin resistance during pregnancy.
What are the signs of diabetes in pets?
If you see any of the following signs, arrange to have your pet examined by a veterinarian. Like all chronic diseases, the sooner the disease is diagnosed with early treatment administered, the better chance the pet has of a normal life.
Common signs include:
- Excessive thirst and increased urination
- Weight loss, despite increased or normal eating portions
- Appetite changes with some dogs experiencing an increase in appetite and food intake, while others may experience loss of appetite
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to other devastating health effects on the dog’s body:
- Cataracts and blindness
- Liver diseases
- Recurring urinary tract infections
- Kidney failure
- Ketoacidosis, a potentially life-threatening acute condition that can be accompanied by rapid breathing, lethargy, vomiting, or sweet-smelling breath
How is diabetes diagnosed?
The diagnosis is often relatively straightforward. Your veterinarian will order some tests to check for diabetes, including testing for excessive glucose (sugar) in the blood and urine. Sometimes, he or she may run additional tests to rule out other possible medical complications caused by diabetes. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, insulin may be prescribed by your veterinarian for your pet. Depending on the test result, other medications may be prescribed too. Diet plays an important part in the treatment of diabetes, and often, your veterinarian will prescribe diabetic dog food.
Please take note that a diabetic treatment plan is not a one-size-fits-all regimen. Your veterinarian may periodically need to adjust your pet’s treatment plan based on the results of monitoring.
Caring for dogs with diabetes
The key to managing diabetes is to keep your dog’s blood sugar near normal levels as possible. Avoid blood sugar levels that are too high or too low. Besides the insulin (and other medication) prescribed by your veterinarian, caring for your diabetic dog includes a dietary change and a fitness regimen.
Diabetic dog foods are usually designed with low glycemic index ingredients. These dog foods would also contain a higher protein and fibre content. The higher protein and fibre content, coupled with other lower glycemic index ingredients helps to modulate the dog’s blood sugar level, keeping it stable throughout the day.
Without a proper “glucose delivery” process, it is crucial to keep the blood sugar level as stable as possible. A diet that causes a sudden spike in blood sugar level will lead to a condition known as hyperglycaemia. A sudden drop in blood sugar level will lead to hypoglycaemia and both hyper- and hypo- can cause major health problems. Please discuss with your veterinarian about finding the best dog food for diabetes.
Sometimes, a low-fat diet is necessary, especially if the diabetes is secondary to pancreatitis. Dogs with pancreatitis must go on a reduced-fat diet. Similarly, in cases where the dog is overweight, a fat-reduced diet may be recommended as well, to help the dog lose weight and better manage the diabetic condition in the long term. For paw parents feeding dry dog food, consider the Wellness Core Grain Free Reduced Fat Dry Dog Food. This is a good high-protein, reduced-fat formula for dogs carrying excess weight.
Some paw parents have noticed weight loss and better blood glucose control in their diabetic pets when switching to a fresh diet. This is not surprising if the fresh diet is biologically appropriate containing very few unnecessary carbohydrates. Today, there are plenty of good quality, commercially fresh diets to choose from. We have selected one for your consideration and it’s The Grateful Pet Cooked Dog Food (Grass-Fed Beef). This is a protein-rich, low-carbohydrate meal containing the ideal amounts of healthy fat for optimal health and vitality, even for diabetic dogs. There are plenty of other flavours to choose from. Choose the flavour that your dog loves most!
Exercise and fitness
Daily exercise is strongly recommended for dogs with diabetes, especially so with overweight dogs. Just like in humans who have diabetes, maintaining a healthy body weight can help the dog’s body cells better react to insulin.
Walking or jogging is the best form of exercise. However, the speed and duration of the run will depend on your dog’s breed and overall health. Some breeds with short noses are not built to run for an extended period. Smaller dogs or dogs with short legs have more difficulty keeping up with humans when it comes to running. So, you may want to walk instead, and have your small-breed dog running next to you. Consult your veterinarian about an appropriate exercise program for your pet, considering factors such as weight, overall health, and age.
A fetching game is another good exercise for dogs and you can’t go wrong with a classic like this KONG AirDog Football Dog Toy. If you are looking for a versatile fetch toy that is also a rope tug toy, consider the Ruffwear Pacific Ring™ Rope Tug, Fling, Fetch Dog Toy. Its versatile design engages a range of play styles and is suitable for both fetchers and tuggers.
Regular examination Diabetic dogs are more likely to develop other health complications such as heart diseases, cataracts, and kidney diseases. In fact, most diabetic dogs will develop cataracts with approximately 80% of diabetic dogs losing vision within 1 year of the diagnosis. One of the best eye drop for cataracts is this Lanomax Cataract-Dissolving Lanosteral Eye Drops for Dogs & Cats. Lanomax® is a cataract-dissolving lanosterol eye drop for dogs and other animals. It is safe for use on dogs with diabetes and glaucoma.
Though there are eye drops and nutritional supplements available to help prevent the development of cataracts, they should not replace regular veterinary examinations. Regular health examinations by a veterinarian are important to detect complications before they become severe. With proper monitoring and blood glucose management, diabetic dogs can live long and healthy lives. If you notice any changes in your pet’s behavior or weight, consult your veterinarian soonest possible.
Katherine is a Pet Nutrition Specialist and GDP’s Pet Wellness Advisor. She is committed to helping pet owners make informed dietary and lifestyle choices in nurturing healthy pets. Katherine is also a practicing Nutritional Therapist (human nutrition) and has been helping hundreds of clients to heal naturally with nutrients.