Canine diabetes

Diabetes mellitus is a disease which affects the production of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas and necessary in the regulation of blood glucose. If your dog has diabetes, either his body does not produce enough insulin, or he produces sufficient amounts but his body is insensitive to it.

Normally insulin works by preventing additional glucose production by the liver, and storing the excess glucose derived from food sources in the body. A diabetic dog does not have enough insulin to shut down the liver’s production of glucose or to store the extra derived from energy giving foods. The concentration level of glucose in the blood rises so high that the kidneys start to leak glucose into the urine. As glucose enters the urine, a process called osmosis pulls large amounts of water with it and causes increased urination which in turn leads to excessive thirst and increased water consumption.

Diabetes in one of the most frequent hormonal diseases found in dogs and is more commonly seen in older, overweight female dogs. There are two types. Type I diabetes comes from a deficiency of insulin-producing cells. This is the more serious of the two and is usually found in young dogs. It is not preventable.

The more common diabetes, type II, is caused by a dog’s resistance to the effects of insulin. An older, obese dog is more susceptible to this disease because their fat cells develop a resistance to insulin. A careful diet and exercise are helpful to retard the onset of type II diabetes.

Your veterinarian can assist you in setting up a diet and exercise program and schedule tests to check for diabetes. Keeping your dog’s weight under control and initiating regular exercise is one of the best steps you can take to help prevent the onset of diabetes in your dog.


The most common signs of diabetes in your dog are an increase in water consumption and increased urination. Another common sign is weight loss in spite of a normal, healthy appetite. Uncontrolled diabetes can be life-threatening to your dog as the elevated blood sugars cause dehydration and body chemistry problems that can eventually cause coma and/or death.


If you notice any suspicious symptoms in your dog, get him to your veterinarian as soon as possible for a thorough physical exam as well as urine and blood tests to check for diabetes.


Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate medication for your dog and instruct you in its proper usage. Most diabetic dogs will require one or more daily injections of insulin to properly control blood glucose levels. Your veterinarian will work with you until you are comfortable giving the injections. Other treatments that may be needed are:

Treating your diabetic dog requires close monitoring of their blood glucose levels. Most pet owners can do this at home using the materials supplied by their veterinarian. Ideally, this should be done every day. The owner must also supervise the dog’s diet, his medication and his activity level to ensure the treatment protocol is effective.

An overdose of insulin can cause blood glucose levels to drop, leaving your dog weak and disoriented or even causing him to have seizures. If your dog shows any of these signs, offer him some canned dog food. If he is unconscious, spread honey or Karo syrup on his gums. In either case, he needs medical help immediately.

Administering your dog’s insulin injections

Daily insulin injections are the most effective treatment for diabetic dogs. With practice, patience and proper instruction from your veterinarian, you can do it yourself. Remember the following tips:

  • Relax. Remember that your dog can pick up your emotions. If you’re nervous, you’ll make your dog nervous too. Take a deep breath and relax both yourself and your dog by giving him a gentle massage before administering the injection.
  • Cold insulin could cause your dog discomfort. Before giving the shot, hold the vial of insulin in your hand to warm it up. Do not place it in the microwave, hot water or other heating device to warm it up. It could get too hot and burn your dog.
  • Choose your dog’s favorite treat and use that as a reward for calm, relaxed behavior while you are giving him the shot. As soon as the shot is over, hand him the treat. He’ll soon learn to associate the shots with the treat.
  • If your dog does not already know basic obedience commands, teach him to sit and stay. Practice the commands regularly so that he does not think that every time he sits he’s going to get a shot.

Life with a diabetic dog

The time spent in caring for a diabetic dog can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience for both the owner and the dog. With a few minor concessions to the disease, your diabetic dog can enjoy the same quality of life and provide as much companionship and enjoyment in your life, as any other dog. Diabetic dogs do not have a significantly shorter life span than healthy dogs. These suggestions will help make caring for your dog easier and more comfortable for both of you:

  • Find a well qualified veterinarian and develop a good relationship with him or her. If there is anything about your dog’s treatment or overall health that your don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Attach a Diabetic identification tag to his collar or harness in case he gets lost.
  • Find a routine that works for you and try not to deviate from it. A consistent routine is the best way to avoid or reduce mistakes and it allows you to learn your dog’s normal behavior at set times of the day. That makes it easier to spot signs that may indicate a hypoglycemic attack.
  • Keep a daily journal of your dog’s health, recording his injections, activity levels, diet and behavior, as well as any small deviations from normal.
  • Always have a source of sugar available wherever you take your dog in case he suffers from a hypoglycemic attack. A liquid sugar, such as honey or Karo syrup, work best, but raw cane sugar is also effective.

While there is no cure for diabetes, it shouldn’t be considered a life-threatening disease. While diabetes cannot be cured, with consistent treatment, patience and love, your diabetic dog can live a normal, happy, healthy life.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association