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Understanding Diabetes in Dogs: A Guide for Pet Parents

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that can affect dogs, altering the way their bodies process energy. It is a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured.

Dr. Karen Whala

August 17, 2023

As a pet parent, the health of your canine companion is undoubtedly a top priority. When words like "diabetes" come into the picture, it can bring about feelings of fear, frustration, and confusion. But rest assured, you're not alone. We, at CodaPet, are here to help you understand and navigate through these confusing times. This comprehensive guide aims to provide essential information regarding diabetes in dogs: from learning what it is, noticing common symptoms, to understanding treatment options.

While not a substitute for veterinary examination and advice, reading this will give you a framework for understanding this condition and how it is managed, thereby enhancing your pet's quality of life. So, let's dive in and tackle this together.

Decoding Diabetes in Dogs

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder that can affect dogs, altering the way their bodies process energy. It is a chronic disease that can be managed but not cured. When your pet consumes food, the body breaks it down into several components, including glucose, a type of sugar that supplies energy to cells throughout the body. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, acts as a key to gain access into the cells and allow glucose to enter.

In a diabetic dog, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or the body becomes insulin “resistant” meaning it needs ever increasing amounts of insulin to carry the same amount of glucose into the cells. In either case, this leads to a condition called hyperglycemia, where excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Significant or sustained hyperglycemia can cause various health issues such as multi-organ damage to the kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels and nerve endings.

Meanwhile, because the glucose is outside of the body's cells, they are deprived of the energy they need. Simply put, diabetes is a condition in which the dog’s body is starving despite an excess of ‘groceries.’ As you can see, whether it's due to a shortage of insulin or its ineffective use, diabetes can seriously affect your dog's quality of life.

Regular vet checkups can catch conditions like diabetes early, making management easier. At CodaPet, we understand the distress that comes with a pet health issue, but we're here to help you understand the disease process and the management your family veterinarian has recommended.

Types and Causes of Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in dogs primarily manifests in two forms: Insulin-deficiency diabetes (IDD) or type 1, where the body doesn't produce enough insulin, and insulin-resistance diabetes (IRD) or type 2, where the body produces insulin but loses its ability to utilize it effectively over time. While IDD is more common in dogs, IRD is often linked to conditions like obesity and Cushing's disease. Your vet will conduct tests to determine the type of diabetes affecting your dog.

Identifying the exact cause of diabetes in dogs can be complex. It's often a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers. Certain breeds, overweight dogs, or those with hormonal and metabolic disorders such as Cushing's Disease, are at a higher risk. Understanding these triggers can help in delivering effective care for a diabetic dog.

Diabetes in Dogs and Humans: Spotting the Difference

Though diabetes in dogs and humans shares the fundamental problem of insulin issues, they are not identical. Diabetes in dogs is usually similar to Type 1 diabetes in humans, where the body fails to produce sufficient insulin (IDD). Conversely, the most common form in humans is Type 2 diabetes, where the body still produces insulin but uses it inefficiently (IRD).

Despite these differences, it's crucial to keep in mind that diabetes in both dogs and humans is manageable. Our mission at CodaPet is to provide guidance on how to ensure your dog continues to lead a healthy and happy life.

Recognizing Physical and Behavioral Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Recognizing the outward symptoms associated with diabetes is essential in managing your dog's health. Common early signs include excessive thirst and urination and weight loss despite increased appetite.

Alongside physical symptoms, changes in your dog's behavior can be an early indicator of diabetes. A diabetic dog may become more lethargic or inactive, show increased appetite, or display restlessness, particularly at night. Changes in elimination habits can be an early sign too. If your well-trained dog starts having unusual accidents in the house, it may indicate increased urination due to diabetes.

Staying vigilant to any changes in your dog's physical health or behavior is vital. Diabetes in dogs can progress rapidly, so early detection can make a significant difference in managing the disease and ensuring your pet leads a healthy, happy life.

Progression of Symptoms and Home Management

If left untreated, the symptoms of diabetes in dogs can progress rapidly. Your dog may lose their appetite, become lethargic, display symptoms of a urinary tract infection and skin infections. Long-term, unregulated diabetes can lead to many health complications such as cataracts, seizures, kidney failure, and an enlarged liver. Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergent, potentially life-threatening condition characterized by severe symptoms such as vomiting, dehydration, rapid breathing, and sweet smelling breath. As a pet parent, understanding these symptoms and their progression is crucial in making timely decisions for your pet's health.

At CodaPet, we understand the emotional complexities involved when your pet falls ill. We aim to provide pet owners with information and support needed to navigate these difficult times. Regular check-ups with your veterinarian, along with consistent monitoring and proper management at home, can help keep diabetes under control. Ultimately, this will improve the quality of life for you and your faithful friend.

Diagnosing and Treating Diabetes in Dogs

Diagnosing diabetes in dogs typically begins with a thorough physical examination and a detailed review of the dog's medical history. The most common symptoms that may trigger a veterinarian to suspect diabetes include increased thirst, urination, and weight loss.

The fundamental diagnostic test is baseline bloodwork (CBC and Blood Chemistry) which will check various factors, especially the persistent elevation of blood glucose levels. While a one-off high reading may be due to stress or other temporary factors, consistently elevated readings indicate diabetes. Additional tests are often used to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other possible conditions.

Upon confirming the diagnosis of diabetes, the vet will initiate treatment, primarily involving insulin therapy and dietary management. Insulin therapy is usually required in cases of canine diabetes. However, it is important that the treatment is tailored to the individual animal as insulin type and dosage may vary and comprehensive management will help ensure that your dog can lead a healthy and happy life.

Insulin Therapy and Home Management for Diabetic Dogs

Insulin injections form the cornerstone of treatment for most instances of diabetes in dogs. It is a critical component in managing the disease and must be personalized as dogs may react differently to the various types of insulin available.

At home, managing diabetes in your dog might appear daunting initially, but with the right knowledge and tools it is completely achievable. Key to this is a steady routine, including a consistent schedule, diet, and regular exercise.

Regular monitoring is a mainstay of home management. But you are not alone in this journey, maintaining good communication with your vet will be important for managing diabetes at home. Additionally, routine veterinary checks help identify any changes or potential issues early, allowing for prompt intervention.

Life Adjustments: Living with a Diabetic Dog

Life with a diabetic dog will require some adjustments to your daily routine. Your pet's insulin needs are inextricably tied to when they eat. Therefore, maintaining a regular feeding schedule and dosing schedule is crucial to maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day.

Maintaining a calm, stable environment can also help avoid blood sugar spikes, contributing to better overall health. Regular veterinary visits are essential for assessing and adjusting your pet's treatment plan as needed, ensuring the best possible control of their diabetes. Your veterinarian will guide you through this process, and help you determine what signs may indicate a need for adjustments.

Diet, Exercise, and Glucose Monitoring for Diabetic Dogs

Just like humans living with diabetes, dogs with this condition also benefit from a well-structured diet plan. Your dog's diet should primarily consist of complex carbohydrates and fibers, which help slow the absorption of glucose in the body, ensuring a steady blood glucose level between meals.

Being physically active is beneficial for all dogs, but even more so for dogs living with diabetes. Regular physical activity helps improve your pet's glucose metabolism, maintaining their blood sugar levels and overall health. However, it's important to keep exercise routines steady and avoid sudden spikes in activity, which acutely require additional glucose and can lead to hypoglycemia.

Diabetic dogs need regular vet check ups to monitor blood glucose in the form of transient levels (spot glucose checks), plotting levels throughout the day (glucose curves) and looking at other markers to gain data about the recent history of blood glucose values (fructosamine levels). Newer in home BG monitoring kits may be helpful, speak to your vet about whether these tools may be right for your family. Regular checkups at the vet's office are vital, but tracking their blood glucose levels at home can give you considerable insight into how well their diabetes is being managed daily.

By adjusting your daily routine, maintaining a healthy diet, ensuring regular exercise, and monitoring blood glucose levels, you can effectively manage your dog's diabetes and offer them a comfortable life.

Preventing Diabetes in Dogs: The Practical Steps

While managing diabetes in dogs can be a challenging task, with the right preventative measures, it is possible to reduce the risk of your dog developing this disease. Key preventative steps include maintaining a healthy weight, regular veterinarian checkups, encouraging regular exercise, and ensuring a balanced diet.

Helping your dog maintain a healthy weight is an essential step in preventing diabetes. Overweight dogs are more likely to develop diabetes, so by ensuring your pet stays within a healthy weight range, you can help decrease their risk of developing this disease. Weight management in dogs involves providing a balanced diet and enough physical activity. Regular weigh-ins are also helpful, as sudden weight changes could be a sign of potential health issues.

Routine veterinary care is crucial in the prevention of diabetes in dogs. Regular check-ups allow your vet to track any changes in your pet's health and provide early intervention if needed. Early detection of diabetes not only allows for more effective treatment but also significantly reduces the risk of complications.

Exercise plays a critical role in keeping your dog healthy and preventing conditions such as diabetes. Regular physical activity can help your dog maintain a healthy weight, improve insulin sensitivity, and boost overall wellness. The amount of exercise your dog needs will depend on their breed, age, size, and health status. As a pet owner, it's essential to monitor your dog during exercise, especially in hot weather, to prevent overheating and exhaustion.

Feeding your dog a balanced diet helps maintain good health and prevent a multitude of diseases, including diabetes. A balanced diet for dogs typically includes high-quality proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Feed your dog meals that are lower in fat and higher in fiber. High-fiber diets can help control blood sugar levels and enhance insulin sensitivity. When choosing a diet for your dog, it's best to consult with a veterinarian. They can make specific dietary recommendations based on your dog's age, breed, weight, and health status.

Although diabetes is a common condition in dogs, there are steps you can take to help prevent it. By helping your dog maintain a healthy weight, regularly visiting the vet, ensuring they exercise regularly, and feeding them a balanced diet, you can significantly lower your pet's risk of developing diabetes.

Remember, prevention is better than management. Regular checkups and a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in ensuring your dog stays healthy and free from diseases such as diabetes. If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, remember that with the right care and management, they can still lead a happy and fulfilling life.

This is not intended as medical advice nor for diagnostic purposes. Consult your veterinarian with any questions.

References

Dr. Karen Whala

Fresno, CA

About

Dr. Karen Whala has always had a soft spot for the older pets she’s treated in practice and saw a need for these beloved pets to pass peacefully at home rather than in a clinic setting. To that end, she started Peaceful Passing in 2018 to help families assist their terminally ill, injured, or suffering pets as they transitioned from life in the Fresno and Clovis areas. She finds that pets are so much more relaxed and peaceful when they pass at home, and it is truly a gift owners give their furry friends. Dr. Whala grew up in the Eastern foothills of Fresno County in the small towns of Dunlap and Miramonte. She obtained her Bachelors of Science degree in Animal Science and Management at UC Davis. During her youth, she operated a children’s petting zoo and traveled to schools, birthday parties, and library functions educating children on animal care. Her animals included everything from iguanas and ducklings to lambs and frogs, and it was during these formative pet-owning years that she decided to become a veterinarian. In 2006, Dr. Whala graduated with her veterinary degree from UC Davis. She began practicing at a local area mixed animal practice and worked with dairy cattle, horses, dogs, and cats and later transitioned to small animals exclusively. She took a few years break from private practice, during which she earned a Masters in Public Health and Board Certification in Veterinary Preventive Medicine. When Dr. Whala returned to private practice, it was to start Peaceful Passing. Dr. Whala lives in Fresno and keeps busy working at a local clinic part-time, helping families assist in the peaceful passing of their pets, volunteering with Pathfinders (a boys and girls club), backpacking, and hosting friends in her home. ‍ Read More