Insulin is produced by the pancreas and is needed to absorb glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream after eating and transport it to cells around the body. Diabetes mellitus is a malfunction in this process. There are two types of diabetes:
Type 1 is where the pancreas does not produce any insulin and this is the type you are usually born with and will usually become dependent upon the administration of insulin.
Type 2 is where the pancreas produces some insulin but not enough, or the body does not respond to it properly and this is usually controlled by diet and medications to reduce the glucose levels in the blood.
If a dog has diabetes it is usually type 1 and the dog will have to take insulin. It can be due to poor diet or obesity but usually the dog will develop diabetes around middle age for no apparant reason. Type 2 diabetes is extremely uncommon in dogs.
A diabetic dog can not control the levels of sugar in its blood and hyperglycaemia can occur if sugar levels are too high. Many dogs can cope with this for a while but may become seriously unwell if they acquire another illness, such as a urine infection. Diabetic animals are very prone to suffer from other health problems.
Symptoms of diabetes include:
- Increased urination - the glucose draws water with it into the urine
- Excessive thirst - the body is trying to keep up with the excess fluid loss
- Increased hunger - the body thinks it is starving
- Weight loss - the sugars in the diet can’t be used by the body if there is no insulin, and so they are lost in the urine. This means the dog effectively is not getting enough calories and so the body starts to break down the fat reserves as well.
If you suspect your dog may have diabetes you should take them to the vet. A blood and urine test will be done to look for elevated glucose levels. If dogs are stressed, glocose levels may rise so it may be that the glucose levels are monitored for a while before a diagnosis is made.
Following diagnosis, an insulin type and dose will need to be decided by your vet and it may take time to establish the correct dose. Most dogs require injections twice a day, about 12 hours apart, after a meal. You may also need to test your dog’s blood glucose levels at home by taking a small swab of blood with a tiny pin prick (usually from the ear).
Your vet will show you how to give insulin injections and carry out any urine or glucose tests. It’s very important to follow their instructions precisely to make sure your dog’s insulin levels are regulated. Your dog will require regular check-ups to monitor their condition but always contact your vet for advice if you are worried or your pet seems unwell.
Let your vet know if your pet’s thirst or appetite changes and contact your vet immediately if your pet is dizzy or groggy (this could be a sign that your dog’s blood sugar levels have dropped dangerously low).
Like humans, a balanced diet can also help enormously in regulating your dog’s blood sugar levels. Your vet will advise you on what and how much to feed, and on the timing of meals and injections. High fibre diets are often recommended for dogs with diabetes as it can help limit increases in blood sugar levels compared to a low fibre diet.
Dogs that have diabetes are more susceptible to cataracts as the sugars affect their eyes and urinary tract infections can become a common problem due to the excess sugar in the urine helping bacteria to breed. It is also important for diabetic pets to have their teeth cleaned when necessary because infections in the mouth can cause blood sugar levels to rise.