Diabetes in dogs is similar to diabetes in humans. It happens when the dog's body cannot respond to insulin properly, causing fluctuations in blood sugar levels that lead to many complications. Diabetes in dogs has no cure, but you and your vet can successfully manage this chronic condition in most cases.
Diabetes in dogs and people affects how the body uses glucose and insulin. Glucose is fuel for the cells, and insulin delivers this fuel. After a dog eats, glucose enters the blood, and insulin works on cell receptors to allow the glucose inside. In a dog with diabetes, insulin doesn't work properly, so glucose can't get inside the cells as it should. Instead, it remains in the blood, leading to high glucose levels.
Type I is the most common type of diabetes in dogs. It happens when the cells in the pancreas that secrete insulin don't work. When the dog doesn't have any insulin, the glucose in the blood can't get into the cells. Dogs with this type of diabetes need supplemental insulin throughout their entire lives.
Type II diabetes is also called non-insulin-dependant diabetes. It is similar to type II diabetes in humans and is related to obesity. In this type of diabetes, the pancreas may still secrete insulin, but the receptors on the cells are less sensitive to it. Less glucose enters the cells, leading to increased blood glucose levels.
Type III diabetes is rare in dogs, but it can happen, and it is important to know about it because it can be fatal. Type III diabetes is related to hormones and is most likely to occur during pregnancy. A female dog who experiences this type of diabetes is likely to experience it again with subsequent pregnancies. Vets often recommend spaying female dogs as soon as it is safe to do so.
Two things happen with diabetes in dogs that cause problems. First, the cells in the dog's body don't get the sugar or fuel they need. In response, their bodies begin to break down fats and proteins to use as fuel instead. Second, since glucose isn't used by the cells, it begins to build up in the blood, which leads to many complications.
Common early signs of diabetes in dogs include increased thirst and urination, weight loss despite having an increased appetite, dehydration, and lethargy. When the dog's blood sugar gets too high, the kidneys try to eliminate it the only way they can, by excreting it in urine. The kidneys send messages to the dog's brain that there is a buildup of glucose in the blood and that it needs diluting. The brain tells the dog to drink more water, which leads to increased urinary output. As blood glucose continues to rise, the kidneys can't handle the burden and try to get even more water, drawing it from the cells and eventually leading to dehydration.
Uncontrolled diabetes leads to life-threatening problems. Many complications result from the burden put on the dog's kidneys. Dogs may experience frequent UTIs, kidney failure, and a condition called ketoacidosis. Other long-term complications include liver disease and cataracts. If the dog's blood sugar gets too low, they can experience seizures or even death if the problem is not treated immediately. Low blood sugar levels can occur from overmedication, particularly in dogs with type I diabetes.
Some things put dogs at higher risk of developing diabetes. It is more common in middle-aged and senior dogs. Most are over five when diagnosed. Unspayed females are more likely to develop diabetes than males, as are dogs that experience repeated pancreatitis, take steroids, or are obese. Cushing's disease, viral diseases, and some autoimmune disorders can cause diabetes in dogs. Some breeds are also more susceptible, including dachshunds, Samoyeds, beagles, miniature schnauzers, and miniature poodles.
Most dogs with diabetes need daily insulin injections. Dietary changes are also necessary. Usually, vets will recommend diets with high-quality protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Exercise is important, too. Moderate, regular exercise can help avoid spikes and drops in blood sugar. If an underlying condition, like pregnancy or an autoimmune disease, is causing the dog's diabetes, it may improve when the condition resolves or is treated, but this is not always the case.
Diabetes in dogs is usually managed successfully if pet owners take a hands-on role in their dogs' care. Monitoring daily glucose levels, giving insulin injections, and keeping up with diet and exercise requirements are all important. Treatment goals in dogs with diabetes are different than they are in humans. Generally, blood sugar in dogs is not as tightly controlled. Complicated cases can be very difficult to manage, and unfortunately, many dogs with diabetes are put down.
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