- Main signs of diabetes in dogs include unexplained weight loss and increased urination and thirst.
- Unspayed female dogs and dogs with Cushing’s disease, pancreatitis, or obesity have a higher risk.
- Treatment generally involves insulin injections, regular exercise, and a low-fat, high-fiber diet.
Just like humans, dogs can develop diabetes. In fact, up to 1% of dogs get diabetes at some point in their lifetime.
This condition happens when their bodies don’t produce enough insulin — a hormone that controls the amount of glucose in the bloodstream — or can’t use insulin correctly.
A dog with diabetes can still live a long and active life, so long as they get an early diagnosis and prompt treatment.
Without treatment, though, diabetes may be life-threatening for dogs or involve serious complications, according to Dr. Corinne Wigfall, a registered veterinarian with SpiritDog Training.
Possible complications of diabetes can include:
Below, veterinarians share key signs of diabetes in dogs and steps you can take to prevent and treat this condition.
What causes diabetes in dogs?
Three different types of diabetes can occur in dogs:
- Type I diabetes: This is the most common type in dogs, according to Wigfall. It develops when the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin.
- Type II diabetes: With this type, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin, but the insulin it does make also may not work the way it should. Type 2 diabetes most commonly affects older obese dogs.
- Type III diabetes: This type is very rare in dogs, Wigfall says. Causes include hormones released during pregnancy or hormone-secreting tumors.
The following risk factors might make your dog more likely to develop diabetes:
Your dog’s breed can also increase their risk of developing diabetes. According to Dr. Linda Simon, a veterinary surgeon and consultant for FiveBarks, breeds at higher risk include:
- Australian, fox, and cairn terriers
- Miniature schnauzers
Early signs of diabetes
According to Dr. Amanda Takiguchi, a registered veterinarian, and founder of Trending Breeds, some of the most common early signs of diabetes in dogs include:
- Unexplained weight loss, even when eating typical or larger portions of food
- Excessive thirst
- Needing to urinate more often, or having accidents in the house
When a dog has diabetes, their body tries to send excess sugar out through their urine — and in the process, they also excrete more water, which can lead to increased thirst and urination.
“Not all owners monitor their dog’s urination and drinking habits closely, so it can be possible to miss these subtle signs,” Wigfall says.
Signs of more advanced diabetes may include:
When to take your dog to a veterinarian
If your dog has a diabetes diagnosis, Wigfall advises paying attention to the following signs:
- Hypoglycemia: If your dog becomes weak, lethargic, sleeps much more than usual and avoids activity, or has trouble walking or standing, they may have hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Wigfall suggests applying some honey or corn syrup to their gums to quickly give their blood sugar a boost. Then, contact your veterinarian immediately for advice on next steps.
- Chronic or recurring urinary tract infections: UTIs or skin infections, for example, can suggest your dog’s diabetes is not under control.
- Cataracts: An estimated 75% of dogs develop cataracts in both eyes within nine months of a diabetes diagnosis. If the iris, a part of your dog’s eye that usually appears black, becomes white, your dog may have cataracts. They may seem uncertain going up or down stairs, have difficulty finding their bowl, or bump into walls. Cataracts may eventually lead to vision loss or blindness, so if you observe these signs, make an appointment with your vet right away.
Caring for a dog with diabetes
There’s no cure for diabetes, but treatment can help.
Once your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with diabetes, they’ll typically prescribe insulin injections. Your vet will teach you how to administer these with a very small needle under the skin. Rest assured these injections cause minimal pain for your pet.
Your vet may also advise regularly checking your dog’s glucose levels to measure their progress, particularly when they first begin insulin therapy. They can teach you how to use a glucometer to get blood samples and take readings.
According to Takiguchi, your vet may also provide specific recommendations for diet and exercise based on your dog’s breed and target weight. Wigfall says these prescription diets will typically be:
- High in insoluble fiber: This type of fiber can help regulate blood sugar because it slows the rate of glucose absorption into the gut.
- Lower in fat: Reduced fat content can help your dog achieve and maintain a healthy weight and reduce their risk of pancreatitis.
Other things you can do to help a dog with diabetes:
- Keep them hydrated: Dogs need about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily.
- Track their health: Keeping a journal to note your dog’s daily food and water consumption, urine output, and energy and activity levels can help you stay alert to any potential health problems.
- Deliberately time their meals: Rather than just leaving food in your dog’s bowl at all times, which can lead to overeating, it’s best to only feed a dog with diabetes once every 10-12 hours — and only give them the amount of food prescribed by your vet.
- Try L-carnitine supplements: This natural derivative from lysine, an amino acid, may help with fat metabolism, which can promote a healthy weight.
Prevention dog diabetes
Here are some steps you can take to lower your dog’s risk of diabetes.
- Weigh them at least once a month: Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes in dogs, so making sure they stay within a healthy range for their breed is one of the best things you can do to prevent this condition.
- Make sure they get consistent exercise: Regular exercise not only helps your dog maintain a healthy weight, but it also enhances their body’s ability to absorb insulin, according to Takiguchi.
- Be strict with treats, and avoid those high in fat or sugar: Seek out single-ingredient or grain-free treats, which tend to have more protein and less carbohydrates and sugars. When you can, find other ways to reward them for tricks or good behavior, like tummy rubs, a new toy, or a trip to the dog park for playtime.
- Avoid giving them table scraps: It may seem harmless to feed your dogs a bite of steak or dinner roll off your plate. But most human foods are too rich, Takiguchi says, and they can quickly spike your dog’s blood sugar.
- Spay female dogs: Unspayed dogs are more likely to develop diabetes.
If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, try not to panic. A combination of insulin injections, a high-fiber and low-fat diet, and regular exercise can all help manage this condition by regulating your dog’s blood sugar.
If you’ve noticed any signs of diabetes in your dog, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible to get a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.
With early diagnosis and consistent treatment, the prognosis for dogs with diabetes is very good, according to Wigfall and Simon. Most dogs can go on to live comfortable, full lives.