Diabetes in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Get the facts and keep your pup healthy.

Chances are that you know someone who has been diagnosed with diabetes. But did you know that dogs can get diabetes, too?

While hopefully this is a condition that your dog won’t ever develop, knowing the signs of diabetes in dogs can help you to recognize potential symptoms. That way you can get your pup diagnosed and treated, fast. 

TL;DR
  • Some early signs of diabetes in dogs are excessive thirst, increased urination, weight loss, and increased appetite. 
  • While any dog can develop diabetes, dogs with a history of pancreatitis and obesity are at an increased risk, as are older dogs and unspayed females. 
  • To manage diabetes, most dogs will need insulin injections, and might be placed on a specialized diet by their vet. 
  • Dogs with diabetes who receive early veterinary intervention can live long and healthy lives, but if left untreated, diabetes can lead to life-threatening health issues like kidney failure and ketoacidosis.

What is diabetes? 

The most common form of diabetes, which is called diabetes mellitus, is a chronic health condition in the pancreas that occurs when a body doesn’t process glucose, or sugar normally. Dogs, cats, and humans can all get diabetes. 

When a body functions normally, the pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which helps to control the amount of glucose in the blood. Insulin also controls how much glucose is delivered to the body, where it helps to power the body’s processes. 

Diabetes occurs when the pancreas can’t regulate that blood sugar, which results in unusually high amounts of glucose in the blood. It also means that the body can’t use the glucose properly to keep everything running smoothly. 

What are the signs of diabetes in dogs? 

When a dog has recently developed diabetes, you will probably notice four main symptoms: 

  • Excessive thirst. As your dog tries to get rid of that extra sugar in their bloodstream, they will often drink more water. You might notice that you’re suddenly filling their water bowl much more often than you used to.
  • Increased urination. Since your dog is drinking more, they will tend to urinate more. The color of your pup’s urine will probably be a paler yellow since they’re drinking so much more water. Your dog might suddenly ask to go outside frequently, or might start having accidents in the house. 
  • Weight loss. Since your diabetic dog can’t get the nutrients needed from their food, they will often start to lose weight, even though their diet hasn’t changed. 
  • Increased appetite. Your dog might appear hungrier than usual since they aren’t getting the nutrition they need from their food. You might notice your dog begging for snacks or asking to be fed throughout the day. Keep in mind that some dogs are always begging for food, no matter their health. Only you can determine what feels “uncharacteristic” of your pup. 

As the condition advances, your dog’s diabetes symptoms may evolve. Dogs with advanced diabetes might show the following signs:

  • Loss of appetite and energy
  • Depressed attitude and lethargy
  • Episodes of vomiting
  • Some dogs develop cloudy eyes and recurring infections, like urinary tract infections or skin infections 

How is diabetes in dogs diagnosed? 

If you notice signs of canine diabetes, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet. The sooner you can diagnose and start managing your dog’s diabetes, the better the chances are for a good prognosis. 

Your vet will perform bloodwork to test your dog’s blood glucose levels. Your vet will also test your dog’s urine to see if glucose is in the urine. If there’s glucose in the urine, it indicates that the blood glucose levels are so high that your dog’s kidneys are getting rid of some of that glucose by expelling it through their urine. 

What can cause diabetes in dogs? 

Any dog can develop diabetes, but it’s important to be aware of risk factors that can increase your dog’s chance of developing the disease: 

  • Age. Diabetes most often occurs in middle-aged or older dogs who are age five and up. 
  • Pancreatitis. Repeated or chronic bouts of pancreatitis can damage the pancreas and lead to diabetes.
  • Obesity. Dogs who are overweight or obese are at an increased risk of getting pancreatitis, which can potentially result in diabetes. 
  • Sex. Unspayed female dogs are at the greatest risk of developing diabetes. 
  • Breed. Certain breeds are at a higher risk of getting diabetes. The highest-risk breeds include Pugs, Dachshunds, Poodles, Bichon Frises, Miniature Schnauzers, Australian Terriers, Beagles, Samoyeds, Keeshonds, and Pulis. 

Does your dog fit any of the above criteria? It isn’t a reason to panic. Instead, you’ll just want to keep a closer eye on your best friend, discuss any concerns with your vet, and watch out for those common diabetes symptoms. 

diabetes in dogs
Mutts are less likely to develop diabetes, as well as host of other medical conditions.

How can you prevent your dog from developing diabetes?

As tempting as it might be to give your dog tons of yummy treats and table scraps, the best way to prevent diabetes is to keep your dog at a healthy weight. Feed your best friend quality dog food and make sure they get plenty of exercise. 

It’s also important to work with your vet to monitor your dog’s body weight and health, so you can stay ahead of any weight issues. 

What is the treatment for diabetes in dogs? 

A diabetes diagnosis can be frightening, but take a deep breath. Your vet will help you to come up with a suitable treatment plan.

Most dogs with diabetes need twice-daily insulin injections to help regulate their blood sugar levels. It’s also important to feed your dog consistently and on a schedule. Your vet might also recommend a special diet to help manage your dog’s diabetes. 

What are the long-term effects of diabetes in dogs?

If a diabetic dog is diagnosed early on and their care is well-managed, they can have a very positive prognosis. But if diabetes goes uncontrolled or poorly managed, it can lead to serious health issues like:

  • Cataracts
  • Seizures
  • An enlarged liver
  • Possible kidney failure. 

Diabetes can also cause ketoacidosis, which can be life-threatening. Ketoacidosis often results in dehydration, vomiting, lethargy, and rapid breathing. Your vet may recommend that you keep ketone testing sticks at home, so you can test your dog’s urine for ketones. If your dog’s urine tests positive for ketones, they’re experiencing a medical emergency and needs immediate veterinary treatment. 

This can all sounds overwhelming, but having a good pet insurance policy in place will make things a bit easier in terms of peace of mind (and the impact on your finances). Annual treatments and therapies for managing your dog’s diabetes will likely cost you upwards of $2,500 a year. Woof.

Treatments for illnesses, like diabetes, can be covered under a base Lemonade Pet policy. Keep in mind, you’ll only be reimbursed for eligible costs if your pet is showing signs of diabetes, is diagnosed with diabetes, or has test results that show elevated glucose levels in their blood or urine after your policy is already active (including the 14 day illness waiting period)—otherwise their diabetes will be considered a pre-existing condition

That’s why it can be helpful to apply for pet insurance as early in your dog’s life as possible, so you can get coverage for any illnesses that your pup develops down the line. 

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How can you manage and monitor your dog’s diabetes? 

Your vet will become an important partner in managing your dog’s diabetes. You may need to make several trips to the vet in the beginning for medication adjustments, but once your dog is well-regulated, those appointments will become less frequent. Your vet will provide you with information about the best diet and exercise for your dog, how to give your dog insulin, and how to monitor their glucose. 

It’s also important to be prepared for the costs of managing your dog’s diabetes. Vet visits and insulin costs can quickly add up. Pet insurance coverage can help take some of the bite out of these vet bills.

Dogs with diabetes require careful care, so plan to invest some extra time into your dog’s daily routine. You may need to adjust your schedule to accommodate your dog’s mealtimes, daily injections, and at-home glucose tests.

Before we go…

It can be frightening to hear that your furry family member has been diagnosed with diabetes, but this condition can be well-monitored in many dogs. What’s most important is that you’re willing to put the time into ensuring your dog gets the care they need to keep this condition controlled. 

With some extra effort on your part, chances are that your diabetic dog can go on to live a healthy, happy life.

Paige Cerulli

Paige Cerulli is a lifelong animal lover and a certified equine massage therapist. She works as a copywriter and content writer, and her work has appeared on American Veterinarian, Northeast Equestrian Life Magazine, Business Insider, and more. Paige lives in Western Massachusetts where she shares her life with three cats, three horses, a flock of ducks, and several foster animals.

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