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Recognize Dog Diabetes Symptoms…

…and Learn How to Care for Your Diabetic Dog

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus or DM, there are several things to consider in terms of treatment. Diabetes is a complex but common disease in which the body does not produce enough insulin. When insulin is deficient, the body is unable to use sugar, known as glucose, as energy. This is relatively similar for dogs, cats, and humans. Learning how to recognize the signs of diabetes, and how to care for your dog if they are diagnosed with diabetes, are things we can help with at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies. Contact us to make an appointment with our veterinary internist, or if you suspect that your dog is having a veterinary emergency, call us immediately or bring them into our emergency and specialty vet center.

What is Diabetes? And Why Does My Dog Have Diabetes?

Diabetes is an endocrine system disorder. If your dog’s pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, or if their body does not respond to normal levels of insulin, your internal medicine specialists can help. Known as veterinary internists, these veterinarians have completed advanced study and training with a focus on diagnosis and therapy, as well as comprehensive examinations to gain certification. Our internist at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies in Castle Rock will work with your family vet to provide the compassionate, diabetes care that your dog deserves.

Genetics may be a risk factor for dogs to develop diabetes. Certain breeds of dogs, including Australian terriers, beagles, Samoyeds, and keeshonds can be more susceptible to diabetes. For all breeds, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding fatty snacks, and watching for signs of underlying health issues may prevent or delay the onset of diabetes in dogs. Age, weight, and other factors may also play a part in whether your dog develops diabetes.

Symptoms of Dog Diabetes

  • Increased Appetite – Since the body does not have energy from glucose as a source of energy, it has to use other energy sources such as fat and protein. In addition, their cells feel like they are in a “starved” state and increase appetite.
  • Weight Loss – Despite having an increased or normal appetite, dogs with diabetes lose weight.  Since they cannot absorb glucose, dogs with diabetes often lose weight while having either a normal or increased appetite.
  • Increased Urination and Thirst – As glucose cannot be absorbed or used by the dog’s body, it builds up in the blood and spills into the urine, causing increased urination and a secondary increase in thirst.
  • Cataracts – Many dogs with diabetes will also have or develop cataracts. Cataracts are opacities within the lens of the eye that create a cloudy appearance when looking into your dog’s eyes. 80% of dogs with diabetes will develop cataracts within 16 months of diagnosis of diabetes. Cataracts can affect vision, and in some cases lead to glaucoma. Cataracts should be monitored by your veterinarian. Although there is no way to prevent cataracts from forming, there is a highly successful surgery that can improve vision in diabetic dogs with cataracts. 

Customized Care and Treatment of Dog Diabetes

Here at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies, when your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, our internist creates a customized care plan for you to best help your dog. Successful treatment of diabetes, involves a combination of treatments including:

  • Insulin – Twice-daily insulin administration will help your dog’s cells better absorb glucose available in the bloodstream. This is the mainstay of diabetes treatment. Here at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies, our veterinary care team will show you how to administer insulin injections under your dog’s skin. This is non-painful and easier to do then you think.
  • Weight Management – Keeping your dog’s weight in check will enable the right amount of energy. Your veterinarian or our internist may prescribe special food to help your dog lose or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Prevention and/or timely treatment of diseases that can cause further insulin resistance. This includes diseases such as pancreatitis, urinary tract infections, and other endocrine, or hormonal diseases (Cushing’s disease, Hypothyroidism).
  • Consistency of feeding times and insulin injections will help manage blood sugar levels.

Insulin injections are given under the skin, most commonly over the back of the neck, alternating the location with each dose. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations closely regarding insulin handling, storage, and preparation in your dog’s customized care plan and on any medication packaging.

Conditions that Cause Insulin Resistance in Dogs Can Make Diabetes Difficult to Control

Several factors can increase insulin resistance, causing further risks to your dog’s health, including:

  • Obesity: If your dog is severely overweight, it can increase insulin resistance. Obtaining and maintaining a healthy weight is important in diabetic dogs.
  • Pancreatitis: In a dog with pancreatitis, enzymes inflame and damage the pancreas and its surrounding tissue and potentially other organs. Signs of pancreatitis in dogs may include a hunched back, vomiting, painful or distended abdomen (dog appears uncomfortable or bloated), diarrhea, loss of appetite, and dehydration. If your dog exhibits these signs, which may be accompanied by lethargy and fever, please call or bring your dog to our emergency veterinary hospital.
  • Cushing’s Disease: Dogs with Cushing’s disease have many of the same signs as a dog with diabetes. They have increased thirst and urination and an increased appetite. However, unlikely diabetes, Cushing’s disease does not cause weight loss. It is common for dogs with diabetes to have concurrent Cushing’s disease. If left untreated, Cushing’s disease can make diabetes control very challenging.
  • Other infections: Even a simple infection draws energy away from your dog’s critical bodily functions. In addition, dogs with diabetes are prone to developing infections, especially urinary tract infections. Their urine is full of sugar, which makes it a great place for bacteria to inhabit. These infections cause insulin resistance and can cause your dog’s diabetes to suddenly be poorly controlled.

Identifying and treating conditions like obesity, pancreatitis, and other infections is critical to support your diabetic dog’s health. Our internist can help.

Ongoing Dog Diabetes Monitoring

To be sure that your dog maintains the best health possible while living with diabetes, regular monitoring is recommended. Your veterinary internal medicine specialist, also known as an internist, will monitor several aspects of your dog’s health, including changes in urination. They will also check regularly to make sure that your dog does not have a urinary tract infection, which sometimes is not indicated by a dog’s behavior at home but can be silently complicating your dog’s health if left untreated.

Short Term Complications of Diabetes in Dogs

Several conditions can cause short term complications to the health of diabetic dogs including:

  • Low Blood Sugar – Severely low blood sugar, known as hypoglycemia, can be driven by diabetes or an insulin overdose. Your dog’s blood sugar (glucose) acts as an energy source so having a low amount can result in severely limited energy levels. Getting too much in an overdose can throw levels off so that your dog’s cells can’t absorb the glucose needed. If your dog’s blood sugar drops significantly, they may even lose consciousness. If you suspect that your dog is experiencing hypoglycemia, seek treatment for the condition quickly. Call us or bring your dog into our emergency vet care center right away. Our veterinary internist will create a treatment plan after performing laboratory tests in our on-site lab.
  • Diabetic Ketoacidosis – Dogs with diabetic ketoacidosis may show very elevated blood glucose concentrations. This is a serious condition and may lead to coma or death. If your dog is experiencing extended bouts of or a combination of several of the following conditions, please call us immediately or bring your dog into our emergency and specialty vet center:
    • Abnormally large volume of dilute urine
    • Increased thirst
    • Weight loss
    • Vomiting
    • Lethargy

Your internist will want to ensure that your dog is rehydrated and manage their glucose, ketones, and electrolyte imbalances, and address any underlying conditions, including infections and pancreatitis, to help them better treat your dog.

Establishing Health and Treatment Goals for Your Dog with Diabetes

When your dog is home, you’ll want to closely follow the treatment plan. It may be tempting to want to go beyond your veterinarian’s plan to reduce or even resolve the indications of your dog’s diabetes. However, to prevent short-term complications of diabetes in your dog, it is important not to aim for normal or near-normal blood sugar. While that may seem counterintuitive, the greater risk for your dog is that of low blood sugar. Therefore, most diabetic dogs are considered to be clinically well if their blood sugar is maintained between 90 – 250 mg/dL.

To control your diabetic dog’s blood sugar, you will need to have it checked and rechecked frequently to determine the best dose of insulin needed. Rechecks involve monitoring your dog’s blood sugar over an 8-12 hour period to create what is known as a glucose curve, which your veterinary internist will build and interpret for you.

Your veterinary internist may also perform a serum fructosamine test. Your dog’s fructosamine reflects where their blood sugar levels have been over the past few weeks, taken from a single blood sample with no need for special preparation or fasting.

Caring for Your Diabetic Dog at Home

The most important things that you can do for your dog at home include monitoring their appetite and how much water they drink, watching if they seem as energetic as usual, and gauging their urine output. Any major changes may indicate the need for more tests and adjustments in their dosage of insulin.

IMPORTANT: Please do NOT adjust your dog’s insulin dosage before consulting your veterinarian or internist, like our veterinary internist at Veterinary Specialists of the Rockies.

When your dog first begins insulin therapy, monitoring blood glucose often is needed. If your dog’s glucose level is very high or very low, then your veterinarian or our veterinary internist can guide you on the adjustment in insulin dosage that is needed.

Later, when your dog’s best insulin dosage has been established and their diabetes is regulated, your veterinarian or our internist will continue with regular screenings.

Follow your dog’s care plan carefully, including all insulin, food, monitoring, exercise, and other recommendations. Call us immediately or bring your dog into our pet emergency center if you think they are experiencing a health emergency related to their diabetes.

Living with a Dog with Diabetes

As with any disease diagnosis, hearing that your dog has diabetes can be scary. But most dogs can live a normal life with diabetes. With the appropriate diet, exercise, and daily insulin injections, your dog can live a happy, healthy life with you for years to come.




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