04 Sep, 2023

Diabetes in dogs: Symptoms and nutrition

Irina Turcan
Diabetes in dogs: Symptoms and nutrition

Diabetes in dogs is a complex disease which can be dangerous if left untreated. Happily, if you manage it well, the condition doesn’t have to negatively affect your pup’s quality of life. In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of diabetes in dogs, plus discuss the most common treatment. Towards the end, you’ll also find helpful advice on nutrition for diabetic dogs and ways to keep your pup healthy.

What is diabetes in dogs?

Canine diabetes is a complex condition in which a dog’s body is unable to control its blood sugar levels. When your pooch eats, their digestive system breaks down the food into different nutrients – including glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar that the body’s cells use as a source of energy. Normally, glucose enters the bloodstream and from there gets distributed to cells all around your pup’s body. It does this with the help of the hormone insulin. Insulin allows glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter other cells.

With cases of diabetes in dogs, the pancreas either doesn’t produce any insulin or only makes an insufficient amount. Alternatively, it might be that the body fails to respond properly to the insulin it’s making. Unlike cats, most diabetic dogs have type 1 diabetes, where the insulin-producing cells are destroyed. This means they have a complete lack of insulin in their body.

Either way, with diabetes in dogs, glucose is unable to leave the bloodstream and enter the body’s cells. The result is that the cells are starved of energy and your dog’s blood sugar levels become abnormally high. Both situations are problematic, and without treatment can lead to serious complications. For example, the body may start to use protein and fat as energy sources instead.

Thankfully, there are treatments available for diabetes in dogs which allow diagnosed pups to live long and happy lives. The earlier you spot the disease the better, so it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of diabetes in dogs. Likewise, keeping your pup in good health can reduce the risk of them developing the condition. We’ll discuss signs of diabetes in dogs and prevention tips below, but first let’s look at what might cause the disease.

What causes diabetes in dogs?

There are several different possible causes and risk factors for diabetes in dogs. As an example, female dogs and older dogs of both sex are more likely to develop the condition. Similarly, some breeds of dog may be more susceptible to the disease than others. This includes Pugs, Samoyeds, Poodles, and Dachshunds. So if your pet falls into any of these at-risk groups, it’s especially important to keep an eye out for the symptoms of diabetes in dogs.

In addition, having certain other health conditions can make it more likely that a pup will develop diabetes. For instance, pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, and hyperadrenocorticism may all result in diabetes. Moreover, long-term use of specific steroid medications might also increase the risk of developing the disease.

When it comes to manageable risk factors for diabetes in dogs, obesity is the most significant.(1) Being overweight can cause cells in your pup’s body to become more resistant to insulin. As well as raising the risk of the condition, this also makes diabetes in dogs more difficult to manage. That’s in addition to all the other negative effects obesity has on the health of our pets. Don’t worry though – we’ve got some tips on how to keep your pooch slim at the end of this article!

Even if none of these risk factors apply to your pup, it’s still worth being aware of diabetes symptoms in dogs. That’s because the earlier your pet gets a diagnosis, the better chance they have of receiving successful treatment. Here are the signs to look out for.

Diabetes in dogs: symptoms and signs

There are four main symptoms of diabetes in dogs that pet parents should know about:

  • Increased urination – because glucose draws water into the urine with it
  • Increased thirst – as a result of the extra fluid lost via urination
  • Increased hunger – because the body’s cells are starving
  • Weight loss – due to the body breaking down fat reserves and protein for energy

Other possible signs of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of eyesight or cataracts
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Sweet-smelling breath
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Negative changes to their fur
  • Dehydration

If you notice any of these symptoms in your pup, contact a vet straight away to get them checked out. In order to diagnose your pet, they will normally test the glucose levels in their blood and urine. Because stress can also cause an increase in blood glucose, the vet might want to do a fructosamine test. This assesses average blood sugar levels over the previous 2-3 weeks. That way, you’re able to see if it’s a one-off issue or a persistent problem.

Once the vet has diagnosed a case of diabetes in dogs and determined its severity, they will be able to recommend the best course of treatment.

Veterinary treatment for diabetes in dogs

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for diabetes in dogs. However, there are effective ways to manage the condition. The aim of treatment is to keep your pup’s blood sugar at a normal level, without big spikes and troughs. This will help to alleviate their symptoms and reduce the risk of complications arising from the disease. To get the best results, you’ll probably need to combine your pup’s medication with diet and lifestyle changes. We’ll talk more about these below.

In most cases of diabetes in dogs, your pup will require regular insulin injections. You normally need to give these twice a day, at 12-hour intervals – ideally just after your pooch eats. For instance, this could be 8am after breakfast and 8pm after dinner. However, the vet can give you personalised advice for your pet. While the insulin dosage might change over time, your pup will likely need injections for the rest of their life. However, this doesn’t have to reduce their quality of life!

The idea of injecting your dog may be nerve-wracking, but most people get the hang of it fairly quickly. It’s crucial to follow the vet’s instructions carefully and always be accurate with the amount of insulin you inject. Both too much insulin and too little can be dangerous for your pet. This is just one of the reasons why monitoring diabetic animals is so important.

Monitoring a diabetic dog

If your dog has diabetes, you’ll need to keep a close eye on them. Likewise, they’ll have to go for regular check-ups at the vet. This is to ensure they are responding well to treatment, and allow the vet to make adjustments if necessary. It also helps you to spot any complications early on.

For example, one concern with diabetes in dogs is your pup’s blood sugar levels becoming too low. This could happen if they receive too much insulin, exercise a lot, or don’t eat enough food. Hypoglycaemia can be dangerous if left untreated, so watch out for the following signs:

  •   Weakness
  •   Lethargy
  •   Muscle twitches
  •   Trembling
  •   Poor coordination
  •   Strange behaviour (e.g., seeming vacant or spaced-out)
  •   Seizures
  •   Collapse
  •   Coma

If you notice any of the above, contact a vet immediately. You can also help by giving your dog something sugary (or rubbing it on their gums if they can’t eat). Remember – you know your pup best. If you’re ever concerned about their wellbeing, err on the side of caution and get professional advice.

Diabetes in dogs: the importance of nutrition

Like with humans, good nutrition is key for cases of diabetes in dogs. Your vet will give you advice that’s tailored specifically for your pet, but the following general principles should be useful.

First, try to feed your pup the same food, at the same time, every day. This will help their body to better regulate their blood sugar. Ideally, you want to choose foods that release sugars slowly, to prevent spikes in their blood glucose levels. For example, try to avoid those containing ingredients like dextrose, maltose, fructose, and syrup. It’s also wise not to give your pooch treats between meals, as this will also cause a blood sugar spike.

Experts normally recommend a diet high in fibre for diabetes in dogs. That’s because fibre (particularly insoluble fibre) can slow digestion and the absorption of glucose.(2) And if your pup’s diabetes developed because of pancreatitis, the vet may suggest you feed them a low-fat diet. Whatever the cause, for peace of mind, you might like to buy dog food that’s specially designed for diabetic pups.

Drinking lots of water is also important for dogs with diabetes. It helps to flush out the excess sugar from the bladder and prevent bacteria from growing there. So make sure you provide plenty of bowls of fresh H2O around the house!

Finally, if your dog is overweight or obese, getting them to a healthy weight should be a priority. It may even help to reduce the amount of insulin your pup requires by improving their sensitivity to it. However, take care to avoid rapid weight loss, as this can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Likewise, you shouldn’t start restricting your pooch’s calories before they begin their treatment and have their blood sugar under control.

Supplements for diabetes in dogs

In addition to the above changes, you might like to consider adding some functional foods to your pup’s diet. These can be a holistic way to enhance their wellbeing, plus have a positive effect on diabetes in dogs.

For instance, research indicates that certain species of medicinal mushroom could have a beneficial influence on blood sugar levels.(3) One reason for this is that they’re rich in potent polysaccharides called beta-glucans, which also support immunity and gut health.

So far, there hasn’t been much research conducted specifically on mushrooms and diabetes in dogs. However, studies on mice have yielded some positive results. Functional fungi like cordyceps, lion’s mane, and reishi could all work to improve insulin resistance and lower blood glucose levels.(4)

It’s easy to add medicinal mushroom power to your pup’s diet by simply blending it into their normal wet food. We recommend using 50-100mg per 1kg of their body weight, which you can divide into 2-3 doses over the day. Although you’re able to give your dog functional fungi every day, it’s best to do so in cycles. We suggest allowing a few weeks’ break after 6-8 weeks of feeding your pup mushrooms. This prevents them from developing a tolerance or over-stimulating their immune system.

Lastly, it’s important to note that medicinal mushrooms are not intended to replace professional treatment for diabetes in dogs. Always speak to your vet before adding them to your pup’s diet. This is to avoid unwanted interactions with any medication your pet is on. Similarly, you should not give functional fungi to puppies, or dogs who are pregnant or nursing.

Preventing diabetes in dogs: tips for keeping your pup in shape

Ensuring that your pup maintains a healthy weight is one of the best ways to help prevent diabetes in dogs. In addition to feeding them a nutritious diet, try the following top tips:

  • Avoid giving your pet treats and leftovers from your plate. Dogs are natural scavengers and will often keep eating even if they’re not hungry. Don’t give in to those cute puppy dog eyes!
  • Walk your pup at least once a day. More energetic breeds may need to be walked more frequently, and for longer. Age and health also play a part, so ask the vet if you’re unsure how much exercise your dog requires.
  • If your dog has lots of energy, you might want to take them running or hiking. Some may even enjoy agility training!
  • For dogs who like the water, swimming can be a great way to stay active. It’s also easy on their joints.
  • Try playing lively games with your dog at home. Fetch, tug-of-war, and learning new tricks are all good options!