Diabetes is an incurable but treatable disease that can affect dogs of any age, sex or breed. It occurs when the dog’s pancreas no longer produces insulin. Most dogs suffer from type 1 diabetes rather than type 2 which is the one related to obesity. Insulin is a hormone released from the pancreas when the dog eats and enables glucose to be absorbed from the blood stream into body cells to allow them to function.
The main symptoms of diabetes are increased urination due to high levels of glucose drawing water into the urine. This results in an excessive thirst. There is increased hunger because the body cells can’t utilise the glucose after eating. For the same reason, there is weight loss; the sugars in the diet can’t be utilised by the body due to the lack of insulin.
Diabetes is easy to diagnose with a blood and urine test. We measure the levels of glucose in both the urine and blood. We can then confirm this with a test to measure blood fructosamine; this is a long-term sugar which gives an indication of sugar levels over a few weeks.
The treatment for diabetes is a twice daily injection of insulin. This needs to be given after a meal and ideally 12 hours apart and at the same time each day. Your vet will give you a demonstration on how to give the injections and most dogs tolerate them very well. The insulin bottle needs to be looked after carefully as it is a very delicate molecule and easily damaged. It must be kept in the fridge and not shaken.
The vet will always start on a low dose of insulin and check your dog’s blood glucose levels weekly until the correct dosage is achieved. Sometimes this can take quite a few weeks to stabilise. There are 2 ways of monitoring response to treatment-with a fructosamine blood test or a glucose curve. We try and avoid the latter because it means keeping the dog in for at least 12 hours and testing blood glucose levels every 2 hours.
Once on the correct dose of insulin, we would generally check blood sugar levels every 3-6 months and alter insulin dose if necessary. It is really important to do this as a dog’s insulin requirement can alter and giving too much insulin can result in hypoglycaemia or low blood sugar. The dog could appear dizzy or wobbly and this can progress to unconsciousness. You can administer liquid glucose onto your dog’s gums in case of emergency. A diabetic dog’s diet should be as consistent as possible with no human treats as these can be really high in sugar.
A well-controlled diabetic patient can lead a full and active life. Many develop cataracts, but these can be surgically removed or many dogs cope well with blindness.