Diabetes in Dogs

In this post:

  1. What is Diabetes?
  2. What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?
  3. Diagnosing Diabetes
  4. How do you manage diabetes?
  5. How to give an insulin shot
  6. What are the symptoms of a diabetic emergency?

Please note:
 Information in this post is not meant as a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your dog is sick.

Has your dog recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or do you think that they have the classic symptoms of drinking a lot of water that is commonly seen with diabetes? Your vet can run bloodwork to see if your dog does have diabetes as well as help your set up a routine for treating them. This article will explain all about diabetes, and what you need to do so your dog lives a long healthy life.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes in dogs is very similar to diabetes in people—diabetes mellitus, which is the dysregulation of the body’s blood sugar. Your dog’s pancreas produces insulin in response to high levels of sugar in their body. In a diabetic dog, they do not produce enough insulin, or there is another concurrent problem where their body does not react to the insulin appropriately, resulting in very high blood sugar.

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes?

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A common reason that most dogs are brought to the vet is that they are losing weight, drink more water, or urinating more. You may even notice some hair coat changes or changes even within the eye, such as cataracts may develop.

The following symptoms should be investigated as they could be indicators that your dog has diabetes:

  • Change in appetite
  • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Unusually sweet-smelling or fruity breath
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Cataract formation, blindness
  • Chronic skin infections

If you notice any of these symptoms in your dog, it is best to take them to your vet. 
They can run bloodwork to see if what is causing these symptoms is because they are diabetic or if there is another condition causing them.

Diagnosing Diabetes

Your veterinarian will do a simple blood test to check your dog for diabetes. They can also check their urine for sugar too. When the levels get so high in the blood it gets dumped into your dog urine to help remove the sugar from their body.

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Risk of Diabetes

There are many different things that can put your dog at a higher risk for having diabetes. These are:

  • Age – older dogs more commonly have diabetes.
  • Gender – unspayed female dogs have a higher chance of developing diabetes
  • Chronic Pancreatitis
  • Overweight
  • Takes long term Steroids
  • Cushing’s disease

How do you manage dog diabetes?

In general, the management of diabetes in dogs entails a number of different aspects.

Daily insulin injections: A diabetic dog will require daily insulin injections. Make sure that you are sticking to consistent regiments of giving those insulin injections as close to a twelve-hour apart as possible. This is very important.

Diet: Your vet will recommend a diet that is good for your diabetic dog. They should be fed only this food and never anything else or any treat from the table. Each time that you feed them, you will need to make sure that it is the exact same amount each time.

Exercise: Your dog will need plenty of exercise to stay healthy. Taking your dog for a walk or playing in the back yard will help keep them healthy and active.

Tips about managing your pet’s diabetes:

  • Get a routine going and try to stick to that routine as best to your abilities.
  • Make a plan for emergencies and be able to recognize an emergency situation.
  • Form a relationship with a vet who you trust, and your pet feels comfortable around.
  • Ask questions! Do not hesitate to ask your vet questions, the more you know, the better your dog’s quality of life will be!
  • Learn your pet’s normal behaviors, so you know when something is going on.

Diabetes management does not have to be a scary thing and can, over time, become just part of your daily routine. Do not be afraid of the 12-hour insulin rituals. There are amazing dog sitters out there, and your veterinarian can help if you want to get away or have an evening out. Just make sure to really educate your sitter and to hire a professional sitter.

Always consult your veterinarian before doing any medical care for your pet. Your veterinarian will be able to show you exactly what would be the best way to give the insulin shot and how much to give.

How to give an insulin shot to a dog:

Step One: Learn the appropriate amount of insulin from your vet

Your vet will calculate their dosage and let you know how much insulin you should be giving them every 12 hours. They will make sure that you have the correct syringes and needed supplies to be able to give insulin injections to your dog.

Step Two: Find a good spot on the dog and give an injection

When we are giving insulin injections, we are going to find a place on their body that we can elevate up their skin a little bit to be able to help guide where the needle is going to be going. A good place to give the insulin injections is between the shoulder blades or on the side of each hip. This is an area that you can grab a little bit of skin to be able to elevate that skin up. When you elevate the skin, use your finder as a guide for where to put the needle. Stick the needle all the way into the skin and push the plunger.

How can you help a dog who might not like the insulin shot?

Some pets are a little bit more sensitive about getting those insulin injections. It may be a little bit of trial and error to find an area that tends to be less sensitive versus others. When you are drawing up the shot, pet them and rub on them, so they think that they are just being loved on. When you go to give the shot, elevate the skin, and give it a slight little squeeze. This will agitate the skin a little bit. They will notice the little squeeze more than they will the needle. Another thing that you can do is rub your finger on the skin right where they are about to get an injection. Since the needle is so small, they usually will not even recognize the actual injection.

What to do in a diabetes emergency?

You will need to always watch your dog for any problems of low blood sugar or blood sugar that is still too high. If you suspect that your dog may be having a reaction to or an overdose of insulin or low blood sugar, they need to be seen by your vet as soon as possible. Something that you can do at home before coming to the vet would be rub either corn syrup, maple syrup, or even just some sugar in water on their gums. Your dog will absorb sugar across the mucous membranes, and that may buy a little bit of time for you to able to get them into a veterinarian.

What are the symptoms of a diabetic emergency?

If your dog is showing any of these symptoms, it is best to take them to a vet as soon as possible.

  • Excessive drinking for more than three days
  • Excessive urination or inappropriate urination in the house for more three days
  • Reduction in or loss of appetite
  • Weakness, seizures or severe depression
  • Behavioral change, muscle twitching or anxiety
  • Constipation, vomiting or diarrhea
  • Signs of a bladder infection (passing frequent small amounts of urine, straining to urinate, blood in the urine)
  • Swelling of the head or neck

Final Thoughts

Diabetes is a common condition that is seen in older dogs. The most common signs that your dog would be diabetic is that they are drinking more water and urinating more. If you notice these signs in your dog, take them to your vet for bloodwork. If your dog does have diabetes, this can be easily treated at home with daily insulin injection and food management. Many dogs can live a long and happy life after they have been diagnosed with diabetes. 

Special thanks to:

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Patrick Miles, DVM

Patrick Miles, DVM is owner and veterinarian at Priceless Pet Clinic in Normandy Park WA. He has worked in emergency medicine since graduating from veterinary school and spent seven years at Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services.
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions