Diabetes in Dogs – A Guide to Understanding and Treating Your Dog

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The best approach to exercising your diabetic dog is to do it regularly and routinely. Try to do the same amount of exercise every day at the same time.

Large changes in exercise routines can change insulin requirements. A new exercise, an unusually long or vigorous play session; long hike can all cause the blood sugar levels to drop too low. If you plan a change in your dog's routine, do it slowly and gradually.

If you take a hike or do something outside your dog's routine, take extra treats or a meal just in case your dog has a problem.

What is Insulin?

Insulin is a hormone that is formed and released by beta cells residing in the pancreas. Eating prompts the release of insulin. When insulin is not produced in sufficient quantities, it can be administered in the form of an injection.

There are various types of insulin treatments, each with a different duration of effectiveness.

A bottle of insulin is commonly referred to as a vial. All insulins are measured in units.

There are two common concentrations which will be important when you buy your insulin syringe. Some insulin's are u-100 (100 units in a milliliter) and others are u-40 (40 units in a milliliter). Because insulin's are different, 3 units of one insulin may not be the same as 3 units of a different insulin. It is very important to verify the type of syringe and insulin match when filling your prescription to avoid over- or under-dosing your pet.

There are several different types of insulin used on dogs. They differ by what they are made from (some are pork, some are human-based) and how long they act in the body. The short acting insulins are referred to as “regular”, medium acting are referred to as “Lente” and long acting insulins are referred to as “Ultralente”.

The most commonly used insulin's in dogs are:

  • Humulin (human-based) NPH Insulin
  • Porcine Lente insulin (Vetsulin) (Currently not available in the U.S.)
  • Caninsulin (Available in Canada and many European countries)

NOTE: There are several types of insulin on the market. What works on one pet may not work on a different pet.

How Often Does my Dog Need Insulin?

Your veterinarian will determine this but based on the insulin's available in the U.S. for dogs, the most effective treatment for diabetes in dogs is administration of insulin with intermediate duration of action twice daily.
The only currently available intermediate-duration product is recombinant human neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin.

Another type of insulin can be used in dogs called Porcine Lente insulin (Vetsulin). At the present time, it is not being sold in the United States due to problems with stability and bacterial contamination associated with the manufacturing process. Based on our sources, it is uncertain when or if the product will again be available in the United States.

Why Does My Dog Need Insulin?

Insulin is required for food to be properly processed and utilized as energy for the body. Insulin lowers the blood sugar after a meal. Deficiency of insulin, or an insensitivity of body cells to available insulin, leads to diabetes.

The goal of diabetes treatment is to supplement the insulin to regulate the blood glucose in as close to a normal range as possible.

How Should the Insulin Look?

The first time you open your insulin – look at the color and clarity of the bottle most types of insulin will look slightly cloudy but there should be no clumps or floating particles.

How Much Insulin Do I Give?

The initial dose of insulin given is 1/8 to 1/4 of a unit per pound of body weight given every 12 hours.

For example, a 20-pound dog may start on 2 units of insulin per dose. A lower dose is generally recommended with a gradual increase. It is better to start low and gradually allow the body to acclimate to the disease and avoid signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

How Do I Give the Insulin Injection?

Insulin is generally given under the skin (subcutaneous) over the back. The location of the injection should be rotated with every injection. The general method for giving insulin is as follows:

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