Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs


Overview of Diabetes Mellitus (DM) in Dogs

Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as “diabetes” and commonly abbreviated as “DM”, is a chronic condition in which a deficiency of the hormone insulin impairs the body’s ability to metabolize sugar. It is one of the most common endocrine (hormonal) diseases of dogs.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus in dogs. Type I DM occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. This can be the result of destruction of the cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. This form does not produce enough insulin and requires insulin injections to control the disease. Type II DM occurs when enough insulin is produced but something interferes with its ability to be utilized by the body. Dogs nearly always (99%) have the type I variety.

Diabetes mellitus usually affects middle-aged to older dogs of either sex, however it is most common in female dogs (twice as common in females as in males). The peak age seen in dogs is 7 to 9 years. Juvenile-onset diabetes may occur in dogs less than 1 year of age. . Any breed can be affected. Breeds at increased risk for diabetes mellitus include the Australian terrier, Samoyed, Schnauzer (miniature and standard), Bichon frise, Cairn terrier, Keeshond, Spitz, Fox terrier and the Poodle (miniature and standard).

Diabetes mellitus leads to an inability of the tissue to utilize glucose. Disease occurs from high blood sugar levels, inadequate delivery of sugar to the tissues and changes in the body metabolism.

Risk factors for diabetes mellitus include obesity, recurring pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, and drugs such as glucocorticoids and progestagens that antagonize insulin.

What to Watch For

Common symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Weight loss despite a good appetite
  • Sudden blindness
  • Lethargy
  • Poor body condition

Diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

Veterinary care for your dog should include diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of the elevated blood sugar and help guide subsequent treatment recommendations. Some of these tests include:

  • Complete medical history and thorough physical examination.
  • Analysis of the urine to check for glucose and for signs of urinary tract infection.
  • Serum biochemical profile to determine the blood glucose concentration and to exclude other potential causes of the same symptoms.
  • A complete blood count (CBC).
  • Other tests such as abdominal X-rays or abdominal ultrasound if complications or concurrent diseases, such as pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), are suspected.
  • Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

  • Essentially all dogs will require one or two daily injections of insulin to control blood glucose. These injections are given under the skin using a small needle. Most dogs become readily accustomed to the treatments. Your veterinarian’s office will train you in the proper use of insulin and injection techniques.
  • Most oral hypoglycemic agents only work if the pancreas is still producing some insulin. This is why oral medications are ineffective in dogs (because dogs almost always have type I DM).
  • Proper weight management, a high fiber diet and regular exercise can aid in control of DM.
  • Ovariohysterectomy (spaying) is indicated in female diabetic animals

    to reduce the effects of estrogen on diabetes and insulin.

  • Complications like urinary tract infections may require additional medications, but certain drugs, including steroids (such as prednisone), should be avoided in diabetic dogs.
  • Prepare for frequent adjustments to therapy early in the course of treatment. Veterinarians prefer to start with a low dose of insulin initially and adjust upwards slowly to avoid overdosing. Your veterinarian may recommend hospitalization to measure the blood glucose every few hours (mapping a 24-hour glucose curve).
  • Glucose curves may help your veterinarian determine the best type of insulin, the dosage, and the frequency of insulin administration, however they are thought to be of limited use in some pets and are not currently being recommended for all pets.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    At home care involves administering prescribed medications, including insulin, as recommended. Try to give insulin twice a day, 12 hours apart and at the same time each day. You should also work with your veterinarian to develop a weight management and feeding plan. Stick to regular feeding times.

    Observe your dog’s thirst and frequency of urination. If these remain increased, your veterinarian may need to adjust the insulin dosage.

    Insulin overdose may cause low blood glucose, potentially resulting in disorientation, weakness or seizures (convulsions). If you notice any of these symptoms in an otherwise responsive dog, offer food immediately. If the dog is unconscious, Karo® syrup can be applied to the gums. In either case, call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

    Familiarize yourself with insulin, insulin syringes, insulin storage, and insulin handling; your veterinarian or pharmacist can help.

    While there is no way known to prevent type I DM, proper weight management can reduce the likelihood of your dog developing type II DM.


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