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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Diabetes (Diabetes Mellitus)




Condition Overview

Diabetes mellitus, sometimes called sugar diabetes, is a common disease in dogs. Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Miniature Schnauzers, Keeshonden, and Poodles have the highest incidence, but all breeds can be affected. Females with the disease outnumber males by 3 to 1.


Initially, dogs who do not metabolize enough sugar have an increase in appetite and a desire to consume more food. Later, with the effects of malnourishment, the appetite drops.

The early signs of diabetes are frequent urination, drinking lots of water, a large appetite, and unexplained loss of weight.

In more advanced cases, there is lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, weakness, and coma. Cataracts are common in diabetic dogs. Ultimately, diabetes is a disease that affects all organs. Diabetic dogs will have enlarged livers, be susceptible to infections, and often develop neurological problems if not treated.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis is a condition associated with severe hyperglycemia in which ketones (acids) build up in the blood. Ketones are byproducts of the metabolism of fat. In diabetic ketoacidosis, fats are metabolized for energy because sugar is unavailable. Diabetic ketoacidosis can be recognized by weakness, vomiting, rapid breathing, and the odor of acetone on the breath (it smells like nail polish remover). Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening emergency. If you suspect diabetic ketoacidosis, take your dog to the vet immediately.


Diabetes is a result of inadequate production of insulin by the islet cells in the pancreas. There may be a genetic predisposition for this in some dogs. Islet cell destruction also occurs in some cases of pancreatitis. Insulin enables glucose to pass into cells, where it is metabolized to produce energy for metabolism. Insulin deficiency results in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (high urine sugar). Glucose in the urine causes the diabetic animal to excrete large volumes of urine. In turn, this creates dehydration and the urge to drink large amounts of water.


The laboratory findings are high glucose levels in the blood and urine.


Dietary control and daily injections of insulin can regulate most diabetic dogs, allowing them to lead active, healthy lives. Oral hypoglycemic agents used for treating diabetes in people have not been effective in dogs, but research is continuing in this area.

Insulin requirements cannot be predicted solely on the basis of the dog's weight, because the degree of pancreatic failure is different in every dog. The daily insulin dose must be established for each individual. In the newly diagnosed diabetic, insulin therapy is started at home. After a week of treatment, the dog is brought back to the clinic and a blood glucose curve (a series of blood sugar tests drawn over 12 - 24 hours) is obtained to see when the blood glucose peaks and hits its lows. Refinements are then made in the dosage and timing of injections. How to prepare and inject the insulin will be explained to you by your veterinarian. You may be asked to monitor urine glucose levels by collecting urine samples and using a test strip (a small piece of paper that indicates the glucose levels in urine).

Insulin Overdose

An overdose of insulin causes the blood sugar to drop to levels well below normal. This is called hypoglycemia. Suspect this if your dog appears confused, disoriented, drowsy, shivers, staggers about, collapses, falls into a coma, or has seizures. insulin overdoses are associated with improper administration, using the wrong syringe (resulting in too high a dose), or changing the type of insulin. See Hypoglycemia.


Obesity greatly reduces tissue responsiveness to insulin and makes diabetes difficult to control. Accordingly, an overweight diabetic dog should be put on a high-fiber, high carbohydrate diet until he reaches an ideal weight. Avoid soft and moist foods and treats, which are high in sugar.

Hyperglycemia is less likely to occur if the dog is fed canned and dry kibble foods containing high concentrations of fiber and complex carbohydrates. Both of these components slow absorption and help minimize fluctuations in blood sugar after eating.

Daily caloric requirements are determined by the weight and activity level of the dog. Once those are established, the amount to feed is determined by dividing the daily caloric intake by the amount of calories per cup or can of food. It is important to keep the number of calories constant from day to day, because insulin requirements are computed on that basis.

It is equally important to maintain a strict schedule for insulin injections. To prevent severe hyperglycemia after eating, do not give all the day's calories at one sitting. Divide the daily ration into equal parts and feed 2 - 3 meals a day, or as directed by your veterinarian. Diabetic dogs do best on a very regimented schedule with feedings and insulin injections being given at the same times each day. Ideally, your dog should have the same levels of exercise and activity.

A thin dog who has lost weight should be fed a low-fiber high calorie diet until weight is regained.


Please contact your veterinarian with questions regarding this condition

Show Sources & Contributors +


Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

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