Q. My old dog was diagnosed with diabetes. How can I prevent this in my younger dog? 


A. Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disease that can occur in many species. In dogs it is the same as type 2 diabetes in people. Metabolism means the process of how the body converts food into energy. In this case it is how the dog converts carbohydrates into sugar and then into energy. 


Food is broken down into smaller components called nutrients when it is digested. These nutrients are broken down to glucose, a type of sugar, that is used by the cells to give your dog energy. 


The glucose is in the bloodstream and needs to get into cells to be useful. The organ, pancreas, which is up by the stomach and liver is important in digesting food. There are cells in this organ that produce a hormone called insulin. The job of insulin is to tell the cells to take up the glucose for fuel. 


Diabetes is the disease where the glucose-insulin connection isn’t working correctly. One type of diabetes is insulin deficiency. This occurs when the pancreas can’t produce enough insulin either from damage or not functioning properly. Insulin deficiency is the more common diabetes in dogs and will need insulin injections. Another form is called insulin-resistance diabetes. The pancreas is producing insulin, but the body isn’t utilizing it as it should. The cells are not getting insulin’s message to take up the glucose. This type of diabetes is seen in older and obese dogs. Female dogs can become insulin resistant temporarily while in heat or pregnant. 


Either condition creates the problem of the cells not picking up the needed glucose from the blood stream to function. This causes many problems. First the body’s cells, like muscle cells and certain organs, are lacking fuel since the glucose can’t get where it is supposed to go, causing the body to use muscle and fat as energy. The abnormally high glucose level can act like a poison to the organs. The high glucose level in the blood will damage kidneys, eyes, heart, blood vessels, or nerves. 


The sign of diabetes is increased thirst, urination, appetite as well as weight loss. If the disease progresses unchecked, your pup will develop anorexia (not eating), lethargy, depression, and vomiting. 


Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to other health problems. These include cataracts leading to blindness, enlarged liver, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, and seizures. Another complication is called ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition. The symptoms are lethargy, rapid breathing, dehydration, vomiting, and a change in the smell of his breath. The cause of ketoacidosis can be stress, surgery, fasting, infections, or other underlying conditions. If your dog is diabetic, having ketone test strips at home to test the urine if any of these symptoms occur is important. When the test stick is positive for ketones, it is important to call your veterinarian. 


Your veterinarian can diagnosis diabetes in Fido by doing a urinalysis and other routine blood work. It is important to start treatment right away to avoid some of the chronic problems this disease can cause. 


Who is at risk for diabetes? Those who are middle aged to older dogs, unspayed females, dogs with pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis, obesity, and prolonged steroid therapy, Cushing disease, other medical conditions, such as auto immune diseases and viral diseases, and genetics. 


Breeds genetically prone to have diabetes are miniature Poodles, Bichon Frises, Pugs, Dachshunds, miniature Schnauzers, Puli, Fox Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Samoyeds, Keeshonds, Australian Terriers, and Beagles. 


Treatment for diabetes is diet, exercise, and daily insulin injections. There are many prescription diets on the market. Monitoring your dog at home is important. This can include checking urine for glucose and ketones, blood glucose checks, water intake, weight gain or loss, and change in behaviors. You will be taking your pup to the veterinarian for regular and initially frequent checkups. 


A diabetic dog can live a good life if monitored properly, but prevention is the best medicine. Take Fido out for regular exercise and don’t’ let him get fat.





Judith K. Herman DVM, CVH

Animal Wellness Center

Augusta, Maine






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