Can dogs get diabetes? The simple answer is yes, they can. While the two are not conclusively linked, the surge in canine obesity corresponds to the rise in incidence of canine diabetes. Though there are two forms of diabetes — commonly known as sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) and water diabetes (diabetes insipidus) — and the first is by far the most frequently diagnosed in dogs.
Diabetes mellitus tends to affect dogs later in life, typically between the ages of six and nine, but the rate of incidence seems to be higher in female dogs. While there can be a genetic component, in the vast majority of cases, diabetes mellitus in dogs can be prevented through a combination of diet and exercise. There is no cure for canine diabetes, but when diagnosed early, diabetes in dogs can be managed in the same ways as in humans: through a modified diet, exercise and insulin injections.
There are two major forms of diabetes in dogs, known colloquially by their identifiable sources, to wit, sugar and water. Since diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, is by far the more common, that’s what we’ll focus on here. Put simply, diabetes mellitus in dogs is a condition in which a dog is unable to convert his food into the energy he needs.
In a bit more detail, dogs develop diabetes mellitus when the pancreas produces insufficient amounts of insulin. Insulin helps to convert proteins in dog food into glucose. Glucose is a sugar that provides energy to all parts of a dog’s body. When a dog has diabetes mellitus, the excess sugar is voided in the urine. Over time, dogs with diabetes can experience vision loss and an increase in kidney problems. Fortunately, diabetes mellitus in dogs can be both prevented and managed.
The rarer form of canine diabetes, known as water diabetes or diabetes insipidus, is usually related to the brain, kidneys, or a failure of communication between them. In dogs, diabetes insipidus arises from a dog’s inability to retain water and is usually caused by head trauma or by faults in the pituitary gland or in the kidneys.
Changes in appetite and a dog who’s peeing a lot are the primary symptoms of both sugar and water diabetes in dogs. Food plays a major role in canine diabetes. Because the dog’s pancreas is not producing enough insulin, the brain is tricked into thinking that the dog is starving. Thus, a diabetic dog may overcompensate by eating more or by being hungry more often.
Hyperglycemia in dogs, or the excess in blood sugar levels, means that a dog with canine diabetes will also urinate much more frequently. Just as insufficient energy drives a dog to eat more, increased urination also leads to increased thirst. Along with appetite changes and frequent urination, dogs with canine diabetes will experience decreased energy as the condition progresses.
Left untreated, diabetes in dogs can lead to widespread system failures, with the eyes and kidneys being the first victims. Dogs with diabetes are at increased risk for developing cataracts in the eyes and eventually blindness. Over time, the failure to filter blood sugar may lead to enlarged kidneys and urinary tract infections.
While there is no conclusive link, dogs who are overweight or obese tend to get diagnosed with diabetes more frequently than those who adhere to a disciplined diet and regular exercise. When symptoms of diabetes in dogs appear, a veterinarian can diagnose the condition in two primary ways: through blood tests and urinalysis. In pronounced cases, levels of sugar in the blood and urine will be noticeably higher.
There’s no cure for diabetes in dogs, but it can be managed in the same ways as it is in humans. For dogs, canine diabetes management strategies, under the supervision of a veterinarian, include a modified diet, regular exercise, and insulin injections. Dogs diagnosed with canine diabetes will require strict treatment for the remainder of their lives.
Some dog breeds seem to experience a higher rate of developing canine diabetes than others. Breeds believed to be genetically predisposed to canine diabetes include the Beagle, Bichon Frise, Dachshund, German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Keeshond, Miniature Pinscher, Schnauzer (Standard and Miniature), Poodle, Puli, Samoyed, Spitz, and certain Terrier breeds (Australian, Cairn and Fox). Genetic predisposition is only an increased likelihood, not an eventuality.
Among dogs, regardless of breed, females are at higher risk for diabetes, especially as they age. Spaying female dogs can reduce the risk that hormones released during the estrous cycle do not interfere with insulin production.
In dogs that are not genetically predisposed, preventing canine diabetes is a simpler process than treatment. A regular, well-portioned diet along with regular, if not daily, exercise are key to preventing the development of diabetes in dogs. Avoid giving your dog table scraps.
A lifetime of an unbalanced diet and insufficient exercise can lead to overtaxed kidneys and pancreatitis, both of which have been causally linked to diabetes mellitus in dogs. Diabetes in dogs is not a rapid onset condition, but the culmination of a process as a dog reaches middle and old age. Over the course of your dog’s life, a veterinarian can help you determine appropriate meal portion sizes tailored to your dog’s breed or mix; size; and age.
Tell us: Do you have, or have you had, a dog with diabetes? How did you manage canine diabetes? Share your experiences in the comments!
This piece was originally published in 2014.
Thumbnail: Photography by Igor Normann/Shutterstock.