Diabetes in Dogs - Symptoms, Treatment, & Prevention

Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
By Dr. Jason Gagné, DVM, DACVIM
Updated: 6/3/20241-2 minutes
Pug with the doctor

Finding out your dog has—or is at risk of—diabetes can be tough. We want the lives of our canine companions to always be easy and free of health challenges.  

It’s important to remember, though, that diabetes in dogs is somewhat common. While this is an unfortunate fact, it does mean there are guidelines for managing the disease, as well as treatment options. Medication and a special diet of dog food are often recommended. 

With your help, your pet can continue to lead a healthy, active life. 

Here’s some helpful information for understanding and treating dog diabetes. 

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

One type of diabetes mellitus is caused by a lack of insulin, the hormone that regulates how sugar is absorbed and used by cells and tissues in the body. This is the form of diabetes that dogs are affected with. 

Another type of diabetes you may be familiar with is when the body produces insulin but doesn’t utilize it properly. This form of diabetes is almost never seen in dogs.

Some canines can have a genetic predisposition to the disease. Unfortunately, this means there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it. Pancreatitis and Cushing’s disease are other health conditions that can cause diabetes.

Diabetes most often afflicts dogs in middle age, and female dogs are more susceptible to it than males.

Why Is Diabetes Bad for Dogs?

Regardless of the cause of diabetes, it prevents the body from responding appropriately to its energy need, and your pet's health suffers as a result.

Insulin helps deliver glucose (fuel for the body’s cells and organs), so a lack of insulin means cells aren’t receiving essential fuel. As a result, your dog’s body starts tapping its fat and proteins/muscles as backup fuel. 

Additionally, if glucose can’t be used for fuel, high levels of it remain in the bloodstream, which is dangerous. Excess glucose can cause organ damage. 

Diabetes also makes your dog more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections as well.

Dog Breeds Prone to Diabetes

Any breed can be affected by diabetes, but certain small breeds are more susceptible to it. Dachshunds, Miniature Poodles, Schnauzers and Beagles tend to develop it more often than other dogs.

Dog Diabetes Symptoms 

Every dog is unique, and no one knows yours better than you do. Keep an eye out for these dog diabetes symptoms, older and/or female. 

  • Sudden extreme thirst
  • A frequent and urgent need to urinate
  • Notable exhaustion and lower-than-normal activity
  • Weight loss (often despite increased hunger and food intake 

Note these symptoms may develop over time, so they might not all occur at once. 

Diabetes in Dogs Treatment

While there is no cure for the disease, treatment is available—and often effective—for diabetes in dogs.

Your veterinarian can prescribe a specific course of action for your pet. It will likely include giving your dog insulin twice daily with meals to compensate for the lack of insulin in their body. They’ll need insulin for the rest of their lives. 

A diet may also be prescribed. For overweight dogs, it’s common to give food high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and low in fat until they reach their ideal body weight. If your canine is thin, they might be fed a diet low in fiber until they gain back the weight. 

Setting a consistent schedule for feeding and insulin injections every day is also helpful. 

It’s important to stick to the recommended dosage and timing of insulin for your dog. Too much can lower their blood sugar to life-threatening levels (this is known as hypoglycemia). 

Symptoms of hypoglycemia may include weakness and seizures, among other things. The condition is an emergency, so make sure to contact your veterinarian immediately if you think it’s happening.

On the other hand, giving insufficient insulin can impact your pet’s body’s regulation of diabetes and cause another emergency event called diabetic ketoacidosis. 

The takeaway? Don’t change your dog’s insulin dosage or diet without approval from your veterinarian. 

How to Prevent Diabetes in Dogs

Have your veterinarian give your dog a thorough examination to determine whether or not they have diabetes, prediabetic symptoms, or a disposition for diabetes. 

While diabetes in dogs shouldn’t be taken lightly, it helps to remember that it is often manageable. Your veterinarian can help you make a treatment plan to keep your pet as healthy and happy as possible. 

Looking for more health tips for dogs? Visit our Pet Expertise page for insight from our experts.

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