Diabetes in Dogs – Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Diabetes in dogs written beside a golden retriever standing in the woods

Photo Credit: © Depositphotos.com / tanyakdesign

When you take on the responsibility of owning a dog (or any pet), it’s understood there will be health issues to deal with at some point.

You know and expect there will be all the usual canine challenges to overcome or preferably avoid: fleas, ticks, parvovirus, heartworm – the list goes on.

What you may not have expected was the possibility of a common and familiar condition that afflicts nearly 25 million American humans: diabetes.

If you or someone you know lives with diabetes, then you already have some understanding of what it entails. For those who don’t, and to learn how it may affect your dog, here are some of the key things to know about this disease.

Don’t Panic!

The first thing to know about diabetes is, while a very serious health issue, it’s a manageable condition; it is not a death sentence, nor need it be debilitating, or hinder a happy and active life.

Now that we’ve established that, and everyone can relax a little, let’s get into more detail.

What Is Diabetes?

Properly known as Diabetes Mellitus, the disease is characterized by either a lack of insulin, a hormone secreted by the pancreas, or an insufficient reaction to the insulin.

After your Golden eats, its digestive system breaks food down into its component parts. One of these is glucose, a simple sugar. Glucose is transported to the dog’s cells by insulin, and it’s an important source of energy.

A Retriever with diabetes cannot use the glucose properly, and so it builds up, leading to increased blood sugar levels. (When you look at your dog and say, “isn’t he sweet,” you may be more right than you know!) The term for this state of affairs is hyperglycemia.

Follow this link for an informative video about canine diabetes – that just happens to star a talking Golden Retriever! (If you can’t trust that, what can you trust?)

What Are the Different Kinds of Diabetes?

There are three varieties of diabetes: gestational, Type I, and (as you may have guessed) Type II:

  1. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy, and is exceptionally rare.
  2. Type I is defined by a lack of insulin production.
  3. Type II stems from the body’s inability to use the supplied insulin properly.

There is another variant of diabetes called Diabetes Insipidous, sometimes known as water diabetes. This condition has to do with the body’s inability to conserve water, and is unrelated to Diabetes Mellitus.

Which Type of Diabetes Do Dogs Develop?

Truth be told, there is no generally accepted categorization of diabetes in dogs. Human diabetes terms are used to describe canine diabetes because of similarities between the conditions.

What we call ‘Type I’ diabetes is what generally occurs in dogs. Type II-style diabetes is not normally seen in dogs, though it frequently afflicts cats.

Common Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Should your Golden display any of the following symptoms, you’ll want to pay a visit to your vet to investigate further:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme thirst and water consumption
  • Weight loss (despite a healthy appetite)
  • Frequent urination
  • Breath that smells fruity or sweet
  • Lack of energy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Vomiting
  • Cataracts

Causes of Diabetes in Dogs

No one can say for sure what causes diabetes in dogs. Though it behaves like human diabetes, the underlying roots of the disease are not clear.

It is believed that certain lifestyle and environmental factors may be at play including obesity, autoimmune disease, pancreatitis, hormone therapies and steroids, and Cushing’s Disease. Genetic predisposition may also play a role.

Is My Golden Retriever Likely To Get Diabetes?

Certain breeds have been shown to be statistically more likely to develop diabetes than others. Higher risk dogs include Samoyeds, Dachshunds, and Cairn Terriers.

Golden Retrievers are generally considered a low-risk breed, but that’s not the same as NO-risk! Goldens are noted as being a likely target for juvenile diabetes. (Juvenile diabetes is simply Type I diabetes in young dogs.)

Female dogs are more prone to diabetes, as are overweight dogs. Seeing as how over 50% of dogs in the U.S. are overweight, diabetes is certainly a real concern.

Diagnosis of Diabetes in Golden Retrievers

If you suspect your Golden may be diabetic, share your concerns with your veterinarian. He or she will examine your dog and perform blood tests, check blood sugar levels, and do a urinalysis.

X-rays and/or ultrasound may be suggested in order to look for secondary complications like inflammation of the liver, and kidney stones.

Treatment of Canine Diabetes

How your vet chooses to treat your Retriever’s diabetes will depend on the severity of the disease. A dog that’s extremely ill may need to be hospitalized to return its blood sugar levels to normal. A less severely affected dog may just need a change in diet and lifestyle.

The most common treatment for dogs is the regular injection of insulin. Since your dog’s pancreas is incapable of providing insulin, injections will take the place of natural production.

Individual insulin requirements will vary from dog to dog, so your vet will work with you to establish the proper dosage for yours. Once that’s established, your vet will show you how to administer the injections yourself.

In the case of female dogs, spaying will prevent the periodic surges of hormones associated with fertility that can impact blood sugar levels.

Treating Canine Diabetes at Home

Developing a routine of feeding and medicating is an essential part of caring for a diabetic dog. By timing the influx of nutrients to coincide with the increased insulin levels, you will reduce the risk of blood sugar levels spiking, or dropping off dramatically. A high-fibre, low-fat, dry dog food is generally recommended by veterinarians.

Be sure to minimize or eliminate sugary treats between meals to help prevent an increase in sugar levels when there’s less insulin present.

Daily exercise is an important part of any dog’s life, and it’s even more important to a diabetic dog. Exercise helps keep weight at a healthy level, and reduces blood sugar. As with feeding and medicating, sticking to a schedule will prevent sudden changes (a drop, in the case of exercise) in blood sugar levels.

Monitoring your dog’s sugar levels at home will keep you apprised of how effective your home treatment is. Your vet can help you learn how to do this simple test.

Maintaining a daily log may be useful to you for keeping track of diet, exercise, behavior patterns (confusion, weakness, lethargy, etc.), and physical attributes (swelling, skin and fur condition, weight gain or loss, etc.), and associating them with your diabetes management program.

Having a log to refer to will let you see what is and what isn’t working, and provides a comprehensive report you can share with your vet. It’s a lot easier than trusting yourself to remember everything!

Can I Prevent My Retriever From Becoming Diabetic?

There is no vaccination for diabetes, so there is no guaranteed way to keep your dog from developing the disease. And of course there’s absolutely no way to prevent a puppy from inheriting the condition from its mother.

As with many health issues, though, you can take steps to lessen the likelihood of diabetes:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid high-fat, high-carb food
  • Spay females
  • Exercise regularly, especially as a dog ages

Even doing all these things may not prevent diabetes from happening, but it will stack the odds in your dog’s favor.

What Happens if Diabetes Goes Untreated?

Though diabetes can be managed, make no mistake, this is a very serious disease. Other health problems may follow as a result of diabetes including severe dehydration, blindness due to cataracts, and muscle breakdown.

In the long term, untreated diabetes will likely be fatal.

Living With Diabetes

All is not doom and gloom, however! By formulating a treatment plan in conjunction with your veterinarian, and sticking to it, there’s no reason your Golden can’t live comfortably with diabetes. In fact, life expectancy will likely not be shortened at all.

If diabetes strikes your dog, accept the challenge and live life to the fullest! You may even find the most significant side effect of the disease is a strengthened bond between you and your wonderful pet.

About Jim Wright

Jim Wright
"Jim Wright is a freelancer who has previously written about fish, snakes, lizards, and hedgehogs. He is delighted to now shift his focus and share his experiences raising his perpetual puppy, Stitch the Black Lab (and a cantankerous old German Shepherd named Lucy). Jim lives east of Toronto, where he writes and designs marketing material for small businesses. He can be reached at [email protected]."

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