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Canine Diabetes Mellitus (Sugar Diabetes)

What is diabetes?

Glucose (‘blood sugar’) provides the cells of the body with the energy they need to live and function. Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of insulin. Insulin is produced the pancreas. Sometimes this process breaks down resulting in the condition we call diabetes mellitus (often shortened to diabetes); either the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (Type I diabetes), or the cells of the body become ‘resistant’ to the effect of insulin and fail to respond to it (Type II diabetes).

This results in:

  • The cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose to function normally
  • Too much glucose remains in the blood

Diabetes is seen in dogs of all ages, sexes and breeds; however, it most commonly occurs in older dogs, with females more commonly affected.

What are the signs of diabetes?

When the blood contains a too high level of glucose this overwhelms the kidney’s ability to prevent glucose being lost into urine (in healthy dogs there should be none). This causes the kidneys to produce more urine, and so your dog needs to drink more water. Also, as your dog cannot use the glucose it is losing, they will need to eat more to compensate. If this is insufficient, they will lose weight.

Signs to look out for:

  • Producing more urine. Perhaps causing disturbed nights or having accidents in the house.
  • Drinking more
  • Losing weight, potentially rapidly
  • Eating more, especially in the earlier stages. Later their appetite may drop as diabetic toxins called ketones are produced causing them to feel or be sick.
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced vision; Cataract formation (often quite suddenly/quickly) is another common consequence of excess blood sugar in dogs

How is the Diagnosis confirmed?

Your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis as some of the symptoms can be seen with other diseases. Occasionally there are other diseases present as well as diabetes, such as Cushings Syndrome.
You may be asked to withhold food for 12 hours before a blood test BUT check with your vet beforehand as this not always needed.

NEVER withhold water.

How is Canine Diabetes treated?

Usually the underlying cause of canine diabetes cannot be cured, but with the establishment of a regular routine and the use of an insulin preparation, your dog can lead a normal, happy life. We aim to restore a good quality of life for your dog, reduce the long term damaging effects of diabetes on the other parts of the body, and stop the symptoms that cause difficulties at home.

Dogs generally do not respond to the oral treatments for diabetes often used in people.

However, canine diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin. It sounds very scary, but we have taught the most needle-phobic owners in the past and will always be there to support you. You’ll surprise yourself as to what you can do if needed; most patients barely notice.

Insulin injections are prepared by drawing the required dose into a syringe immediately before administration or by “dialling” the required dose onto a pen type administrator. The injection is then given under the skin of the dog’s scruff.
In dogs, insulin is generally given at a fixed time once or twice a day, with meals following immediately.

Daily activity and exercise should be kept as constant as possible. A regular daily routine is the order of the day. In a normal, non-diabetic animal or person, natural insulin levels go up and down depending on what we are doing. In a diabetic dog this is not possible so we need to standardise the activities around the set insulin injection pattern.

Same sugar in (food) + Same sugar out (activity) = Same insulin dose to regulate.

Once the insulin dose has been adjusted to your dog’s needs which can take some time, they should improve rapidly. Always follow the vet’s advice, and don’t deviate from what you have been asked to do. If you want to alter anything, ask your vet first as sometimes changes can cause problems.

It is important to handle and store the insulin correctly.

Keep it at the correct temperature in the fridge. Be aware that some fridges can freeze things placed at the very back or adjacent to the freezer section- so avoid these areas. Always return it to the fridge after use.
Never shake the bottle vigorously- just gently tip it to mix.

Used insulin syringes should be returned to the surgery for safe disposal in the special sharps bin, which we will provide. Please, never place them in your household refuse.

You may be asked to test urine samples on a regular basis to check for glucose and ketones using special tests sticks supplied by us. We will teach you the simple technique.

Some owners become good at obtaining a drop of their dog’s blood to directly test the blood glucose level. However, this is definitely not essential.

You will be asked to keep a chart on a daily basis; if you have problems, often we can gain clues from this information.

Repeat prescriptions of the insulin, syringes and urine testing strips can be requested. Please give at least 2 weekdays notice.

Being overweight can increase insulin resistance, so we aim for settling at a normal weight for your pet. We can give you a guide.

Female diabetics that have not been neutered are adversely affected by their hormones each time they come into season, so we often make special arrangements to neuter them.

If your dog becomes lethargic, wobbly or even collapsed this may indicate that their blood sugar has gone too low (HYPOGYCAEMIA). This is an EMERGENCY situation. Immediately follow these steps:

  1. Put Jam or Honey or glucose gel on the tongue.

  2. Telephone surgery: 0121 705 3044

  3. Come to main surgery – 608 Warwick Road, B91 1AA

One potentially dangerous complication that you should be prepared for is ‘hypoglycaemia’; this is when the blood sugar level falls too low. This may happen if too much insulin is given or if your dog exercises excessively or if your dog fails to get enough food (refuses to eat or vomits after eating). In this situation the brain, which is very dependent on a supply of glucose, cannot get enough energy.

The signs of hypoglycaemia include:

  • Unrest or lethargy or ‘spaced out’
  • Weakness and shivering/muscle twitching, collapse
  • Fits
  • Unconsciousness

The condition is potentially life-threatening if not treated properly

What to do if you see signs of hypoglycaemia:

  1. Give food if they are co-ordinated enough to eat.

  2. Give glucose syrup or solution, jam or honey on the tongue if too disorientated to eat. Take care not to get bitten. It is a good idea to always keep something suitable available just in case, which no one else is allowed to use!

  3. Call the surgery immediately on 0121 705 3044

Prevention is better than cure so if your diabetic pet is not eating reliably or is being sick; please contact your vet for advice!

Some of this information is courtesy of MSD UK. For more information go to