Signs, symptoms, treatment of diabetes in dogs

Description of the disease and the mechanism of development

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic pathology characterized by increased blood glucose levels. To help your pet, you need to know the signs and symptoms of the disease in order to start treatment on time. This condition develops due to a decrease in secretion or a violation of the action of insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and is responsible for glucose metabolism. Thus, the main mechanism for the development of the disease is damage to the pancreas. With diabetes in dogs, all types of metabolism suffer, not only carbohydrate. There are two main types of the disease:

  • Type 1 diabetes;
  • Type 2 diabetes.

The development of type 1 diabetes mellitus is associated with heredity. There is an autoimmune lesion of the secretory areas of the pancreas. As a result, the cells that synthesize insulin are damaged. In type 2 diabetes, a different developmental mechanism is implemented. A distinctive feature of this species is a violation of the sensitivity of peripheral tissues to insulin. The division into types is important when prescribing treatment, since the tactics of therapy may differ. At the same time, the symptoms of the disease are similar, it is difficult to determine the type of diabetes only from the clinical picture. Secondary diabetes mellitus is less common. It develops against the background of another disease or taking medication. For example, pancreatitis, hormone intake can provoke damage to the secretory areas of the pancreas and lead to the development of diabetes. Transient diabetes is also rare in dogs.

Recently, diabetes in dogs has developed not only in the elderly, but also at a young age. Statistics indicate that the average age at development of the disease is 5-8 years (previously the disease was detected in dogs 7-14 years old).

Diabetes Causes

There is no single reason for the development of diabetes in dogs. Pathology is associated with one of the following etiological factors:

  1. Destruction of beta cells , which are responsible for the synthesis of insulin – due to an autoimmune reaction,
  2. Decreased tissue sensitivity to insulin – arises from obesity, improper feeding of the dog, 
  3. Secondary destruction of areas of the pancreas – after suffering from pancreatitis, other endocrine diseases, taking medications. 

Any dog ​​can get sick, however, some breeds are more susceptible to the development of pathology. The breeds most likely to develop diabetes are:

  • Poodle;
  • Beagle;
  • Doberman;
  • Labrador;
  • Pug;
  • Dachshund.

Veterinarians identify risk factors that can trigger diabetes. Their presence does not guarantee the onset of diabetes, but it significantly increases the risk of developing it.

The more provoking factors a dog has, the higher the risk of developing the disease. At high risk, the pet should be examined even if there are no symptoms or signs of illness.

Risk factors include:

  1. Genetic predisposition, the presence of diabetes in parents,
  2. Excessive volume of subcutaneous fat,
  3. Drug treatment: uncontrolled intake of hormonal drugs, glucocorticosteroids,
  4. Postponed viral infections
  5. Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract,
  6. Improper diet, sedentary lifestyle,
  7. Endocrine system pathology.

Symptoms of the disease

An attentive owner may suspect the presence of diabetes mellitus in a dog on clinical grounds. The main 4 symptoms that indicate illness:

  • polyuria,
  • polydipsia,
  • increased appetite,
  • dramatic weight loss.

Polyuria is a symptom characterized by increased urine output. The pet often asks to go outside. The volume of urine excreted significantly increases, while a light yellow liquid is released. Polyuria is the first sign of diabetes and is caused by the excretion of glucose in the urine. Glucose is an osmotically active substance, therefore, the higher its content in the urine, the more diuresis. Polydipsia is an intense, unquenchable thirst. The dog wants to drink all the time, does not leave the bowl of water. Thirst arises from dehydration as a compensatory response to polydipsia. Other signs of dehydration are also characteristic:   

  • In the dog’s mouth, saliva is sticky, viscous;
  • The mucous membrane of the oral cavity is dry;
  • Bad breath;
  • The dog is lethargic, weak, sleeps a lot.

The third main symptom is polyphagia. This is an increased appetite in a dog. The pet eats a lot, does not gorge itself, and this has not been observed before. The dog quickly eats its portion, constantly asks for more. Polyphagia occurs due to energy deficiency, as glucose is not absorbed due to insulin deficiency. Despite the increased appetite, the dog loses weight. This paradoxical sign should alert the owner. The pet eats a lot, begs for more, but at the same time, ribs are visible.   

Losing weight with normal appetite is often a sign of a serious pathology, therefore, it requires examination and appropriate treatment.

The disease is also characterized by additional symptoms:

  • Hair loss, dullness;
  • Skin inflammation – pustular lesions, ulcers;
  • Behavior change – lethargy can be replaced by aggressiveness;
  • Increased heart rate.

The nature of the course of the disease depends on the pathogenesis and type of diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the symptoms are acute. In type 2 diabetes, more gradually. In this case, the clinical signs are less pronounced.

Diagnostic methods

It is possible to suspect diabetes mellitus in a dog by clinical signs. However, symptoms are not enough to make a definitive diagnosis; laboratory tests are used for this purpose. Seek medical attention if there are signs of diabetes. The veterinarian will carefully examine the dog and prescribe tests. Diabetes screening includes the following methods:

  1. Determination of blood glucose – diabetes is characterized by the detection of hyperglycemia,
  2. Urine analysis – characteristic of the detection of glucose (normally it is absent),
  3. Fructosamine test – an indicator of diabetes compensation,
  4. Analysis for glycosylated hemoglobin – also indicates the degree of compensation and the effectiveness of the treatment.

To make a diagnosis, a triad of signs is enough: clinical symptoms, hyperglycemia, detection of glucose in urine.

Additional methods are used if necessary. For example, with the long-term existence of diabetes, the risk of developing cystitis increases – in this case, a general analysis and bacteriological examination of urine (culture) are prescribed. If secondary diabetes is suspected, a hormonal blood test may be required. For the differential diagnosis of types 1 and 2 of the disease, a glucagon test is used.


Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease, it is impossible to completely cure a dog. Therapy is aimed at normalizing carbohydrate metabolism and preventing complications. Treatment is tailored to the type of diabetes, the severity of the symptoms, and the degree of compensation.

Substitution therapy

The mainstay of treatment for diabetes mellitus in dogs is substitution therapy. Subcutaneous insulin is used. Insulin therapy is used for moderate diabetes, regardless of the type. Despite the fact that in type 2 diabetes there is no insulin deficiency (only a decrease in sensitivity is observed), insulin must be used to achieve compensation. Insulin therapy is carried out under the control of blood glucose levels. Its definition allows you to adjust the dosage of insulin, to avoid the development of hypoglycemia. The dosage is selected individually, depending on the following factors:

  1. Glucose level,
  2. Dog weight,
  3. The severity of the disease, the presence of clinical symptoms.

The initial dose is 0.5 U per 1 kg of animal weight. In the future, the dosage is adjusted.

In insulin therapy, it is important to learn not only how to select the correct dosage and administer the drug, but also recognize the signs of hypoglycemia and be able to correct the condition.

There are many types of insulin, the main distinguishing feature is the time of action. The most commonly used insulin is short and long-acting. Short-acting insulin is used for quick results. For example, before feeding a dog, with the development of acute diabetic complications. The drug starts to work in about 20 minutes. Representatives of this type of insulin include Actrapid, Novorapid. Long-acting insulin is used to control glucose levels more consistently. It begins to act in 1-2 hours, the hypoglycemic effect persists throughout the day. This greatly facilitates the treatment process, since frequent insulin administration is not required.

Nutrition for diabetes

Diet is the main treatment for mild diabetes mellitus, which has developed against the background of obesity. For moderate to severe diabetes, diet is an adjunct treatment. The calorie intake is selected depending on the body weight of the dog. With obesity, the daily calorie intake is lowered, the diet is aimed at reducing body weight. On the other hand, with signs of cachexia, the number of calories rises. In this case, the goal of the diet is to gain weight. If the pet’s body weight is within the normal range, a subcaloric diet is used. The principle of nutritional therapy for diabetes is to normalize metabolism and prevent a sharp change in blood glucose levels. In this regard, the diet is based on the following principles:

  • Changing the ratio of macronutrients: increasing the proportion of proteins, limiting fat intake;
  • Exclusion of fast carbohydrates from the diet;
  • Increased intake of complex carbohydrates;
  • Increased fiber intake
  • Fractional feeding: the dog needs to be fed in small portions, but often (5-6 times a day).

The diet for diabetes depends on what type of feeding was before the disease – natural food or ready-made food. It is recommended to stick to the same type of food, so as not to create additional stress for the pet At the same time, the principles of diet are relevant for any type of feeding.

Many manufacturers of medicated dog food have a special line for treating diabetes. For example, manufacturers such as Royal Canin, Purina, Hills and many others have a Diabetic line.


All complications that develop in diabetes mellitus can be divided into 2 categories:

  1. Complications that arise from treatment
  2. Complications of the underlying disease.

The consequences of treatment are associated with the use of insulin therapy. Taking insulin for life is risky and challenging. The most common consequence of insulin therapy is hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia is a pathological condition characterized by low blood glucose levels. The condition can occur in the following situations:

  • Insulin dosage is exceeded;
  • Incorrect dose or type of insulin;
  • The dog did not eat after administration of the drug;
  • Significant physical activity (running, hunting).

Symptoms of hypoglycemia can be detected at home, and a blood test is used to confirm. The main signs of hypoglycemia include weakness, tremors, anxiety, increased heart rate, and increased salivation. In severe cases, convulsions develop, the dog loses consciousness, and may fall into a coma.

If hypoglycemia is detected, you need to urgently help the dog. For this, glucose is administered (orally or parenterally).

Another common complication of insulin therapy is the Somoji phenomenon. Pathology occurs with an excessive evening dose of insulin. In this case, hypoglycemia develops in the evening and at night, to which the dog’s body reacts with the release of counterinsular hormones. This leads to an increase in glucose levels and the development of hyperglycemia in the morning.

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