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Canine Diabetes: Questions and Answers

Darlene Norris is a long-time pet lover. She has worked as a vet assistant and draws on this experience when she writes her articles.

With the proper care, a dog with diabetes can go on to live a long and healthy life.

With the proper care, a dog with diabetes can go on to live a long and healthy life.

Do You Have a Diabetic Dog?

If your dog has just been diagnosed with canine diabetes, you and your pet are at the beginning of a long road. Realize that it will take a lot of commitment to care for your dog. You'll need to watch his diet, feed him two or three times a day, check his blood sugar and ketone levels every day, give him insulin, and watch his behavior to make sure he's not developing complications like hypoglycemia or diabetic ketoacidosis. If you go on vacation or on a business trip, you'll need to find someone to take care of him while you're gone.

It's important that you and your dog's veterinarian work well together. It can be very difficult to get your dog's blood sugar levels regulated, especially at first. Caring for your dog will take a lot of patience, along with teamwork between you and your vet, especially with a new diagnosis.

There's a lot of information about canine diabetes online. It can be overwhelming but start with the basics. Learning as much as you can about this disease will be the best thing you can do, both for your dog and for yourself.

Do Dogs Get Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes?

First of all, we need to understand the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is caused when the dog's body is no longer producing insulin. Some dog breeds, including Keeshonds and Samoyeds, tend to develop chronic pancreatitis, which damages the pancreas so that it can't produce insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is sometimes called insulin-resistant diabetes. The dog's pancreas is making plenty of insulin, but the cells in his body can't respond to it.

In either case, without insulin, the cells are unable to use glucose for energy. Type 1 diabetes is not reversible; your dog will need insulin injections for the rest of his life. Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, may be reversed with dietary changes and weight loss. Unfortunately, most dogs develop type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is more common in cats.

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

As mentioned above, some breeds are predisposed to developing diabetes. These include:

  • Golden Retrievers
  • Keeshonds
  • German Shepherds
  • Poodles
  • Miniature Pinchers
  • Schnauzers
  • Cairn Terriers
  • Beagles
  • Cocker Spaniels
  • Dachshunds

Apart from the breed, the biggest risk factor for canine diabetes is obesity. If your dog is overweight, he has a much higher chance of becoming a diabetic dog once he hits seven to nine years of age.

It's important to watch what you're feeding your dog. Most dry dog foods contain high-carb grains like corn, rice, wheat, and millet. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (sugar) during the process of digestion. The glucose is dumped right into the bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels. Even "grain-free" diets can be a problem. Why? Potatoes, chickpeas, and peas are high-glycemic foods, which drastically increase blood sugar levels. Your dog needs more protein and fewer carbs, along with healthy fats.

  • Exercise: Exercise is essential. A long walk a couple of times a day will go a long way towards keeping him healthy. Get him running around with a good game of frisbee.
  • Spaying: Did you know that middle-aged unspayed female dogs are two to three times more likely to develop diabetes than males are? Estrogen is to blame. This hormone can interfere with insulin production. Having her spayed at a young age prevents this problem.
  • Reproductive Hormones: There's a small risk that hormones used to control heat in female dogs may trigger diabetes in canines. Long-term steroid use can also bring on diabetes in dogs.
Schnauzers are more likely to develop diabetes in dogs. They're predisposed to canine diabetes.

Schnauzers are more likely to develop diabetes in dogs. They're predisposed to canine diabetes.

How Can You Tell If Your Dog Has Diabetes?

Usually, a diabetic dog will be very thirsty. You'll notice he seems to be drinking lots of water. This can lead to accidents in the house. A previously house-trained dog who suddenly starts leaving puddles all over your home needs a vet check-up, not a visit to a trainer.

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Your dog may be ravenously hungry. The strange thing is that no matter how much he eats, he's still losing weight. Repeated urinary tract infections, vomiting, and chronic skin conditions are other symptoms. He may become lethargic and dehydrated as well. His breath may smell like nail polish, or overly sweet. This is a symptom of diabetic ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening condition, so if you notice this, take your dog to the vet right away.

Another symptom of canine diabetes is sudden blindness. This can happen very quickly, even overnight, and is due to cataracts caused by high blood glucose levels. A dog who loses his sight suddenly needs a vet check for diabetes.

What Are Normal Blood Sugar Levels?

Your dog should have a blood sugar level between 80 and 120 milligrams of glucose to one deciliter of blood. Many diabetic dogs have levels around 400-600 mg/dl.

How Much Does It Cost to Care for a Diabetic Dog?

Many owners wonder about the cost of caring for their diabetic pet. This depends on many factors, including how sick your dog is, and how long it takes to stabilize his blood glucose levels. We all know how expensive veterinary care is. A dog with diabetic ketoacidosis and canine diabetes can rack up a large vet bill very quickly. Some dogs are lucky, and it doesn't take much to get their blood sugar levels under control, which saves the owner money. Others, however, are very sick, or they're hard to regulate, and it can cost a lot more in vet bills.

Supplies can add up quickly too. A blood glucose monitoring system costs around $54 on Amazon. You'll need lancets ($15 for 100) to prick your pet to get a drop of blood, along with test strip refills for the glucometer as well ($42 for 50 strips). Vetsulin, a type of insulin made for pets, costs around $37 for 40 units. Ketone test strips cost $8–$9 for 100 test strips. Prices may vary in your area.

You may also need to invest in a special diet for your pet as well. It does take a substantial financial commitment to care for a diabetic dog.

Someday canine diabetes may be cured by using gene therapy.

Someday canine diabetes may be cured by using gene therapy.

Can Canine Diabetes Be Cured?

At this point, there is no cure for type 1 diabetes. However, gene therapy does hold promise as a cure. What is gene therapy? It involves either replacing a defective gene or adding a new gene to help your body fight disease.

In the case of type 1 diabetes, the type commonly seen in dogs, the pancreas stops producing insulin. Insulin is needed to move glucose from the blood into the cells for energy. An enzyme called glucokinase is involved in this transfer. Without insulin, glucose can't be transferred, which means the cells are starving, even though plenty of glucose is available in the bloodstream.

In 2013, Spanish scientists conducted a study using gene therapy to treat diabetes. They injected diabetic dogs with a virus that contained both glucokinase genes and insulin genes. Amazingly, this worked, at least over the course of the study, which was about four years. The dogs had normal blood sugar levels and gained weight, showing no symptoms of canine diabetes.

This is promising, but the dogs were only followed for four years, not until the end of their lives. It's possible that the dogs may have relapsed later in life. More research is needed, along with clinical trials, but there is hope that someday type 1 diabetes may be curable with gene therapy, both in humans and in dogs.

What Can Happen If a Diabetic Dog Goes Untreated?

If a diabetic dog is not treated, he'll suffer from blindness, urinary tract infections, kidney damage, and other complications. He'll eventually go into a diabetic coma and die. If you are unable or unwilling to have your dog treated, it's much kinder to put him down. Canine diabetes can be managed, and your dog may go on to live a long happy life, with the proper treatment.

Taking care of a diabetic dog is definitely a challenge, and there are many things to consider. It's important to know what you're getting into, so you can make an informed decision, based on what's best for you and your dog.


This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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