How to Cope with a Diabetic Dog

Updated on April 27, 2013
Hi, I'm Squirt and I have diabetes.
Hi, I'm Squirt and I have diabetes.

If you are like most pet owners, you probably are unaware that dogs and cats can develop diabetes. Until my own dog was diagnosed, I had never heard of diabetes in pets. Diabetes mellitus (fancy medical term) is actually quite common in dogs, particularly females and obese dogs, and generally develops between 6 and 9 years of age. Some breeds have more incidences of diabetes, such as poodles, German shepherds, golden retrievers, keeshonds, cairn terriers, dachshunds, schnauzers, even my miniature pincher, but all breeds can be affected. Although diabetes is manageable, just like in humans, it can be a challenge.

What is diabetes?

There are two types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Type I, also called juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, results when islet cells in the pancreas fail to produce insulin. Type II diabetes results when islet cells incorrectly respond to the insulin produced, sometimes referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas that enables glucose to pass into blood cells and then muscles and organs to be converted to energy for carbohydrate, protein, and fat metabolism. Impaired insulin function results in high levels of glucose in the blood (hyperglycemia) and urine (glycosuria). Glucose in the urine causes excessive urination (we're talking buckets), which then creates dehydration, causing excessive drinking of water (also buckets).

Type I diabetes is the most common form in dogs (there are no known cases of Type II diabetes). Type II is the most common form in humans and cats.

The following are common symptoms of diabetes:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Excessive urination
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite (excessive hunger early on and then loss of appetite later)
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Blindness, usually due to cataracts.

If you see these symptoms in your pet, take them to a veterinarian immediately. A formal diagnosis can be made through a physical examination, urinalysis, and blood work.

Insulin and needle used for daily injections.
Insulin and needle used for daily injections.
A typical blood glucose testing kit from our veterinarian. From left to right, it includes lancers (to prick for blood), testing strips, control solution, equipment case, lancing device, monitor, and glucose test log.
A typical blood glucose testing kit from our veterinarian. From left to right, it includes lancers (to prick for blood), testing strips, control solution, equipment case, lancing device, monitor, and glucose test log.

What is the treatment for diabetes?

Diabetes can be regulated by daily insulin injections and diet control. Unfortunately, oral medications that have been developed for treating diabetes have proven ineffective for dogs. Every pet is different, so a specific course of treatment will need to be prescribed by your veterinarian. Insulin treatment is usually based on weight, but weekly glucose curves (a series of blood glucose tests performed over 12 to 24 hours) at the veterinary clinic will help refine dosage requirements. Your veterinarian will also probably prescribe a diet based on your pet's dietary needs. What is most important is that you keep a consistent feeding and injection schedule, ideally feeding your pet the same amount of the same food at the same time twice a day at 12 hours apart. Insulin injections should be made either directly before or after meals. Depending on your management plan, you will also need to monitor your pet's blood sugar levels with a glucose meter and adjust insulin dosage if sugar levels swing too high or low.

Your veterinarian will work with you to establish a management plan and will show you how to properly give an injection and how to monitor your pet's blood sugar at home. It is important to continue to monitor your pet's behavior, appetite, and general well being and to contact your veterinarian if you notice any changes.

What else do I need to worry about?

Diabetes is the gift that keeps on giving. With early detection and proper maintenance, your diabetic pet can live a healthy normal life; however, it can also lead to other health complications if left unchecked. The following health conditions are some of the complications that accompany or result from diabetes:

  • Cataracts. Cataracts are cloudy areas of the lens of the eye that can impair vision. They are very common among diabetic pets.

  • Urinary tract, bladder, and kidney infections. These types of infections are also common among diabetic pets because the sugar in their urine makes their bladders perfect incubators for bacteria.

  • Hypoglycemia. Despite regular care, hypoglycemia (or low blood glucose) can still happen and is deadly if left untreated. Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include depression, lethargy, confusion, dizziness, trembling, weakness, loss of bladder control, vomiting, and loss of consciousness or possible seizures. At the first signs of symptoms, call your veterinarian and offer food to your pet. If your pet refuses the food, apply corn syrup or honey to your finger and rub on your pet's gums or under the tongue.

  • Ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition that results from severe hyperglycemia (high blood glucose) in which ketones build up in the blood. The liver produces ketones as a by-product of fat metabolism. Urine tests can detect high levels of ketones and the possible beginning stages of diabetic ketoacidosis. Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis include vomiting, weakness, rapid breathing, and breath that smells like acetone or nail polish remover. Immediately contact your veterinarian if you see these symptoms or suspect diabetic ketoacidosis.

Squirt doing what he does best.
Squirt doing what he does best.
Benji being adorable.
Benji being adorable.

Life with a diabetic dog

I am not a veterinarian. My knowledge of diabetes in dogs comes from a year and a half of living with a diabetic miniature pincher named Squirt. After he was diagnosed, we talked with a few veterinarians and did tons of research to make sure we could keep Squirt healthy and happy for as long as possible. I urge anyone with a diabetic pet to get as much information as you can to keep up with the disease and your pet.

Squirt was just coming up on his eighth birthday when we noticed he was constantly drinking water and then needing to urinate promptly afterward. He began getting up in the middle of the night and urinating on the floor (buckets, as I mentioned) or in the middle of the day before he could alert us to his needs. At first we thought he was drinking more because it was a dry, Colorado winter, and as a result needed to urinate more. As the behavior persisted, he also started to lose weight, despite normal appetite and energy levels. I remembered these were symptoms of diabetes in humans, so we decided to take Squirt to the veterinarian to get him tested. Sure enough, he was diagnosed as diabetic and immediately our world changed.

The fun part of insulin treatments is that they have to be consistent and as close to the same time as possible every day. Goodbye sleeping in on weekends. Goodbye convenient dinner plans or nights out. Because of our work schedules, we feed and inject Squirt around 6:15 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. every day. On top of all that, Squirt is a bit of a diva and drama queen. While getting him regulated, he was very difficult to calm down to make the injection. He would yelp and cry before the needle even got close to him. We finally found a system of my husband holding and distracting Squirt while I make the injection. It is now a much quicker and painless process, but still a two-person operation.

Sharps container used to dispose of used needles.
Sharps container used to dispose of used needles.

Part of insulin treatment is needle disposal. When Squirt was first diagnosed, our veterinarian would take our used needles and dispose of them. They eventually changed their policy and we had to figure something else out. You can purchase sharps containers (the red containers with the biohazard sign on them) at many pharmacies (some will also take the containers and dispose of them as well) or there are online sites that sell containers with mail back packaging. Doctor's offices, hospitals, and health departments are also good places to check for disposal.

Our veterinarian prescribed a diabetic food that we give him twice a day. This means we have two separate bowls on two sides of the kitchen so Squirt eats his special food while our other dog, Benji, eats regular adult dog food. At first, Benji was having trouble adjusting to the schedule and was much slower in eating his food. Squirt, on the other hand, adjusted quickly and would sneak over to Benji's bowl if we weren't looking. We also had to move the cat's food to higher ground.

Squirt has started to develop cataracts, but so far he sees okay and isn't in any pain. He has also developed a bladder infection. He first got the infection while he was at the overnight kennel while we were out of town. The veterinarian at the kennel prescribed antibiotics and he seemed to be doing better after we got home. Ten days later and the day after finishing his antibiotics, we came home to blood and urine all over his crate. We immediately took him to the veterinarian and we were told he still had a bladder infection and it must be particularly nasty bacteria. He still had trouble controlling his bladder in the house (even with us taking him out every hour on the hour) and had labored urination too. A day or so later, his symptoms got better, but his separation anxiety seemed to exacerbate the infection. All day at home he was fine and his urine looked normal again. If we put him in the crate to go anywhere, however, blood started to come back into the urine. Once again, he went to the vet and was tested more. Turns out the little guy had small kidney stones, most likely due to the issues with the bladder infection. He also had high liver enzymes, so his insulin was adjusted and he was prescribed a new hepatic food to integrate with his diabetic food. He is much better now, but it just goes to show that vigilance is key with a diabetic pet.

Despite the trials and tribulations of having a diabetic pet, Squirt is still a much loved member of our family. It only takes a puppy-eyed look or nuzzling in your face to forget that you just got up at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning, before the sun was even up, or that you just finished cleaning up urine on your floor, despite taking Squirt out just 30 minutes ago. If your pet recently was diagnosed with diabetes, don't despair! Squirt's case is particularly challenging and not all pets will have the same problems. Many pet owners are able to regulate their pet with fewer behavioral or health issues. Your diabetic pet can still live a healthy and relatively normal life.

Questions & Answers


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      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        ThelmaC - Thank you for reading and for your votes. I am so sorry for your loss. It's never easy to say goodbye to a family member, furry or otherwise. I hope by sharing my story (and others sharing their story), pet owners will be more aware of diabetes and will be able to catch it early enough to treat.

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        tillsontitan - Thanks for the congrats and the vote up. I'm happy to hear you are a fellow min pin lover. They are a spunky breed! Best of luck to you and your min pin - it sounds like you are keeping a good eye on his/her health.

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        Thelma Alberts - Thank you for reading and your kind words!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        egdcltd - I am so sorry that your dog was over prescribed. It's bad enough when nature hurts the ones we love with disease, then to have a medical professional make such big mistake and not own it is just unbelievable to me. I wish you and your future pets better health and treatment!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        GAES STEM - thank you for your kind words. I'm sorry to hear about your cat. You can clearly relate to having a special-needs pet. Best of luck to you and your kitty!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        GAES STEM - thank you for your kind words. I'm sorry to hear about your cat. You can clearly relate to having a special-needs pet. Best of luck to you and your kitty!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        Jennifer-Louise-W - Thanks for stopping by. I'm sorry you aren't able to have pets but I certainly understand from a landlord's point of view. I hope you are able to have a pet in the future; they really do make life more interesting.

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        ArtDiva - Thank you for your kind words and for reading my article. It's definitely a challenge to diagnose a being that can't verbalize what's wrong.

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        heidithorne - Thank you for checking out my article. I'm sorry to hear your golden has bladder issues. They are such beautiful and wonderful dogs. Good idea to keep an eye out for diabetes as she gets older. Best of luck to you and your golden girl!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        Ladyguitarpicker - thank you for your post. I'm sorry to hear about Lucky but I'm sure he had a wonderful 14 years with you.

      • ThelmaC profile image

        Thelma Raker Coffone 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

        We lost our dog a few years ago to diabetes. You are right that many people aren't aware that dogs can have diabetes. Very interesting and thorough post. Voted UP and interesting.

      • tillsontitan profile image

        Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

        Congratulations on HOTD, certainly deserved. A well written hub with many interesting facts. I have a five year old Min Pin who has a weight problem so the possibility of diabetes is ever present.

        Squirt's a lucky dog and behaves like a typical Min Pin.

        Voted up, useful, and interesting.

      • Thelma Alberts profile image

        Thelma Alberts 3 years ago from Germany

        Congratulations on the Hub of the Day! This is a fascinating article. I hope my dog has no diabetes. I don´t think so but still I find this very informative. Thanks for sharing.

      • egdcltd profile image

        egdcltd 3 years ago

        My last dog was unfortunately over-prescribed in the amount of insulin that he was being given. My former vets said they did nothing wrong - even though the last vet to see him commented on it being too much.

      • GAES STEM profile image

        Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies 3 years ago from Virginia

        I have a diabetic cat and understand the commitment involved in maintaining their health. This is a well-informed, empathic hub. You do Squirt justice.

      • Jennifer-Louise-W profile image

        Jennifer-Louise 3 years ago from Nottingham

        Fantastic hub and really interesting! I don't have any pets, due to living in rented accommodation that has a strict no-pets rule. I will be sure to share this with all my friends with pets though! Your dogs are gorgeous. :)

      • profile image

        ArtDiva 3 years ago

        There are so many health conditions that apply to both humans and animals, but harder to diagnose with animals, to even know symptoms to watch. I never knew about diabetes. A well written and informative article from a position of experience with the love and care given to Squirt.

      • heidithorne profile image

        Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

        I can totally relate to the lifestyle... though our golden girl has bladder issues after chronic E.coli infections as a pup. The severity comes and goes and seems to be seasonally affected. But we're also checking for diabetes when we bring her for vet appointments since she's getting older. Thanks for sharing your tips and experience with us. And congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        Hi, I found your hub very interesting. I had a dalmatian that had diabetes . Lucky lived to be 14. Your dogs are cute. Stella

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 3 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        I'm sorry to hear about Billy Bob's diagnosis. It's a challenge but well worth the care. I'm glad this article could help. Best of luck to you and Billy Bob!

      • profile image

        Josie 3 years ago

        Hello Lacey,

        Our miniture pincher Billy Bob was diagnosted with Diabetes about 1 month ago. The whole routine in our house hold has changed, we are doing our best to make sure our 9 year boy will stay with us for many more years.

        I can relate to a lot of things you said about ur puppy. Billy is a bit of Diva as well and is freacking out every time we come around with his insulin, I'm not sure if he has become sensitive to the needle? We have to take him back to the vet tomorrow to try to figure out what's going on. Also he already had a bladder infection and the beginning of some ocular change :/ maybe cataracts.

        I just want to thank u for this article and for taking such a good care of Squirt,u guys are great pet parents!

      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 4 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        Thanks, Jaye! It's hard to look at that face and not want to take care of him. We watch Squirt like a hawk now to make sure he doesn't develop more bladder or kidney issues. Diligence is key, especially because our furry friends can't express what's going on with them. I hope your schnauzer stays diabetes free--it sounds like she's had enough problems for one little critter.

      • JayeWisdom profile image

        Jaye Denman 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

        Oh, Lacey! Now I know you are truly a dedicated pet parent. You and your husband are taking wonderful care of Squirt, who is lucky to have you both. I hope Squirt doesn't get any more kidney stones.

        I worry about my dog--a schnauzer--because she's one of the breeds that is predisposed to many diseases. Also, a severe vaccine reaction left her with a compromised immune system, so she is more vulnerable to disease than she would otherwise be. I've long worried that she might get either diabetes or Cushing's Disease because those are on the "schnauzer potential diseases" list--even before she developed KCS and, a year later, became blind.

        Schnauzers are also prone to pancreatitis, and she's had it three times in her life. I keep her on a very lowfat diet, but the vet warned me she might get it again anyway. I don't know if pancreatitis can destroy the islet cells--I'll have to do more research. I'm going to bookmark this hub and share it. You did a great job of describing the symptoms that signal diabetes in dogs and the treatment required once diagnosis is made.

        I chuckled when I read the part about your not getting to sleep late any more, but only because the same thing happened to me. Before her blindness, my dog would sleep (on the pillow next to me) until light came through the windows. Now she often wakes sporadically in the middle of the night and routinely gets up much earlier in the morning (5:00 a.m. seems to be the new norm), needs to go out (which means I get up too) and then naps more during the daytime. Since I'm retired, theoretically I could nap right along with her (and one day I was so tired from lost sleep I "collapsed" on the sofa and snoozed for an hour), but usually I just stay up. I'm a natural "night owl", so am trying to train myself to go to sleep earlier at night to counteract the earlier mornings. Otherwise, I'll have chronic sleep-deprivation. It's all about adjustment, isn't it?

        Our beloved pets are members of our families, so their chronic illnesses must be managed the same as if our human loved ones are ill.

        Voted Up+++ and shared


      • Lacey Taplin profile image

        Lacey Taplin 5 years ago from Highlands Ranch, CO

        Thank you for the feedback!


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