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Do You Know These Seven Symptoms of Canine Diabetes?

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.

Photo by Alexandru Sofronie on Unsplash

Photo by Alexandru Sofronie on Unsplash

Canine Diabetes Is Becoming an Epidemic

More and more dogs are showing up with diabetes. The symptoms of diabetes in dogs can be easy to overlook if you aren't aware of them. This disease can cause:

  • sudden blindness,
  • urinary tract infections,
  • inappropriate urination,
  • kidney damage,
  • skin problems,
  • coma,
  • and even death.

Ignorance about diabetes in canines is not bliss. Anyone with a dog in their life needs to be familiar with these symptoms.

Sudden Blindness Is Often the First Symptom of Canine Diabetes

Photo by Ciocan Ciprian on Unsplash

Photo by Ciocan Ciprian on Unsplash

1. Dog Goes Blind Suddenly

Too many times, the first symptom of canine diabetes is sudden blindness, often catching many pet owners off guard. How does this happen? Normally, the lens in your dog's eye is clear and transparent. It's usually in a dehydrated state compared to the rest of the body.

A dog with diabetes has high glucose levels in every organ of her body, including the fluid in her eyes. Since the lens gets all its nutrients from the eyeball fluid, the excess sugar finds its way into the lens, too, which then absorbs more water in an effort to dilute the sugar. The excess water in the lens causes it to become cloudy, resulting in cataracts and blindness. This process can happen in as little time as a few weeks; often before the owner is aware there's any problem.

2. A Very Thirsty Dog

If your canine companion suddenly can't seem to get enough water, this should be a red flag for you. High blood glucose levels will cause your pet to be very thirsty as her body attempts to flush the extra sugar out of her system.

Normally your pet's kidneys pull glucose and water out of the urine and back into the body. When the blood sugar levels are too high, water is not being reabsorbed back into the bloodstream. Instead, it's being pulled out of your dog's bloodstream, resulting in dehydration. And dehydration causes a whole host of other problems, including even higher levels of glucose in the blood. It's a vicious cycle that often leads to diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition that can cause organ failure, diabetic coma, and even death.

So keep an eye on your pet's water consumption. It's vitally important to have your dog's vet check her out if she just keeps glugging down the water.

3. Frequent Urination

Even if you managed to miss the amount of water your canine companion is drinking, it's hard to miss her asking to go out more often. A dog with high levels of glucose in her urine often produces more urine, which is her body's way of trying to get rid of the excess sugar. And, of course, a dog that's urinating more often drinks more water.

If a previously house-trained dog starts having accidents in the house (inappropriate urination), a trip to the vet is in order to be sure canine diabetes isn't causing the problem.

4. Eating Ravenously But Still Losing Weight

It seems counterintuitive that a dog can eat like it's going out of style and still lose weight. While this might seem like a good thing, it's not. When your dog eats carbohydrates, the digestive process breaks the carbs down into sugars. A diabetic dog isn't able to use these sugars, so her body goes into "starvation mode" and starts breaking down stored fat instead. The result is that ketones, products of fat metabolism, build up in her bloodstream, leading to ketoacidosis.

Another symptom of diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs is sweetish-smelling breath. A healthy dog's breath should smell like, well, like dog breath. If her breath smells like acetone (or like nail polish remover), this is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.

Lethargic Dog With No Energy

Photo by Alicia Gauthier on Unsplash

Photo by Alicia Gauthier on Unsplash

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5. No Pep

Your pet seems to have lost interest in life. All she wants to do is lay around. When you do manage to get her up, she may be weak and unsteady on her feet. You might think that she's just getting older, but this could also be a symptom of diabetes in dogs.

If she's shivering or shaking, she could have hypoglycemia or low blood sugar. This condition can also cause her to become uncoordinated and weak. Take her to the vet right away, as this is a life-threatening condition.

6. Lowered Immunity

Dogs with diabetes often have very little resistance to infections. Your canine friend may have one urinary tract infection after another. Fungal infections, prostate infections, pneumonia, and skin conditions are commonly seen in dogs with high blood sugar.

It's a vicious cycle: High blood glucose levels provide plenty of food for bacteria. Then higher levels of bacteria cause higher blood sugar levels. If your pet is struggling with any kind of recurring infections, it's a good idea to have her tested for diabetes.

7. Diabetic Neuropathy in Dogs

Weakness in the legs is more commonly seen in cats, but it can happen in dogs, too. High blood glucose levels damage the sheaths on the nerves in a dog's back legs. This can cause her feet to suddenly go out from under her as she walks. She may have trouble getting back on her feet after sitting or lying down. Or she may start lying down after short walks.

This condition can get worse if the diabetes is left untreated. But it usually goes away once you get your dog's blood glucose levels under control. If you notice your pet having trouble getting around, it may not be due to old age. Your vet should test her to be sure it's not caused by uncontrolled blood sugar levels.

How To Tell If a Dog Has Diabetes

Canine Diabetes Is a Silent Killer

Sometimes dogs with diabetes show no symptoms at all. This may happen if the disease is progressing so slowly that symptoms aren't really noticed.

Is it possible to prevent diabetes in dogs? Yes, it is. The best way to reduce the risk to your pet is to keep her weight under control. Feeding her a high-quality canned food that's high in fiber and low in carbohydrates is recommended.

Regular exercise is essential to keep your dog healthy. Exercise also regulates blood glucose levels naturally. Spaying her can help, as high estrogen levels can interfere with insulin production.

Being aware of these seven symptoms of diabetes in dogs can prevent long-term side effects, should your pet ever develop this condition.

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.


Amanda on May 17, 2019:

My puppies breath smells sweet and like acetone

Jackson on January 13, 2019:

My dog was diagnosed 2 yrs ago. I have noticed a smell as well sulfur he's on levimir.

beverly santarelli on November 10, 2018:

my vet just changed my dogs insulin. the one he was on was not working, started his new insulin today but his breath smells like nail polish remover why?

Brandy Banks on July 23, 2016:

I have no money for a vet, my puppy just turned 6weeks old and all the sudden it smells like she ate nail polish remover please help

Davidurface on May 31, 2010:

Wow thank you very much for this my puppy has all the symptoms and I thought it very odd her breath smelled like acitone I'm calling an after hours vet now!

chicamom85 on May 17, 2009:

Good article, good info. Thanks

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