Diabetes in Dogs

Lhasa Apso with diabetes

Lhasa Apsos are one breed of dog commonly affected with diabetes

Diabetes is in the news. It is becoming increasingly common in people and poses a huge problem for healthcare providers. But what about diabetes in dogs and cats? Is it the same as the disease that people suffer from, and is it treated in the same way? What is the outlook for your pet if he or she has been diagnosed with diabetes?

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is basically a failure of the body to control the levels of sugar in the blood. In normal people, dogs and cats, sugar levels are kept at the level that the body requires for proper functioning, by the hormone insulin, produced in the pancreas.

Your dog eats a meal. Blood sugar rises as nutrients from the food are absorbed from the intestines, and insulin is produced to keep the blood sugar in the correct range and help it to get into the cells of the body where it is needed.

Types of Diabetes

In people there are two types of diabetes- Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 can be present from birth, or it can come on later in life.

In Type 1 diabetes there is a lack of insulin production by the cells in the pancreas. There is thought to be an autoimmune component to this type of diabetes – the body does not recognise the insulin producing cells as its own and therefore attempts to destroy them. Low insulin levels allow blood sugar levels to surge after food is eaten, and sugar is not directed into the cells of the body where it is needed.  In Type 1 diabetes people are treated with regular injections of insulin to control their blood sugar.

Dogs tend to get this type of diabetes, and as such treatment involves regular injections of insulin to control blood sugar. Although this sounds drastic, many dogs with diabetes lead normal and happy lives and their owners cope with the regular injections (even though many were intimidated by the prospect at first).

Type 2 diabetes usually occurs later in life in people – for example Caucasians over the age of 40 are more at risk. Type 2 diabetes is often a combination of inadequate insulin production and the insulin that is produced not working properly (insulin resistance). Management is by control of diet and body weight, exercise and sometimes medication in tablet form.  Cats suffer from a similar type of diabetes where there is resistance to insulin.

For the remainder of this article we’ll concentrate on the clinical signs or symptoms of diabetes in dogs. We’ll look at cats in a future article.

What signs might a diabetic dog show?

  • Drinking a lot
  • Urinating a lot (due to drinking a lot)
  • Increased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness and lethargy

Not all of these signs will necessarily be present. Owners usually notice that their dog is drinking more than usual- their water bowl needs filling more often and they may look for alternative water sources including the toilet (!!).  Sometimes a dog will urinate inside at night as with the increased fluid volume taken in they can’t wait until the morning to lose some of it!

There are other conditions that can cause these symptoms. If your pet is showing any of them, the best plan is to take him to your vet and get a check up. Your vet will ask questions and examine your pet, and will probably suggest a urine and blood test.

Diabetes is diagnosed on the basis of high blood sugar levels in combination with history and clinical examination. Sometimes repeated samples will be taken, as a one-off high blood sugar does not necessarily indicate diabetes.

There are also underlying conditions that may contribute to diabetes- such as Cushing’s Disease, obesity and pancreatitis. Your vet may want to do further tests to check for some of these, as treatment will be less successful if your dog’s diabetes is completed by an additional condition.

Are any dogs more likely to get diabetes than others?

Diabetes is more common in middle aged dogs from around 5 years of age (although it can occur at any age). It also occurs more frequently in females than in male dogs. If your female dog is not spayed and diabetes is diagnosed, spaying is recommended as the female hormone cycle can make diabetes worse.

Any breed of dog can get diabetes, although it seems to be particularly common in Keeshounds, Samoyeds, Lhasa Apsos, Miniature Pinschers, Poodles, Dachshunds, Bichons, Yorkshire Terriers and Cairn Terriers.

Sometimes much younger dogs develop juvenile diabetes – Golden Retrievers are one of the breeds at risk here. These individuals are thought to have a genetic predisposition for the disease.


Treatment of uncomplicated diabetes in a dog will involve regular insulin injections to control the animal’s’ blood sugar. Persistent high blood sugar cause damage to many body systems including the heart, vascular system, kidneys and eyes. If a dog with diabetes is not treated with insulin, it will have a shortened life span and poorer quality of life once inevitable complications develop. It is therefore very important to establish an effective treatment regime and keep it consistent.