Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

What Is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is an illness that arises due to the body’s inability to either make or use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced and released by specialised cells in the pancreas. Insulin allows the body’s cells to uptake sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream and use it for metabolism and other functions. Diabetes mellitus develops when the pancreas either does not produce enough insulin or when the body’s cells are unable to use available insulin to uptake glucose from the bloodstream.

Type 1 diabetes mellitus, also known insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin to serve the body's needs. Most diabetic dogs have Type 1 diabetes mellitus, meaning that the body fails to make enough insulin to serve its needs. Lifelong administration of insulin is generally required to control diabetes in dogs.

Type 2 diabetes melltius has also been called relative insulin deficiency. This type of diabetes is more common in cats and humans. It occurs when the body’s cells develop insulin resistance, meaning that they are unable to effectively use available insulin.


What are the clinical signs of Diabetes Mellitus in dogs?

Diabetes can exist for a while before it begins to make a pet obviously ill. The clinical signs that the dog exhibits may vary depending on the stage of disease, but they can include any or all the following:


How is Diabetes Mellitus diagnosed?

Your veterinarian may suspect that your dog has diabetes if any suspicious clinical signs, such as increased drinking and/or urinating, have been observed at home. After performing a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian may then recommend a number these tests to help confirm the diagnosis: 


How is Diabetes Mellitus treated?

Insulin injections are generally started at diagnosis and continued for the rest of the pet’s life. Your veterinarian may also recommend dietary changes to help control your dog’s diabetes. It is very helpful to write a medication schedule for your pet on the calendar, including the date and time that the medication needs to be administered, and to maintain accurate records. This will help you to avoid forgetting to give insulin to your pet and allows you to track your pet’s treatment. It is highly important that your pet receives the insulin doses as punctually as possible as this will help to maximise the success of treatment and “normalising” his blood sugar levels.

After treatment begins, the amount of insulin needed by your pet may change after his/her blood sugar level stabilises after a period of time. This means that some pets may need a little more, a little less, or no change in the amount of insulin they receive on a daily basis. Therefore, periodic blood glucose curves, fructosamine and/or urine tests are generally recommended. This information will help your veterinarian to continually ensure that your pet is receiving an adequate amount of insulin that is appropriate for his/her blood sugar levels. Your veterinarian will tailor a specific blood glucose monitoring plan for your pet and inform you when the next recheck would be.

*It is important that you do not change the dose of the insulin without first seeking veterinary advice.*

Your dog’s ability to maintain his/her weight, appetite, drinking and urination, and general attitude at home can all provide useful information that help determine if the diabetes is being well-managed. Your veterinarian will consider all of these factors when making recommendations for continued management. 

Many dogs live active, happy lives when their diabetes and blood sugar levels are well-regulated. However, insulin therapy, close monitoring at home and regular rechecks with your veterinarian are important and necessary for the rest of your dog’s life.


Caring for the diabetic pet at home

Here are some helpful tips when caring for a diabetic dog at home:-


Appropriate handling and storage of insulin

  1. Always keep the bottle of insulin refrigerated.
  2. Ensure that you gently agitate (shake) the bottle of insulin before giving it
  3. Before administering the insulin, always check that the insulin solution is clear and colourless.
  4. Do not administer the insulin if you notice that the colour of the insulin solution has changed, become cloudy or have little precipitates ("floaties") in it. In that scenario, please contact us at the clinic to arrange a pharmacy script for a new bottle.



At-home monitoring of blood glucose levels

Your veterinarian may open a discussion with you about the possibility of monitoring your pet’s blood sugar levels (via a ear prick) and/or urine glucose/ketones at home – this will be on a case-by-case basis. For owners who do monitor the blood glucose and urine at home, please contact us urgently at the clinic for advice if you notice that your dog:


How will I know if things are not going well?

Occasionally, a pet’s blood glucose levels may vary into the “dangerous” levels due to a number of reasons. For example, too high or low insulin dose; development of concurrent illnesses etc – urgent veterinary attention is warranted in such cases. Signs to watch out for are:


If you notice any of these signs at home, please contact us urgently at the clinic (06) 3588675 to arrange for your dog to be checked over by our veterinarians.


Parts of this handout have been adapted from the VetLearn Compendium careguides.



Published by Cahill Animal Hospital on 18 July 2016

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