Diabetes mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is caused by a lack of insulin production by the pancreas. Insulin acts to regulate glucose or blood sugar metabolism, such that a lack of insulin results in persistently high glucose levels in the blood and urine. Compensatory mechanisms are set into action that can lead to potentially fatal complications. Could your dog have diabetes?

What are the signs of diabetes?   

Most dogs are 7-9 years old at the time of diagnosis, and more females are affected than males. Since some breeds are affected more than others (Poodles, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Beagles), genetics is involved. The signs of diabetes include excessive urination and therefore excessive thirst. This increased urination is sometimes seen as incontinence. Most dogs have a good to excessive appetite  but may be losing weight despite an increase in food intake. Diabetes can lead to cataract formation. These are the signs of uncomplicated diabetes, where the dog is still healthy.

How is diabetes diagnosed?  

A thorough history is taken, and a physical examination. The characteristic signs above together with high levels of glucose in the blood and urine are diagnostic. Sometimes an additional blood test for a substance called fructosamine may be required if there is any doubt. Urine is tested for infection, since these are common in diabetic dogs.

How is diabetes treated?   

Diabetes is treated by insulin injections just as in humans. Most dogs require 2 injections per day for the rest of their lives. It is a small amount of insulin given in a hypodermic syringe fitted with a very small needle, and most animals do not even notice when they are injected, especially after it becomes part of their daily routine. The amount of insulin required is determined by returning your dog for a day of blood tests once a week or so until good control of blood glucose levels is demonstrated. Your dog will need to return at regular intervals to monitor his glucose levels, as sometimes insulin doses need to be increased with time. Diet is another important part of diabetes treatment and control. The timing of feeding and the type of food are both important. Specific medical diets are the most suitable for diabetic dogs. The amount of exercise needs to be controlled. Since many diabetic dogs are obese, exercise and diet are required to reduce their weight. Strenuous exercise is discouraged as this may dangerously lower blood glucose levels leading to hypoglycaemia.

Can hypoglycaemia occur?   

Blood sugar levels may fall too low if too much insulin is given, if the dog isn’t eating properly, or has had a period of strenuous activity. Signs of hypoglycaemia include lethargy, weakness, wobbliness, and seizures. It can be treated at home by feeding the dog, or by giving glucose solutions or honey rubbed on the gums. You may need to take him to the veterinarian to be given glucose intravenously.