Diabetes is a somewhat common and unfortunate condition that afflicts not only humans, but also dogs. It can be challenging to manage because it has no cure, meaning lifelong therapy and treatment is the only way to ensure your pup has a healthy life.
Diabetes affects your dog’s metabolism, or how its body processes energy—specifically sugar. The bodies of diabetic dogs have a difficult time regulating blood glucose because of insulin deficiency or resistance.
This means that cells do not uptake sugar the way they are supposed to because insulin, the hormone that facilitates this process, is either unavailable or malfunctioning.
What you should know about diabetes
Insulin deficiency is the most common form of diabetes found in dogs. This diagnosis means that your dog’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin because of damage or dysfunction. Thus, the lower levels of insulin in the blood cause problems with glucose absorption.
Dogs with insulin deficiencies generally need daily insulin shots in order to replace the missing insulin in their bodies.
Some dogs will have insulin resistance, instead. When this happens, the pancreas produces insulin as it should, but the hormone itself isn’t utilized properly. The body’s cells don’t recognize the insulin, causing them to not take in glucose. This form of diabetes is more common in older, obese dogs.
The danger of diabetes can be quite significant. When glucose is not absorbed by the cells, it remains in the bloodstream. High blood sugar levels are bad for a number of reasons.
First, the cells aren’t getting the energy they need to make the body function properly. The body might start using muscle and fats for fuel, instead, but lethargy is a common problem.
Second, allowing glucose to remain in the bloodstream can cause significant damage to organs over time. The sugar “poisons” the blood and can result in damage to the heart, eyes, nerves and kidneys.
Symptoms of diabetes in dogs include excessive thirst and frequent urination, increased appetite, lethargy and weight loss. All of these symptoms are caused by the body trying to remove the excess sugar from the bloodstream and being starved of adequate fuel.
If left untreated, diabetes can cause seizures, kidney failure, enlarged liver, urinary tract infections and even death.
Tips for managing your dog’s diabetes
Although canine diabetes can be quite scary, it can be managed well throughout the course of your dog’s life. Ultimately, your treatment plan will focus around keeping your dog’s blood glucose level in an appropriate range to avoid the negative symptoms of too high or too low blood sugar.
One of the most important aspects of maintaining your diabetic dog’s health is closely regulating its diet. Dogs with diabetes will require a special diet that makes it easier for the body to get fuel while not elevating blood sugar levels. The diets are typically rich in protein and fiber, as well as complex (not simple) carbohydrates for slower glucose release.
When your dog gets diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will likely create a treatment plan that includes special food safe and effective for diabetic dogs. You’ll want to fee your dog the same amount and the same type of food every day.
Unfortunately, many diabetic dogs will require insulin injections to provide their body with the adequate amount of hormone to function without side effects. Dog owners will be instructed by their vet on how to administer these injections and will need to do them every day.
Since dogs rely on their owners to care for their health and well-being, pet parents will need to carefully monitor their dog’s blood sugar levels each day, either through a blood test or a urine test. After the initial diagnosis, you may need to visit the vet for monitoring for a little while, but at-home monitoring is standard in the long term.
At-home monitoring ensures your dog’s levels are adequate and allows you to act quickly if levels are too high or too low. You may discover that the insulin dosage your dog is getting is not appropriate for its condition based on frequent monitoring, which allows you to get it rectified much faster.
Diabetic dogs will need to follow a strict exercise regimen to stay healthy without interfering with insulin requirements. Too little exercise can result in weight gain and other symptoms, but too much exercise can use more calories than are available, resulting in low blood sugar.
Overall, the trick to keeping your diabetic dog happy and healthy is staying vigilant about treatment and watching for the signs of a worsening condition. As long as you follow the treatment plan designed by your dog’s vet, your dog can go on to live a long and happy life.