Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs
What is Diabetes Mellitus? an article written by Dr. Caris Taylor
In order to understand diabetes mellitus, we will go through the way the body metabolises glucose.
The cells in our body require fuel to function. This fuel comes in the form of glucose, fat or protein (amino acids). A hormone called insulin is produced by the pancreas. Insulin helps tissues absorb glucose. Once inside the tissues, glucose can be burned for energy or stored for fuel.
In diabetic animals, there is a lack of insulin, so the glucose stays in the bloodstream. High levels of glucose cause glucose to spill over into the urine. Glucose in the urine attracts water and so the body produces a large amount of urine. Tissues are starving as they run out of fuel.
Instead of glucose, fat and muscle have to be broken down and the body goes into a state of starvation.
Signs of diabetes are
- Drinking more than usual
- Excess urination
- An increased appetite
- Weight loss
There are two types of diabetes.
Type 1 is where the insulin producing cells in the pancreas cannot produce any insulin, and this is the most common form in dogs. Type 1 diabetics will need insulin injections to stabilise the blood glucose.
Type 2 is where the insulin producing cells in the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, or if there is a delayed response to secreting insulin, or if the tissues in the body are resistant to insulin. Type 2 diabetes commonly occurs in older, overweight dogs, cats and in people.
How do we diagnose diabetes?
Besides showing the four classic clinical signs, blood and urine tests in a diabetic dog will have excessive levels of blood glucose and glucose in the urine. Some diabetic animals can also be very sick, which is when the body has started to use a lot of fat and protein to try to produce energy. They are in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis, which will require intensive treatment and care.
How do we treat diabetes in dogs?
Treatment involves providing insulin because a diabetic dog cannot produce enough on their own. This is involves an insulin injection twice daily. The injected insulin will help the body to use glucose to fuel the cells so that they can function properly again!
Once insulin injections are started, we will take a number of blood glucose readings throughout the day to make sure that the blood glucose is not dipping too low or remaining too high. In the beginning it may take a few insulin dose changes and blood tests before the right dose is determined.
Diet is another important part of regulating a diabetic dog’s blood sugar level. Feeding twice daily at the time of each insulin injection is recommended. A high fibre diet is recommended, especially in overweight dogs.
What does this mean if you are an owner of a newly diagnosed diabetic dog?
Although it may all seem daunting, treatment is to restore the quality of life of not only your dog, but also for you. The aim is to reducing the clinical signs of diabetes in your dog and to ensure that treatment is manageable for you.
Insulin injections are often a lot simpler to do than initially perceived as most dogs will not even notice the injection! The needles are very tiny and with a bit of practice and support by your vet, injections will become easy.
Vet visits are required for the first few weeks of beginning the insulin injections to make sure the insulin dose is right. Monitoring water intake, appetite and weight is important. Once the dog is well regulated, they should improve quickly and be back to their normal, happy self. A well-regulated diabetic will usually need 3 monthly check ups thereafter. However, some dogs may take longer to become stable, or if they have other diseases going on.
What are some complications that can occur with diabetes?
Cataracts can form, which can lead to blindness, even in a well-controlled diabetic. This is due to the excess sugar which pulls excess water into the lens and disrupts lens clarity. Surgery can be done to remove the cataracts at a veterinary eye specialist clinic.
Another more dangerous complication is when the dog gets too much insulin, this can lead to very low blood sugar, called hypoglycemia. Signs include lethargy, weakness, tremors, seizures and in severe cases, it can progress to a coma. If you notice any of these initial signs, feed the dog some food, or if they cannot eat, rub some golden syrup or honey on their gums and contact the vet clinic.
When your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, the vets will go through with you any potential complications that may arise and how you may rectify them.