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How To Manage Diabetes in Dogs

01/10/2016 by Colleen Williams
January 10th, 2016 by Colleen Williams
        

Reviewed for accuracy on March 4, 2020 by Sarah Wallace, DVM

As the pet obesity rate rises, so does the incidence of diabetes in dogs. The primary risk factors for canine diabetes include lack of exercise, poor quality diet, overeating and seniority – all apply to obesity as well. Canine diabetes is similar to Type I, or insulin-dependent, diabetes in humans. Shots of insulin are required to treat the disease, as a diabetic pet’s pancreas cannot produce the hormone. Dietary changes are another part of treating diabetes in dogs, in part to prevent occurrence or recurrences of pancreatitis.

Managing your dog’s diabetes can be done! The goal of canine diabetes treatment is to stabilize blood sugar (glucose) levels, with insulin shots. A strict daily regimen for regular feeding, blood sugar monitoring and insulin injections can prevent and control unpleasant symptoms of the disease. Read on for tips on how to manage diabetes in dogs!

Find Your Dog’s Dosage of Insulin

diabetes in dogs

Daily insulin injections are essential for managing Type I diabetes in dogs. (Thinkstock)

After diagnosis, the first step towards treating diabetes in dogs is testing blood glucose (sugar) levels. Your pet’s blood sugar will be measured over a period of 12 to 24 hours, creating what is known as a “glucose curve.” This process often requires an overnight stay at the clinic while your vet compares the curve to your dog’s feeding and insulin injection times. These initial tests determine the insulin dosage your dog needs and establishes a baseline for blood sugar levels.

Be aware that symptoms of diabetes in dogs can reoccur or worsen over time; multiple adjustments to insulin dosage may be needed, especially in the disease’s early stage. If different insulin products or different doses are being tried, several glucose curves may need to be performed. Once your vet has determined the appropriate dosage of insulin for your dog’s size, age, gender and activity level, the next step is beginning treatment.

Learn How to Administer Insulin

One of the most difficult challenges for pet parents of a diabetic dog can be the daily insulin injections. It may seem intimidating at first, but the “ordeal” is actually quick and relatively painless if done properly. Your veterinarian will go over the insulin injection process with you, demonstrating how to measure out the correct dosage and where to administer the shot. Avoid using the same spot repeatedly; vary the injection site daily. Never change the dose of insulin you are giving to your dog without getting the OK from your veterinarian.

Insulin for dogs must be kept refrigerated and out of paws’ reach. The small, clear vials can appear similar to airplane bottles or condiments, so it’s wise to place them in a clearly-marked container. Needles and other supplies for diabetes in dogs should be stored in a dog-proof place as well.

Monitor Your Dog at Home

On top of administering insulin injections, pet parents must also monitor a diabetic dog’s blood glucose levels at least twice daily. This is done using a glucometer. You will prick your dog’s ear margin and place a drop of blood onto the testing strip of the glucometer which measures glucose level. In some cases of canine diabetes, veterinarians recommend testing for glucose with urinalysis strips. Follow your vet’s treatment plan closely, as having too high or low blood sugar is dangerous for dogs with diabetes.

Stick to a Diabetic Dog Food Diet

diabetic dog food

Managing diabetes in dogs requires dietary changes, typically with prescription diabetic dog food. (Flickr.com/buzzfarmers)

Avoiding fatty foods is key for a diabetic dog. Your vet will prescribe diabetic dog food that is high in fiber, high in protein, and low in carbohydrates rather than diets high in fats. Make sure your pup is eating a full meal! Insulin treatment is based on healthy portion sizes; eating more or less may require a change in insulin dosage or skipping a dose.  If your dog isn’t eating, it is vital to speak to your veterinarian before giving insulin as you can make them very sick.

Dogs with diabetes are also prone to develop pancreatitis, a painful inflammatory disease thought to be caused by high-fat diet or sudden exposure to a higher fat food. When it comes to dessert, leave the scraps on your plate, not the floor for Fido. Making homemade dog treats is an easy way to know exactly what your pet is eating and to control fat content.

Make an Exercise Routine

Although exercise is essential for managing diabetes in dogs, it also has an effect on insulin dosage. Work with your vet to create a consistent exercise regimen that works within the treatment plan. Dog exercise needs vary by age, breed and pre-existing conditions like hip dysplasia. Obese dogs should focus on shedding pounds slowly yet surely, so as not to lower blood sugar too quickly. Healthy pets can go running, walking or play at the dog park – diabetes itself doesn’t limit a dog’s activity level – as long as the exercise is regular. Just as with diet, the amount of exercise can affect the dosage of insulin for a diabetic dog. Always consult your veterinarian when creating an exercise plan for your pet, especially for senior dogs and those with underlying medical conditions.

Watch For Any Changes

Consistency is everything for management of diabetes in dogs: in exercise, diet and insulin injections. Even if you religiously stick to your routine, your pet’s insulin needs can change. Signs that your pet isn’t feeling well can develop scarily fast. If your pet has a case of diarrhea or vomiting, blood sugar can drop dangerously. Keep an eye on your diabetic dog for the following warning signs:

  • Excessive thirst or hunger
  • Urinating more than normal or household potty accidents
  • Cloudy eyes (cataracts)
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Trembling, weakness
  • Fainting
  • Confusion and lethargy
  • Sudden collapse
diabetes in dogs

Keep an eye on your diabetic dog for unusual changes in behavior like lethargy or excessive urination. (Reddit.com/aboeve)

If any of these signs are seen at home in your diabetic dog, bring your pet to the veterinary hospital right away.

A dog with diabetes who appears confused, weak or faints may be experiencing hypoglycemia. Vomiting and seizures can occur in extreme cases. Low blood sugar is extremely dangerous for a diabetic dog and is a true medical emergency! Seizures, coma and even death can occur if hypoglycemia is left untreated in a diabetic dog. Offer the pet food or treats; if refused, honey or Karo syrup must be rubbed on the animal’s gums and tongue to increase their blood sugar level. Do not administer your pet’s usual dose of insulin during a hypoglycemic episode as it can make the hypoglycemia worse. Call your veterinarian at the first sign of hypoglycemia or any other unusual symptoms.