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What You Should Know About Diabetes in Dogs

Pet Health and Safety  •   Canine Health Foundation  •   Nov 10, 2015


There are two established types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Dogs are most commonly affected by Type I diabetes. The cause of Type I diabetes in dogs is not fully defined, but does resemble human type I diabetes in that it appears to be the result of a combination of genetics, autoimmune disease and environmental factors. Type I diabetes is not caused by a poor diet or being overweight.

In type I diabetes an abnormal immune response destroys the pancreatic cells responsible for manufacturing insulin. Without insulin the dog’s body is unable to move glucose, or blood sugar, out of the bloodstream and into the cells for energy. 

Symptoms of Type I Diabetes include:

  •          excessive thirst and drinking
  •          excessive urination
  •          excessive hunger
  •          weight loss

At the current time Type I diabetes cannot be cured; however we can supplement a dog with insulin through injections to replace the lost hormone and feed cells of the glucose they need to function.

Fine tuning of blood sugar levels with insulin treatment is difficult. Consistency in food, exercise and timing of insulin injections is critical. Work with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate diet, timing of insulin, exercise and overall care of your diabetic dog.

Wellness visits with your veterinarian are essential to monitor blood sugar levels through routine blood chemistry profiling (“blood work”). Similar to humans, if diabetes is suspected your veterinarian will draw blood after your dog has fasted overnight. In dogs, fasting levels greater than 180 mg/dl glucose are diagnostic for diabetes. Your veterinarian may also check your dog’s urine for ketone bodies -- molecules that provide further evidence that glucose is not available for use by cells and fat is being broken down for energy.

Research is bringing hope to diabetic dogs and their owners. Scientists have successfully developed a gene therapy approach to treat this incurable disease. Scientists in Spain gave a one-time intramuscular injection of genes encoding the liver enzyme glucokinase (Gck) and insulin (Ins) in diabetic dogs which resulted in normalization of fasting blood sugar and accelerated use of glucose after oral challenge. Most exciting was that there were no episodes of hypoglycemia during exercise for more than 4 years after gene transfer. Dogs also recovered body weight and showed no signs of long-term secondary complications.

To learn more about cutting edge science and research on the horizon for our dogs please visit:
AKC Canine Health Foundation


The information provided in this blog is intended for educational purposes only and should not serve as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your veterinarian. Always consult your veterinarian with questions about your pet’s health and before initiating any treatment regimes. 

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