Diabetes mellitus (DM) is an endocrine problem where the pancreas fails to produce enough of the hormone, insulin. Unfortunately, this disease is becoming a more prevalent problem in dogs, likely due to the growing rate of obesity in pets.
Clinical signs of diabetes mellitus in pets include:
- Excessive drinking
- Excessive urination
- Urinary accidents in the house
- Dilute urine
- Muscle wasting
- Ravenous appetite
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Exercise intolerance
- Blindness secondary to cataracts
- Neuropathies (nerve problems)
So, what exactly is happening to your dog’s body with DM? With DM, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, which is the hormone that helps push sugar (“glucose”) into the body’s cells. Without the insulin, the body’s cells are starving for sugar; unfortunately, this then stimulates the body to produce more and more sugar (in an attempt to feed the cells). That’s why your pet’s blood sugar is so high (what we call a “hyperglycemia”). Without insulin, the sugar can’t get into the cells; hence, why you need to give it through a tiny syringe twice a day.
Types of diabetes mellitus
In veterinary medicine, there are two types of diabetes mellitus seen: Type I DM and Type II DM.
- Type I DM (which is seen more commonly in dogs) is when the body fails to produce insulin. Type I DM requires life-long insulin therapy.
- Type II DM (which is seen more commonly in cats) occurs when the body produces small amounts of insulin, but insufficient amounts. Type II DM is often related to obesity, which causes the body to be insulin-resistant. With aggressive treatment for Type II DM, diabetes can be transient and may only require a diet change and short-term insulin therapy (e.g., months). Hence, one of the reasons why veterinarians are always fighting against pet obesity!
Treatment of diabetes mellitus
While the diagnosis of DM isn’t a death sentence, it can be a costly disease as it requires treatment. With appropriate therapy (including insulin injections, diet changes) and veterinary care, your dog can be successfully treated for this. That said, keep in mind that DM can be fatal if not treated, and that the hormone supplement (insulin) and follow-up care can be expensive.
Treatment for diabetes will depend on how early the DM was diagnosed, and what type of DM (e.g., Type I or Type II) your pet has. Dogs almost always develop Type I DM, and type 1 DM treatment will definitely require you giving injections of insulin twice a day. This will also require frequent blood tests at your veterinarian (e.g., blood glucose curves).
- Diet changes are often recommended for the treatment of DM. In dogs, a high fiber, low carbohydrate diet is typically recommended to allow for a slow release of carbohydrate.
- Insulin injections may sound intimidating; however, many dog guardians get used to them quickly and feel very comfortable with them. (Once your veterinarian shows you how to do so, it’s easy, as the needle size is miniscule!). Insulin has to be given twice a day, approximately every 12 hours (don’t worry – it doesn't have to be exactly 12 hours!), under the skin. Unfortunately, oral insulin doesn’t work, otherwise we’d dose it that way instead!
With appropriate care and treatment, pets with DM can live a long, healthy life, although it does require frequent trips to the veterinarian to regulate the blood sugar. Having a diabetic dog is also a big commitment, as it requires dedicated pet parents who can give twice-a-day injections of insulin.
When in doubt, if you notice any of these signs in your dog or cat, get to a veterinarian right away for some blood work and a urine sample. That’s because with diabetes, the sooner you diagnose it, the better for your pet and the better success in treatment.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
- Greco D. Diabetes mellitus without complication – Cats. In Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine & Feline. Eds. Tilley LP, Smith FWK. 2007, 4th ed. Blackwell Publishing, Ames, Iowa. pp. 374-375.
- Webb C. Diabetes mellitus without complication – Dogs. In Blackwell’s Five-Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine & Feline. Eds. Tilley LP, Smith FWK. 2007, 4th ed. Blackwell Publishing, Ames, Iowa. pp. 376-377.