What is Diabetes and What Are The Signs of Diabetes in Dogs?


Dogs are just like humans in many ways, and they are also prone to picking up many of the same health conditions.

Diabetes is surprisingly common in dogs, but we understand many new dog owners have no idea what this means or how to go about treating it. We’ll clear this up for you today, and we’ll also be highlighting the main signs and symptoms of diabetes, as well as the best forms of treatment.

To kick off, a simple definition of diabetes.

I. What is Diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, normally abbreviated to diabetes, is a condition that manifests when the body is unable to use sugars in the form of glucose.

The body’s cells require glucose as essential fuel for energy. Normally, when food is digested, the body will break down some of the nutrients into glucose. This glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream from the intestines, and then channeled throughout the body. Levels of glucose in the blood are normally governed by insulin, a hormone created in the pancreas.

Insulin is responsible for the delivery of fuel within the body. Think of insulin as a gatekeeper dictating which cells should grab glucose from the bloodstream for fuel.

If there is not enough insulin in the body, or if levels of glucose build and become too high, this can trigger a condition called hyperglycemia. Once blood glucose hits a certain level, it starts overspilling into the urine, drawing in substantial amounts of water at the same time. This condition is known as glucosuria. Resultantly, people or animals with diabetes tend to drink and pee more frequently.

If a dog has diabetes, not enough glucose is being transported to the cells of his body. With insufficient energy being provided, the cells are unable to smoothly function. Tissues then become starved and the body begins breaking down tissues, triggering the weight loss that often accompanied diabetes. The body breaks down these tissues so they can be converted into sugar by the liver.

Diabetes in humans is classified as type I or type II. With type I diabetes, the pancreas makes insufficient quantities of insulin. With type II diabetes, by contrast, the body is unable to respond healthily to the insulin created. This distinction is also applied to diabetes in dogs, but the difference is less clear among animals than humans.

Most diabetic dogs have type I diabetes and will need daily insulin injections to compensate. Type II diabetes is rarer, typically occurring in older or obese canines.

What brings this condition about in the first place, then?

II. What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?


The cause of diabetes in dogs is unclear, although most experts agree that genetics plays a fundamental part.

Carefully monitoring diabetes in dogs is key as it can lead to a laundry list of other health complications if not properly managed and treated.

How, then, can you determine if your dog might have diabetes?

7 Common Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Peeing more often than normal
  3. Extreme hunger
  4. Dull skin and coat
  5. Issues with vision
  6. Weight loss despite eating normally
  7. Stiffness or weakness

1) Excessive thirst

If your dog is excessively thirsty all the time, this is a common marker of diabetes, and it’s closely linked to the next symptom…

2) Peeing more often than normal

Increased urination is formally known as polyuria.

Diabetes often causes excessive thirst. Unsurprisingly, the more your dog drinks, the more he will pee. The vicious cycle continues, as further fluid leads to more urination.

Polyuria occurs when blood sugar overspills from your dog’s bloodstream into his urine. Pulling water with it as it goes, the result is increased urination.

3) Extreme hunger

Insatiable hunger is known as polyphagia. This is a symptom of imbalanced insulin levels.

4) Dull Skin and Coat

If diabetes in dogs is left untreated, it can diminish skin and coat quality. This comes about when dogs are dehydrated, and the coat starts to thin out and lose its luster. Scaly skin and dandruff are likely.

The good news? Insulin therapy will improve this – more on that below.

5) Issues with vision

Cataracts can form in diabetic dogs, placing them at heightened risk of blindness.

Sometimes, blindness can be reversed with the removal of the abnormal lens. Failing this, most blind dogs cope well due to their enhanced sense of hearing and smell.

This can happen at any stage of diabetes, and it can happen overnight or over a course of several months.

6) Weight loss despite eating normally

Weight loss in dogs has many causes, diabetes among them.

If weight loss occurs when your dog appears to be eating normally, this can indicate diabetes.

In untreated cases of dog diabetes, the body begins breaking down fat and muscle, triggering a dip in weight.

7) Stiffness or weakness

If you spot your dog looking stiff or struggling to lay down, this could be happening as a result of a glucose deficiency in his muscles.

Now you can see the main signs and symptoms of diabetes in dogs, you’ll be better placed to monitor Rover for any of these red flags.

The great news is, dog diabetes can be effectively managed, and we’ll outline what you need to do in closing.

III. Dog Diabetes: How is it Treated?

You’ll first need to schedule an appointment for your dog to see the vet. He will be able to look for any other health conditions. Urine cultures can be used to rule out any UTIs, while blood tests can pick up on health conditions typically found in senior dogs that might not be diabetes.

Your vet will confirm a diagnosis after finding consistent signs of glucosuria and hyperglycemia.

Upon diagnosis, your vet will prescribe your dog a type and dose of insulin to start working from.

Insulin needs to be given by injection. The needle is tiny, so you shouldn’t experience any snags administering it.

There is no boilerplate treatment for insulin, so you may need your dog’s type and dose of insulin adjusted. Pack plenty of patience, and be prepared to be flexible.

Diet will play a role in treating your dog’s diabetes, too. We show you the best diet for diabetic dogs right here and we also have some handy hints on finding the best diabetic dog food if you’re stuck.

To successfully manage diabetes in your dog, then, you’ll need:

  • Routine examinations on a regular basis
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Managing weight
  • Monitoring urination, drinking, and appetite
  • Insulin injections
  • Potential dietary changes

Your main goal when managing diabetes in your dog is to keep his blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible. Allowing these glucose levels to get too high or too low could be potentially deadly for your dog.

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. On the contrary, what works for your friend’s dog may be useless for your diabetic dog.

Daily exercise is advisable if you have a diabetic dog. You should speak with your veterinarian if you need help formulating an exercise regime that’s appropriate for the age, weight, breed, and overall health of your furball.

Consider spaying female dogs diagnosed with diabetes.

You should administer insulin injections either once or twice daily, depending on your vet’s instructions. These should be given on a full stomach.

Expect to conduct regular testing of the blood and urine sugar levels in your dog.

You should be on guard at all times for the signs of insulin overdose. These include:

  • Pronounced appetite loss
  • Tremors
  • Weakness
  • Seizures

Consider these symptoms an emergency and contact your vet immediately for advice.

As insulin overdose symptoms closely mirror symptoms of insulin underdose, don’t make any unsanctioned changes to the frequency or the dosage of your dog’s insulin.

IV. Conclusion

No dog owner wants to hear that their dog is diabetic, but after today’s guide, you should have a clear understanding of what diabetes is, how to identify it, and how to best help your hound negotiate this health condition.

As long as you consult regularly with the vet, stick to a schedule of insulin injections, manage your dog’s weight, and make any necessary changes to his diet, there’s no need for diabetes to ruin your pup’s life. Under no circumstances neglect or fail to properly treat diabetes in dogs, though. In the worst scenario, an insulin overdose in dogs can be fatal, so keep your eyes peeled for the symptoms we outline above.

Before you go, take a moment to bookmark BarkVA. We have a busy content slate for the coming summer. We’ll have more guides to buying the best dog equipment, all you need to know about feeding your dog, and plenty of informational guides to help you give your furball the best possible life. Come back soon!

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Jesse Hopping, CCDT

Jesse is a natural-born dog-lover certified dog trainer (CCDT), dog foster, and former volunteer at Richmond SPCA and surrounding dog shelters for over 10 years. Her pack includes a Bernedoodle and 3 Boston Terriers. She’s sipping caramel coffee and watching her pack play in the sun when she’s not writing blogs. Jesse has her Certified Dog Trainer designation from CATCH Canine Trainers Academy since 2018 and and majored in English from the University of Virginia.

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