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Diabetes mellitus in dogs

In healthy dogs, the hormone insulin produced in the pancreas regulates the blood sugar level: As soon as the blood sugar level rises, it ensures that the cells can absorb the glucose and the blood sugar level drops again. Glucose is nothing more than glucose, which dogs also serve as an important source of energy and which is supplied to the dog’s body through food.

Dogs with diabetes mellitus are either insulin deficient or insulin resistant. In both cases, the insulin cannot work and the glucose builds up in the blood. Dogs with diabetes mellitus therefore suffer from permanently high blood glucose levels. The high blood sugar level damages the blood vessels and affects the blood circulation. Since glucose is not available as a source of energy, the cells burn fats and proteins.

Dog glucose levels are usually between about 60 and 110 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood. From around 120 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood, one speaks of an increased blood sugar level.

A short-term increase in blood sugar level after a meal or during excitement is completely normal and harmless. However, if the blood sugar level does not drop any more and is permanently high, diabetes mellitus is likely.

Causes of Diabetes in Dogs

What exactly causes diabetes in dogs is not yet fully understood. Hereditary predisposition plays a certain role. Because certain breeds, such as the Samoyed, Cairn and Tibetan Terriers, are more often affected by diabetes mellitus than others. Obesity is also a risk factor for diabetes. You should therefore ensure that your dog has a balanced diet and sufficient exercise.

Consequences of Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

Possible consequences of permanently high blood sugar levels in dogs include:

  • Circulatory disorders
  • Wound healing disorders
  • cataract
  • Susceptibility to infection due to weak immune system
  • frequent urinary bladder infections
  • muscular dystrophy
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Very high blood sugar levels (450 milligrams of glucose per deciliter of blood) can cause a life-threatening sugar coma (diabetic ketoacidosis).

The cataract eye disease can be caused by diabetes mellitus. © ShutterDivision –

Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

Diabetes in dogs begins seemingly harmless and therefore often goes unnoticed for a long time. The first signs are:

  • The dog is more hungry and thirsty.
  • The dog eats a lot, but still loses weight.
  • The dog pees more often.

Since most dogs with diabetes mellitus are of an advanced age, it is often not noticeable that they are less productive and need more rest than before. In the further course, the mentioned secondary diseases can also occur.

However, these symptoms can also indicate other chronic diseases such as kidney failure or Cushing’s disease.

Great thirst is one of the first symptoms of diabetes mellitus. © Taisa Korcak –

Diagnosing Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed with certainty if the vet repeatedly measures blood sugar levels of more than 150 mg per deciliter of blood on an empty dog. Repeated measurement is recommended because the blood sugar can also be increased once, for example if the dog has eaten something unnoticed before the blood sample is taken.

For this reason, when diagnosing diabetes, the “long-term blood sugar value”, the fructosamine, is usually also measured. The fructosamine levels are only increased if the blood sugar level has been too high for a long time.

Diabetes mellitus is diagnosed with blood tests. © Elnur –

Insulin treatment for dogs with diabetes

Once diabetes has been diagnosed, the dog must be provided with insulin for life. This is only possible with an injection because insulin cannot be swallowed – it would be digested immediately and would then be ineffective. Therapy with tablets, as in people with certain forms of diabetes, does not work in dogs. Spraying is a little unfamiliar at first, but it soon becomes a matter of course for dogs and humans alike.

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Every dog ​​has an individual need for insulin. This is determined as follows:

  • Initially, the veterinarian will prescribe a low dosage.
  • After four to seven days, the dog’s blood sugar level is measured again and the dog owner describes to the veterinarian whether and how the dog’s symptoms have changed.
  • If the blood sugar level is still too high or if the dog still shows symptoms of the diabetes, the dose is gradually increased until the target blood sugar level or a symptom-free condition has been reached.

Basically, blood sugar should be checked regularly in order to identify changes at an early stage. With the modern measuring devices, this is also easily possible at home. A constant daily routine helps to keep the dog’s blood sugar level within the desired limits. Fixed feeding times are particularly important because the insulin is administered shortly after feeding.

Food for dogs with diabetes

Which food is best for a diabetic dog varies. Your vet will give you individual advice and help you choose the right food. In general, however, the following applies:

  • A high crude fiber and protein content in the feed helps to keep the blood sugar level constant.
  • Starch and high-sugar feed are just as taboo as sweet fruit or even sweets. Also only feed treats in consultation with the veterinarian.
  • Overweight dogs should only lose weight under veterinary supervision and only if they are properly adjusted.
  • The insulin dose must be continuously adjusted to the current weight of the dog. The amount of feed must never be adjusted to the insulin dose!
  • At an ideal weight, the energy content of the meals should remain roughly the same. Fluctuations in calorie content affect blood sugar levels.
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If the dog loses weight significantly, although he is eating well, this can also indicate diabetes. © Jnis –

Emergency: Hypoglycaemia in dogs

If the blood sugar level is below 50 milligrams per deciliter of blood, there is dangerous low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia). The symptoms of hypoglycaemia are:

  • Restlessness
  • weakness
  • Tremble
  • Seizures
  • unconsciousness

Symptoms appear between fifteen to six hours after the last dose of insulin. In these cases you should …

  • measure your blood sugar immediately,
  • As a first aid measure, give the dog some finely ground grape sugar on the mucous membrane of the mouth and then
  • go to a veterinary practice immediately.
  • Causes of hypoglycaemia can be:

    • an accidental overdose of insulin
    • insufficient food intake (loss of appetite)
    • Vomit
    • Overexertion
    • febrile general illnesses

    Special feature: heat diabetes in bitches

    Heat diabetes in intact bitches is a special form of diabetes, because after heat, the blood sugar level in most of these bitches falls again. If this is not the case, timely castration can prevent diabetes mellitus.

    If the bitch is not neutered in time, diabetes mellitus becomes manifest, that is, the bitch becomes incurably diabetic. Bitches who drink a lot during heat or in the subsequent cycle phase and produce large amounts of urine should therefore be examined by a veterinarian immediately.