What Are the Signs of Diabetes in Dogs?


Diabetes is a serious, chronic illness characterized by an increase in blood sugar levels, also known as hyperglycemia. This endocrine disorder originates when the pancreas, an organ crucial for managing glucose (sugar) metabolism, either fails to produce enough insulin or the body’s cells become unable to properly utilize the insulin produced.

Insulin is a hormone vital for the transport of glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells where it’s used to produce energy. Without adequate insulin, the glucose remains in the blood, leading to a state of hyperglycemia, and the body cells are starved of energy.

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What Are the Signs of Diabetes in Dogs?

Signs of diabetes in dogs include increased urination, excessive thirst, heightened appetite, sudden unexplained weight loss, lethargy, recurring infections, cataracts, seizures, and sweet-smelling breath.

Types of Diabetes in Dogs

In dogs, there are primarily two types of diabetes: Insulin-deficiency diabetes and insulin-resistant diabetes. Insulin-deficiency diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in dogs. In this type, the dog’s body isn’t producing enough insulin due to a dysfunctional pancreas.

On the other hand, insulin-resistant diabetes occurs when the dog’s body makes insulin, but the cells are not utilizing it efficiently, often due to the presence of other health conditions or hormonal imbalances. This type is more common in older and obese dogs, as well as female dogs.

Recognizing the Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

The ability to recognize the signs of diabetes in dogs is crucial for every dog parent or owner. Early diagnosis can make managing diabetes significantly easier and prevent the onset of severe complications. Understanding the common symptoms can help in taking swift action, leading to a better prognosis and quality of life for your dog. The following sections will delve deeper into the signs, symptoms, and risk factors of diabetes in dogs.

Understanding Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes as an Endocrine Disorder

Diabetes is an endocrine disorder that affects a dog’s ability to process glucose effectively. The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and hormones that regulates many of the body’s functions, including the metabolism of glucose. When this system doesn’t function properly, it can lead to the onset of diabetes.

Role of Pancreas, Insulin, and Glucose in a Dog’s Body

The pancreas plays a pivotal role in a dog’s glucose metabolism. It produces insulin, a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. When a dog eats, their body breaks down the food into various components, including glucose. This glucose enters the bloodstream and raises the dog’s blood sugar levels. In response, the pancreas releases insulin to facilitate the transfer of glucose from the blood into the body’s cells, where it’s used for energy.

The Types of Diabetes: Insulin-Deficiency Diabetes and Insulin-Resistant Diabetes

There are two primary types of diabetes that can affect dogs: insulin-deficiency diabetes and insulin-resistant diabetes.

Insulin-deficiency diabetes is the more common form in dogs. This occurs when the dog’s pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. As a result, glucose isn’t efficiently transferred into the body’s cells, leading to elevated blood sugar levels.

On the other hand, insulin-resistant diabetes is less common in dogs. This happens when the dog’s body does produce insulin, but the cells become resistant to it, leading to inefficient glucose transfer and high blood sugar levels. This type is often associated with obesity and certain hormonal diseases.

The Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Early Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

Understanding the early signs of diabetes can aid in prompt diagnosis and management of the disease. Here are some of the initial indicators that your dog might be experiencing:

1. Increased Urination (Polyuria) and Excessive Water Consumption

One of the earliest signs of diabetes in dogs is frequent urination, also known as polyuria. Dogs with diabetes are unable to process glucose properly, leading to high blood sugar levels. The excess glucose is excreted via the urine, causing your dog to urinate more frequently. To compensate for the fluid loss, dogs will also display excessive water consumption.

2. Increased Thirst

Increased thirst or polydipsia is another common symptom in dogs with diabetes. This is the body’s way of trying to dilute the high blood sugar and rehydrate due to the excessive urination.

3. Increased Appetite (Polyphagia)

Despite eating normal or even larger amounts of food, diabetic dogs may still act hungry all the time. This condition is known as polyphagia and it occurs because the body’s cells aren’t getting the glucose they need to produce energy.

4. Sudden Weight Loss

Despite the increased appetite, sudden and unexplained weight loss is a common early sign of diabetes. This happens because the dog’s body starts to break down protein from the muscles and fat from the body stores to use as an alternative energy source.

Later Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

If left untreated, diabetes can lead to more severe symptoms over time. These include:

1. Weakness and Lethargy

As diabetes progresses, affected dogs may display signs of weakness and lack of energy. This is because the body’s cells aren’t getting enough glucose, which is the primary source of energy.

2. Vomiting

Some dogs with advanced diabetes may experience vomiting, potentially due to other complications such as pancreatitis or kidney disease.

3. Cataracts Leading to Visual Impairment or Blindness

Persistently high blood sugar can lead to the formation of cataracts in dogs, which can cause visual impairment or even blindness.

4. Recurrent Infections Including Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

Diabetic dogs are more prone to infections, including urinary tract infections, due to excess sugar in the body providing a thriving environment for bacteria.

5. Seizures

In severe cases, untreated diabetes can lead to seizures. This occurs when the body resorts to burning fats for energy, leading to the buildup of waste products called ketones, which can affect brain function.

The Dangers and Complications of Untreated Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in dogs, if left unmanaged, can result in a variety of serious health complications. It is important to understand these dangers in order to recognize the urgency of managing your pet’s condition.

High Blood Sugar and Its Impact

Persistently high levels of blood sugar can have numerous harmful effects on a dog’s body. When the dog’s cells don’t receive adequate glucose, they can’t function optimally.

Over time, this can lead to damage in various organs, tissues, and systems, including the cardiovascular system, nervous system, kidneys, and eyes.

Organ Failure and Potential for Chronic Illness

Untreated diabetes can lead to organ failure. The kidneys, in particular, are vulnerable due to their role in filtering the blood and excreting excess glucose in the urine.

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage these organs, leading to kidney disease or even kidney failure. This, along with other potential complications, can turn diabetes into a chronic illness that severely affects a dog’s quality of life.

Body Ulcers, Abdominal Pain and Potential for Blindness

In advanced cases of diabetes, dogs may develop ulcers on their body, often in their feet, due to poor circulation and nerve damage. They may also experience abdominal pain, particularly if pancreatitis develops.

Another serious complication is the potential for blindness, caused by cataracts, which develop as a result of prolonged high blood sugar levels.

Risk of Ketoacidosis

One of the most serious complications of uncontrolled diabetes is diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition where the body starts breaking down fat at a rapid rate due to a lack of insulin. This process produces ketones, which are toxic at high levels and can lead to a dangerous condition called acidosis. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include nausea, vomiting, lethargy, and in severe cases, can result in coma or death.

Risk Factors for Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes is a multifactorial disease in dogs, meaning that multiple factors contribute to its development. It’s important to understand these risk factors to help reduce the likelihood of your dog developing this endocrine disorder.

Age, Sex, and Breed Predispositions

Diabetes often develops in middle-aged to older dogs, with most dogs diagnosed between the ages of 7 to 10. Sex also plays a role, with unspayed female dogs being twice as likely to develop diabetes as males. Furthermore, certain breeds, such as Samoyeds, Miniature Schnauzers, and Toy Poodles, have been identified as having a higher risk of developing diabetes.

Impact of Weight and Obesity

Obesity is a significant risk factor for diabetes in dogs. Excess body fat can lead to insulin resistance, wherein the body’s cells don’t respond properly to insulin. This can result in the pancreas producing more insulin to compensate, and over time, this increased demand can exhaust the pancreas, leading to insulin-deficiency diabetes.

Role of Chronic Pancreatitis

Chronic pancreatitis, or long-term inflammation of the pancreas, is another risk factor for diabetes in dogs. The pancreas plays a crucial role in producing insulin, so any damage or inflammation to this organ can potentially lead to a decrease in insulin production, thus increasing the risk of diabetes.

Managing Diabetes in Dogs

Effective management of diabetes in dogs requires a comprehensive approach involving veterinary care, diet modifications, regular exercise, and possibly insulin injections. With the right care and treatment, diabetes can be a manageable disease, and dogs can continue to live a happy, fulfilling life.

The Role of Veterinary Care and Regular Wellness Checks

Regular veterinary care is crucial in managing diabetes in dogs. Regular wellness checks allow your vet to monitor your dog’s blood glucose levels and make necessary adjustments to their insulin dosage or diet. It also allows for early detection of any complications related to diabetes, such as urinary tract infections or cataracts.

Importance of Insulin Injections

Insulin injections are often necessary for dogs with insulin-deficiency diabetes. These injections replace the insulin that the dog’s body cannot produce, helping to regulate their blood glucose levels. Your vet will provide detailed instructions on how and when to administer these injections.

Dietary Changes and Role of a Wholesome Diet

Rick’s Dog Deli and Pancreatic Support meals

Diet plays a critical role in managing diabetes. A wholesome diet that’s low in fat and high in fiber can help regulate a dog’s blood glucose levels. Brands like Rick’s Dog Deli offer specific meals, like their Pancreatic Support meal, which is designed to support the pancreas and help manage diabetes.

Low-fat and Low-protein Diet Considerations

A low-fat, low-protein diet can also be beneficial for dogs with diabetes. This type of diet can help control the dog’s weight and reduce the risk of pancreatitis, a common complication of diabetes.

Exercise and Its Benefits for Managing Diabetes

Regular exercise can help regulate a dog’s blood glucose levels and keep their weight under control, both of which are important for managing diabetes. The type and amount of exercise will depend on your dog’s overall health and fitness level. Always consult with your vet before starting a new exercise program for your dog.


Understanding and recognizing the signs of diabetes in dogs is essential for early diagnosis and effective management of this endocrine disorder. While diabetes can pose significant health risks, including organ failure and potential blindness, it is a manageable condition with the right care and treatment.

Regular veterinary check-ups, insulin injections, a wholesome diet, and regular exercise can all contribute to maintaining a high quality of life for a dog with diabetes.

As a dog parent, your role is to monitor your dog’s health closely and consult with your veterinarian at the earliest sign of any abnormal behavior or symptoms. With diligent care and attention, a dog with diabetes can continue to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Diabetes?

While some risk factors like age, breed, and sex can’t be controlled, maintaining your dog’s healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk. Regular vet check-ups are also vital to identify early signs and prevent potential complications.

How Often Should My Diabetic Dog Get Checked by A Vet?

Initially, frequent veterinary visits may be necessary to adjust the insulin dosage and monitor your dog’s blood sugar levels. Once stabilized, routine check-ups every 3 to 6 months are generally recommended, but this may vary based on your vet’s advice.

How Can I Safely Exercise My Diabetic Dog?

Regular, moderate exercise is beneficial for diabetic dogs as it helps regulate blood sugar levels. Avoid intense or sporadic exercise which can cause fluctuations in glucose levels. Always consult your vet for an exercise regime best suited to your dog’s health.

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