Diabetes in Dogs

What is Canine Diabetes?

Canine Diabetes, medically known as Diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes”, is a medical condition that develops when a dog’s pancreas no longer produces, or responds to, the hormone insulin, which is responsible for regulating the levels of glucose or sugar found in the bloodstream. This prevents the body from converting glucose from food to usable energy and allows large amounts of sugar to accumulate in the blood. If left untreated, Canine Diabetes can cause severe damage to multiple organs, including the kidneys, eyes, and heart.

Types

There are two main types of Canine Diabetes: Type I or Insulin-Dependent Diabetes, which prevents the pancreas from producing enough insulin, and Type II or Insulin-Resistant Diabetes, which impairs the body’s ability to properly respond to insulin.

Type I Diabetes (Insulin-Dependent Diabetes)

Type I Diabetes is considered the most common type of diabetes in dogs. It occurs as a result of partial or complete destruction of the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, which prevents normal or sufficient production of insulin.

In the digestive system, glucose or sugar from food is converted into usable energy for the body. However, insulin is needed in order for glucose to enter the cells. Without insulin, glucose remains and accumulates in the bloodstream, leaving cells starved for glucose-derived fuel and increasing the risk of multiple organ failure.

Type II Diabetes (Insulin-Resistant Diabetes)

Type II Diabetes develops when the pancreas produces insulin but the cells inside the body fail to normally respond to it. This type of diabetes is commonly seen in dogs that are overweight or consume unhealthy portions of carbohydrates regularly . However, it can also develop in dogs that are unfixed, taking steroid medications, or have Cushing’s syndrome, which is a condition that causes the body to produce excessive amounts of the steroid hormone cortisol.

Causes

The main cause for diabetes is still unknown, however, genetics, lifestyle and the status of a dog’s immune system greatly influences his or her chances of developing the condition. Type I diabetes, for instance, mainly happens as a result of an autoimmune disorder. When a dog has an autoimmune disorder, his or her body will not be able to distinguish between healthy cell tissues and potentially harmful foreign bodies. As a result, the body sets off a reaction that causes the immune system to start attacking normal tissues.

On the other hand, type II Diabetes is highly associated with obesity and the excessive consumption of carbohydrates. Since the body converts carbohydrates to glucose, carb immoderation causes blood sugar levels to rise, making cells resistant to insulin. However, unlike insulin-dependent diabetes, insulin-resistant diabetes is reversible in most cases.

Risk Factors

Canine Diabetes can develop in dogs of all breeds and ages, but there are certain factors that can make one more susceptible to the condition than another. In some cases, a dog’s age, gender, breed, medications, and even existing health problems, can increase his or her chances of falling victim to diabetes.

Age

Canine Diabetes is more common in middle-aged and older dogs, specifically those older than seven years of age, but it is also seen in dogs as young as 18 months. However, younger dogs, especially those below one year of age, are generally considered to have a much lower risk of developing the condition.

Gender

In terms of gender, unspayed female dogs are found to be twice as likely to develop Canine Diabetes compared to male dogs (American Kennel Club, 2016). In fact, about 70% of dogs with Canine Diabetes are female. In some cases, the condition also develops in pregnant dogs, during which it is referred to as Gestational Diabetes.

Breed

Interestingly, breed is found to play a role in a dog’s susceptibility to Canine Diabetes. Some breeds, namely, Keeshonds, Cairn Terriers, Toy Poodles, Bichon Frise, Samoyeds, Australian Terriers, Schnauzers, Siberian Huskies, Japanese Spitz, and Miniature Pinschers are believed to be genetically predisposed to the condition.

Other breeds, including German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, American Cocker Spaniels, Boxers, and American Pit Bull Terriers are observed to be less susceptible.

Steroid Medications

Steroid medications (prednisone, dexamethasone, methylprednisolone, etc.) are prescribed to treat inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, and anaphylactic shock. However, they are often only used when necessary and on a short-term basis. Dogs that take steroid medications longer than needed is at risk of developing what is known as steroid-induced diabetes, which is a type of diabetes that results from steroids causing the body to become resistant to insulin.

Cushing’s Syndrome

Cushing’s Syndrome causes the adrenal glands of the body to overproduce the steroid hormone cortisol, causing a similar problem as the long-term use of steroid medications: insulin resistance. This prevents the body from responding normally to insulin and without treatment, results in Canine Diabetes.

Pancreatic Damage

Since the pancreas is the one responsible for producing insulin, conditions or situations that cause the organ to become inflamed or defective, such as chronic pancreatitis or the excessive use of steroids, can lead to the development of Canine Diabetes.

Obesity

Obese or overweight dogs are more likely to develop type II or insulin-resistant diabetes. This is because overeating causes excessive amounts of glucose to accumulate in the blood, which desensitizes the body to insulin. That means if a dog gains too much weight, the pancreas will no longer be able to produce enough insulin to balance out the amount of glucose.

Signs and Symptoms

There is no specific set of symptoms for Canine Diabetes. Depending on the severity of the condition, symptoms can range from subtle changes in behavior, like increased thirst and frequent urination, to more concerning issues, like constant vomiting, muscle weakness, and seizures.

As blood sugar levels begin to rise beyond normal, the body will start to push excess glucose out of the body through urine, along with the water that has bonded to the sugar. This causes diabetic dogs to become dehydrated and therefore, drink and urinate more than usual. At the same time, the inability of glucose to enter the cells will make the body think that there is not enough sugar available to be converted into energy and cause the dog to feel hungry all the time. Despite eating normal or larger portions of food, diabetic dogs will continue to lose weight since the body is no longer retaining nor utilizing any nutrients.

In more advanced cases, Canine Diabetes may cause vomiting, exhaustion, loss of appetite, depression, and recurrent infections. This often means that the condition is not properly controlled and the diabetic dog will need to be taken to the animal hospital right away. If left untreated, the condition could lead to more severe health concerns, such as muscle loss or weakness, urinary tract infection, enlargement of the liver, kidney failure, cataracts, blindness, seizures, heart problems, coma, and death.

Diagnosis

There is a wide variety of factors that can trigger the development of Canine Diabetes. For that reason, multiple laboratory tests will need to be done to narrow down the potential causes and identify any underlying diseases or infections that could be linked to the condition. Since Canine Diabetes is more common in middle-aged and senior dogs, the presence of an undetected medical condition is highly possible. Generally, veterinarians perform the following screening tests when a dog is suspected to have Canine Diabetes:

Complete Blood Count

A Complete Blood Count or CBC provides detailed information about the red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets found in a blood sample. This test will allow veterinarians to evaluate the severity of the condition and detect the presence any underlying diseases or infections.

For instance, during the early stages of diabetes, dehydration can cause the volume and number of red blood cells to increase. In other cases, there could be evidence of ruptured red blood cells or a low red blood cell count, indicating that the condition has already progressed. The number of white blood cells may also exceed normal range, meaning that there is an existing disease or infection.

Serum Biochemistry Profile

A serum biochemistry profile shows the blood sugar concentration, electrolyte levels, and amount blood proteins (albumin and globulin) inside the body of a diabetic dog. In this test, elevated blood sugar levels, electrolyte imbalances, and increased liver enzymes is indicative of Canine Diabetes.

Urinalysis

A urinalysis involves the physical, chemical, and microscopic examination of urine. In diabetic dogs, a urinalysis will detect the presence of glucose in the urine. If he or she has an existing infection, bacteria and white blood cells may also be seen.

Top 5 FAQs

Why does diabetes in dogs cause blindness?

Just like other organs, the eyes use glucose as a source of energy. However, since diabetic dogs have higher levels of glucose inside the body, excess sugar can accumulate inside the eyes and attract water into the lens, causing cataracts and eventually, blindness.

Is diabetes in dogs genetic?

Studies have shown that some dog breeds are more prone to developing Canine Diabetes than others, so it highly likely that genetics play a role in the development of the condition.

Does diabetes in dogs cause seizures?

Yes, diabetic dogs may experience seizures if their blood sugar levels drop below normal.

Does diabetes in dogs cause hair loss?

If blood sugar levels are not controlled, the excess amounts of sugar in the bloodstream can damage the blood vessels and prevent the proper distribution of nutrients., which may affect hair growth and cause hair loss. In addition, underlying conditions that impact the production of hormones, like Cushing’s syndrome, which causes the overproduction of the steroid hormone cortisol, are also linked to hair loss in many diabetic dogs.

Does diabetes in dogs cause back leg weakness?

Yes, uncontrolled glucose levels can block nerve signals, as well as cause muscle loss, which can lead to back leg weakness in diabetic dogs.