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Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Solutions

As ProDog’s Canine Nutritionist, Alison Frost has seen her share of diabetes in dogs. In this article she’ll discuss symptoms of dog diabetes, potential causes, and how species-appropriate nutrition can help.

Alison Frost

Author: Alison Frost

Edited By: Anna Bain

Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Solutions

As a canine nutritionist, my work is all about keeping dogs healthy in the most natural ways possible. I’ve seen dogs’ lives changed for the better countless times through simply feeding them the way nature intended. This includes resolving various health concerns, such as diabetes in dogs.

Dog diabetes is becoming increasingly common, with as many as 1 in every 300 dogs being affected [1]. It can come from a variety of sources, some genetic, some due to medications, and others lifestyle related. I’ll discuss these in this article, along with signs to be aware of, what you can do to prevent diabetes in your dog, and how to help those with a diabetes diagnosis.

Understanding diabetes in dogs

Canine diabetes definition

Diabetes in dogs is a condition concerning blood sugar imbalance. When glucose (sugar) can’t get into the cells without insulin, it builds up in the blood. This causes hyperglycemia, the medical term for too much sugar in the blood

Most cases of dog diabetes are type 1, in which the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin correctly, making it impossible for glucose (sugar) to be processed and allocated properly. Glucose then builds up in the blood, creating higher levels than the body is able to handle.

In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas continues to produce insulin, but the body learns to resist it when blood sugar levels are too high for too long. This type of diabetes is more  common in cats than dogs, but our canine companions aren’t without risk; many dogs on dry, processed diets become overweight, which taxes the body’s systems and can lead to diabetes down the road. 

Causes of diabetes in dogs

Genetics 

Though not the only cause, diabetes in dogs is more commonly found within certain breeds, which suggests genetics can play a role in its development [2]. There are quite a few breeds that are genetically predisposed to dog diabetes. Some of these include:

  • Samoyed
  • Miniature Schnauzer
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • Miniature Pinscher
  • Beagle
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • German Shepherd
  • Golden Retriever
  • Labrador
  • Chow Chow
  • Poodle
  • Dachshund
  • Boxer
  • Springer Spaniel
  • West Highland White Terrier

This is not an exhaustive list, and all dogs belonging to these breeds will not become diabetic dogs. Being genetically predisposed to certain diseases simply means the risk is greater, it doesn’t indicate an inevitability. However, dogs with healthy lifestyles that are fed biologically appropriate food have a much higher chance of beating their genetic odds. 

Diet 

The food dogs eat directly influences their health one way or another, and certain diets contribute to the internal environment that leads to diabetes in dogs. Diets high in grains, starches, and other types of unnecessary fillers can be responsible for excess weight gain, high blood sugar, and potential insulin resistance. 

Whilst dogs will often eat anything we put in front of them, this doesn’t mean that their bodies are capable of processing all foods. Carbohydrates break down into sugars and in excessive amounts are not easy for a dog’s pancreas to process; they create additional work that this small organ wasn’t designed to perform. This is one reason pancreatitis in dogs is so common and often leads to diabetes if not treated carefully. 

Obesity

Obese dogs carry an increased risk of diabetes. Excessive weight gain creates an abundance of fat cells, which secrete hormones and other chemical messengers that promote widespread internal inflammation. This elevates the risk factors for pancreatitis, as well as diabetes in dogs.

Healthy weight loss is essential for obese dogs and contributes towards their diabetes management. Feeding species-appropriate, raw meals as well as ensuring their exercise needs are met is the best way to prevent diabetes in dogs, and also goes a long way towards keeping existing diabetes within manageable parameters. In many cases, a diet and lifestyle change can even reverse some dogs’ diabetes completely.

Learn more about healthy weight loss for dogs in our article, Weight Loss Tips for Dogs.

Environmental triggers 

There are also external sources that can contribute to the development of diabetes in dogs. These affect the endocrine system (where diabetes originates) and can cause imbalances in blood sugar regulation, insulin production, and the secretion of other crucial hormones. Some of these include:

  • Over vaccinating — Can contribute to auto-immune disease, including diabetes in dogs
  • Prescription drugs — Steroids and antibiotics have been closely linked with the presence of dog diabetes 
  • GMO foods — Known to include various toxins and pesticides, causing inflammation and DNA damage
  • Chemical flea and tick repellents — Wreak havoc on the digestive system and contribute towards widespread inflammation

Thankfully, there are ways to avoid most of these environmental triggers, such as doing your research before buying certain foods, utilising natural flea and tick repellents like ProDog’s Repel,  or titre testing before having dogs vaccinated. Awareness is the first step in preventing/managing diabetes in dogs.

To learn more about taking natural approach to parasite prevention read our tick, flea and worm prevention guides.

Recognising signs and symptoms

Increased thirst and urination

When sugar levels are high in the bloodstream, the body looks for ways to flush them out. Combined with the dehydrating properties of sugar, this creates an abnormal thirst in diabetic dogs. If you’re noticing your dog drinking more than usual and there’s no obvious reason for it (hot weather, vigorous exercise, etc.), a trip to the vet is in order.

As all that extra fluid needs somewhere to go, dogs with diabetes will also urinate more frequently, as they’ve been consuming so much more water than they normally would. Their urinary output will also increase in volume, which eventually taxes the kidneys more than what’s natural, creating a secondary problem along with the diabetes itself.

Changes in weight and appetite

Dogs with diabetes often lose weight, as their bodies aren’t processing their glucose intake properly. This prevents their cells from being able to accept glucose, therefore they can’t distribute it as energy, and it simply builds up in the blood. As mentioned, overweight dogs are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, but once the disease progresses, very noticeable weight loss occurs, which is certainly not a healthy way to lose excess weight. 

Another reason diabetic dogs lose weight is their potential to lose interest in their food. The sugar build up in the blood, along with the inability to produce insulin and amylin, causes them to feel less hungry due to the connection these hormones have with the regulation of satiety. Simply put, the imbalanced hormone production causes dogs to lose their appetites, thus contributing to weight loss [3]. 

Lethargy and weakness

Since the glucose circulating in the blood can’t be processed properly and therefore can’t enter the cells to be utilised for energy, dogs with diabetes can become quite lethargic. If you’ve ever been exhausted due to low blood sugar, you’ll know what I mean: your body just can’t move like it normally would. Diabetes is an extreme version of this experience.

Prolonged deprivation of glucose can lead to chronic lethargy and eventually weakness, as the body’s lack of movement causes muscles to atrophy, or waste. This level of weakness is generally reserved for severe or untreated cases that will likely involve other symptoms.

Noticing lethargy and weakness should be enough to get your dog to a vet, so they don’t have to reach this point.

Preventative measures for avoiding canine diabetes

Diet 

Diet plays a significant role in the potentiality of diabetes in dogs. Food is supposed to provide nutrients that contribute to health, but it can also have the opposite effect. 

The term “balanced diet” is not reserved only for humans; dogs also greatly benefit from this way of eating. Though they require less variety amongst food groups than we do, feeding the appropriate amounts of each essential nutrient helps them meet their nutritional requirements for optimal health.

Dogs have no biological need for carbohydrates such as starches or grains. Eating these on a regular basis (as many dogs do) can add strain to vital organs and lead to imbalance, inflammation, and ineffective digestion. These impact the body’s various systems and functions and increase the risk of diabetes. 

Feeding dogs a natural diet with whole foods and raw, species-appropriate ingredients promotes optimal health. Allowing dogs’ digestion to function optimally produces a healthy response from other bodily systems/functions, significantly reducing their risk of diabetes and other health issues [4].

Discover more Benefits of Raw Dog Food in our comprehensive guide. 

Creating homemade natural meals for your dog isn’t for everyone. Knowing the correct ratios of lean protein, healthy fats, organ meats, plant fibre, and bones can seem complex, which is why pre-made raw dog food, such as ProDog’s raw meals, are a convenient solution. These meals provide the nutrients dogs require for balanced blood sugar, appropriate metabolism, healthy organ function, and overall health.

Need help with your dog’s diet?

Contact ProDog’s expert team today for FREE tailored canine nutrition advice

Supplements 

Antioxidants

Free radicals cause inflammation, ageing, degenerative diseases and tissue damage.  Foods rich in antioxidants like berries, green vegetables, and others can help to reverse this damage. Diabetic dogs also excrete nutrients and minerals at a higher rate than healthy dogs, which makes it even more vital that these are replenished via diet or supplemental support. ProDog’s Boost, Digest and Revive supplements are a great option for increasing the antioxidant and nutrient content in your dog’s diet.

Probiotics

Probiotics help to restore balance in the gut, thus preventing autoimmune conditions like type 1 diabetes. These are included in ProDog’s Boost supplement, though we also offer several other probiotic options

Digestive support

As dogs with diabetes are also more prone to pancreatitis, supporting their digestive system with mucilage, anti-inflammatory herbs, digestive enzymes and gut supportive supplements is essential. ProDog’s Digest supplement helps with all of these, and can be very beneficial for diabetic dogs. 

Exercise

An important recommendation for preventing diabetes in dogs is to keep them lean and well-exercised. Part of the reason for this is that fat cells secrete hormones that encourage inflammation, which has a widespread effect on dogs’ various systems, including endocrine function.

Regular exercise contributes to the development of healthy muscle mass and prevents/reverses the build up of excess fat. This directly influences dogs’ chances of becoming diabetic, as dogs carrying extra kilos are far more likely to develop insulin resistance, metabolic issues, and other diabetes-related health concerns.

Monitoring and early intervention

As with most health concerns, the earlier a dog’s diabetes is caught, the better the prognosis. If your dog belongs to one of the genetically predisposed breeds, is overweight, eats a high-carbohydrate diet, or displays any of the above mentioned symptoms, it’s a good idea to have their blood sugar checked regularly. 

However, the correct nutrition goes a long way in the prevention/early intervention of diabetes in dogs; even those belonging to the above groups. This is because the foods that are biologically suited to dogs’ digestive systems and bodily functions promote strong, balanced internal environments that are capable of warding off diseases, even when the odds are stacked against them. 

Nutritional support for diabetic dogs

Customising your dog’s diet 

Removing all carbohydrates, sugars and starches, and feeding a lower fat, higher protein raw diet with lots of added antioxidant rich vegetables and berries is my first recommendation. ProDog’s Digest supplement adds digestive enzymes to help minimise pancreas issues, which diabetic dogs are prone to. It also provides antioxidants and extra digestive support to ensure all nutrients are being assimilated properly and to help prevent further deterioration.

Special treats for diabetic dogs 

Dehydrated, pure meat-based treats without sugars are excellent for diabetic dogs. ProDog’s low fat, high protein range of natural treats is a great place to start.

Supporting a dog with a diagnosed health condition can seem challenging, which is why I recommend consulting the experts regarding your dog’s diet. Speak with a holistic vet, canine nutritionist or contact ProDog’s nutritionists today for FREE tailored dietary advice.

Diabetic dogs: How to promote optimal canine health naturally

Contrary to popular belief, dog diabetes doesn’t have to be life limiting. In fact, dogs with diabetes can go on to live long, happy lives, and in some cases of type 2, can even reverse the condition altogether.

The backbone of all health is appropriate nutrition. Not just for healthy dogs, but for those with various ailments, including diabetes. ProDog’s raw meals provide balanced, biologically-suited nutrients to contribute to the health of all dogs; especially the diabetic ones.

Diabetes in dogs FAQs

How long do dogs live after being diagnosed with diabetes?

Dogs with diabetes can live full, happy lives provided their condition is managed appropriately.

How can you tell if your dog has diabetes?

There are various symptoms associated with diabetes in dogs, as well as several predisposing factors to consider. Consult the “Causes of diabetes in dogs” and “Recognising signs and symptoms” sections.

How do you treat a diabetic dog?

Most diabetic dogs will require lifelong insulin injections, but improvements to their condition can also be made through shifting their diet towards more biologically-appropriate ingredients. Diabetic dogs should always eat twice a day, with insulin administered straight after their meal. Always consult with your vet when changing diets, as insulin requirements may need to be adjusted.

How much does it cost to treat a dog with diabetes in the UK?

Treatment costs for dogs with diabetes will vary depending on the individual case, and each veterinarian will have their own fee schedule. Feeding a fresh, whole food diet is far less expensive, and a healthier way to prevent/manage diabetes in dogs.

What are the common symptoms of diabetes in dogs?

Increased thirst and urination, weight loss, and lethargy can all be potential diabetes symptoms in dogs. See the “Recognising signs and symptoms” section for more details.

Can dogs be cured of diabetes?

While the ultimate treatment goal is reversing your dog’s diabetes to the point where no insulin is needed, such results are still relatively rare. However, species-appropriate nutrition and carefully selected supplements can make managing lifelong diabetes in dogs easier.

What causes diabetes in dogs?

There are several causes of diabetes in dogs, including genetics, diet, sedentary lifestyle, and more. See the “Causes of diabetes in dogs” section for the complete list.

How is diabetes diagnosed in canines?

Diabetes is generally diagnosed through testing the blood and urine for irregular levels of sugar. If diagnosed, you’ll need to check in regularly for testing and monitor your dog’s weight, drinking habits, and urination frequency.

What is the recommended diet for dogs with diabetes?

The diet I recommend for all dogs is a raw, lean, meat-based diet. This includes dogs with diabetes, who will benefit greatly from the omission of carbohydrates and sugars in their diet. Diabetic dogs should always eat twice a day and insulin should be administered straight after their meal. Always consult with your vet when changing diets, as insulin requirements may need to be adjusted.

Are there specific breeds more prone to diabetes?

Yes, quite a few breeds are predisposed to canine diabetes, including Samoyeds, Chow Chows, Beagles, and several others. However, not all dogs within these breeds will become diabetic, and taking a proactive approach towards their health can help to ensure they never do.

Can diabetes in dogs be prevented?

Diabetes is a highly preventable disease, so focusing on prevention is the best option. Although there are genetic predispositions involved in dog diabetes, it is possible to counteract these in many cases through species-appropriate nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices.

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References

  1. VetCompass. New VetCompass study investigates potential association between exposure to antibiotics and corticosteroids and the development of diabetes mellitus in dogs. Accessed March 2024.
  2. Ringstad, N., Lingaas, F., Thoresen, S. May 2022. Breed distributions for diabetes mellitus and hypothyroidism in Norwegian dogs. Canine Medicine and Genetics;, 9(9). Doi: 10.1186/s40575-022-00121-w
  3. Young-Hyman, D., Davis, C. Mar 2010. Disordered Eating Behavior in Individuals with Diabetes. Diabetes Care;, 33(3):683-689. Doi: 10.2337/dc08-1077
  4. Perry, L., Shmalberg, J., Tanprasertsuk, J., Massey, D., Honaker, R., Lha, A. Jan 2020. Risk factors associated with canine overweightness and obesity in an owner-reported survey. BioRxiv;, 896399. Doi: 10.1101/2020.01.06.896399

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