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Preventing and Treating Canine Diabetes
An all-too-common malady demystified


The growing diabetes epidemic is not limited to people—diabetes mellitus is increasing among dogs as well. Researchers estimate that one in 200 dogs will develop the disease. Fortunately, treatment has made huge strides in recent years, and as a result, dogs with diabetes are living longer, healthier lives.

The mechanism of diabetes is relatively simple to describe. Just as cars use gas for fuel, body cells run on a sugar called glucose. The body obtains glucose by breaking down carbohydrates in the diet. Cells then extract glucose from the blood with the help of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas in specialized cells called beta cells. (The pancreas, an organ situated behind the stomach, produces several hormones.) In diabetes mellitus, cells don’t take in enough glucose, which then builds up in the blood. As a result, cells starve and organs bathed in sugary blood are damaged. Diabetes is not curable, but it is treatable; a dog with diabetes may live many happy years after diagnosis.

Kinds of Diabetes
Humans are subject to essentially three kinds of diabetes. By far the most common is Type 2, followed by Type 1 and gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes has typically been a disease of middle and old age (though it is being seen increasingly in young people), and has two causes: The beta cells don’t make enough insulin, or muscle cells resist insulin’s help and don’t take in enough glucose (or both). As a result, blood glucose levels climb. Type 1 diabetes usually occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the beta cells, cutting off insulin production; the reason for this attack is thought to be a combination of genetic predisposition plus exposure to a trigger (research into possible triggers is ongoing). Glucose then stays in the blood and, again, levels skyrocket. Roughly half of people who have Type 1 diabetes develop it by age 20. Gestational diabetes starts during pregnancy and is probably caused by hormonal changes.

You may have heard that dogs generally get Type 1 diabetes, but the reality is more complicated. Though there are no universally accepted definitions of dog diabetes, the United Kingdom’s Royal Veterinary College identifies two forms: insulin-deficiency diabetes (IDD) and insulin-resistance diabetes (IRD). Neither matches any kind of human diabetes exactly.

In IDD, a dog loses beta cells and no longer makes enough insulin to keep glucose levels under control. Causes include genetic defects, inflammation of the pancreas and immune attack (as in human Type 1 diabetes). In IRD, something prevents the dog’s insulin from functioning properly. That “something” may be “diestrus,” pregnancy, an endocrine disease, or treatment with steroids or progesterone-like hormones. Diestrus, the most common cause of IRD, is the approximately two months of high levels of progesterone (a female hormone) between periods of estrus (heat). Hormonally, diestrus resembles pregnancy, making this form of IRD similar to human gestational diabetes.

Risk Factors
Several factors raise a dog’s risk of developing diabetes. These include breed, age, gender, weight, diet, virus infections, an inflamed pancreas, chronic inflammation of the small bowel, Cushing’s disease (excess production of the hormone cortisol) and long-term use of progesterone-like drugs or steroid drugs.

•Breed. A study published in the Veterinary Journal in 2003 examined diabetes rates in thousands of American dogs and found that overall, mixed-breed dogs were more prone to diabetes than purebreds. Among purebreds, breeds varied greatly in their susceptibility.

•Age. Dogs most often develop diabetes during middle or old age.

•Gender. Female dogs and neutered male dogs are more likely than intact males to get diabetes.

•Weight. Obesity can make cells resistant to insulin, but it’s unclear whether it actually causes diabetes in dogs.

•Diet. A diet high in fat may contribute to pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas), a risk factor for diabetes.

Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis
Diabetes can be a silent disease. Your veterinarian may discover your dog’s diabetes through routine bloodwork, but before that, you are likely to notice some of its symptoms: greater than normal hunger and/or thirst, weight loss, and frequent or copious urination (some dogs start having accidents in the house).



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Submitted by Sharon Baron | February 19 2010 |

Great article! I have an almost 4 year old Chocolate Lab who was diagnosed with diabetes at 18 months old. (Normal weight, healthy young dog)

It was quite a challenge at first but within a few weeks he was under control and we were all "experts" in managing his care. He nearly lost his sight last summer - but we found a wonderful canine opthamologist and had cataract surgery for him. His sight was fully restored.

This is probably the most comprehensive article I have read about the care of a dog with diabetes. It is good to know what else to expect he may have challenges with in the coming years. Right now - he is doing fine.

Submitted by Janet | August 8 2010 |

Hi Sharon,

I came across this article and saw your comment and had to reply. We also have a black lab that is almost 4 years old and he was diagnosed at about 18 months with diabetes. He was also very healthy. I agree that it was quite the challenge and we had cataract surgery too and Kingston is doing great. We are still working on his Insulin dose and are always trying to get him more controlled. This article was very helpful!

Submitted by Milissa | February 10 2013 |

If you have any suggestions on food I would greatly appreciate any information I could get. I have a 9 yr old black lab that has recently been diagnosed and it has been very hard on us she has adapted very well but it is gradually taking a toll on her. She has lost her sight but we don't think she is stable enough for surgery and this week I have noticed her moving slower so I am hoping a change of diet will help her. Would love to hear your suggestions.
Thanks so much...

Submitted by Terri Crews | April 26 2013 |

I have a 12+ year old black lab he was diagnosed 2 months ago our vet and the problem is regulated blood sugar levels. We think we have some kinda handle on it and it spikes of 500. We give no scraps and only what vet says. He is almost totally blind now. COOPER is a real trooper he has still got puppy in him. At times I wish I knew what to do when it spikes. Talking again to vet in 4 days. He is on 17 cc or whatever it's called two times daily. I am getting scared now. Because it will go down then right back up. Any suggestions for US.

Submitted by kasia | September 2 2014 |

Hi I have a newly diabetic dog and its been 3 weeks and the insulin works and brings numbers down and then now its higher then ever.Did this happen to you?very frustrating. She's a 18 pound shipoo and gets 6 cc twice a day.Any feedback would really help me

Submitted by Cheryl | September 21 2013 |

Check out Dr. Pitcairn's book "Natural Health for Dogs and Cats". He gives dietary suggestions as well as other homeopathic interventions. Good, high quality dog food is a must in caring for a
diabetic dog. Hope this helps!

Submitted by sabita banerjee | January 17 2014 |

Asking what is the diabetic diet for dash hound female dog.

Submitted by CanineLover | July 5 2014 |

We have been feeding Nutrisca a food formulated especially for the diabetic dog! Both canned & dry - this is a 5 star, grain free food WITHOUT the 5 star price & potatoes!!

These other "grain free" diets had all kinds of stuff in it - high carb stuff!! So watch it.

The other thing we feed daily is Primal raw food. It's wonderful!!!

Our dog likes a little dry - so that's why we feed Nutrisca at all.

Submitted by Niki | February 12 2013 |

Hi Sharon

We have a chocolate lab that is 2 years old has has just been diagnosed with diabetes. Still coming to terms with it as it has been a bit of a shock to realise why he has been feeling so unwell. Looking forward to the next steps to improving his quality of life more, I just hope that is a long long time

Submitted by Niki | February 12 2013 |

Hi Sharon

We have a chocolate lab that is 2 years old has has just been diagnosed with diabetes. Still coming to terms with it as it has been a bit of a shock to realise why he has been feeling so unwell. Looking forward to the next steps to improving his quality of life more, I just hope that is a long long time

Submitted by Christine | July 23 2014 |

Please can you email me the details of your canine opthamologist Thankyou

Submitted by Anonymous | November 24 2010 |

The title of this article suggested that ways to prevent dogs from developing diabetes would be discussed. I didn't really read any ways to prevent diabetes in this article unfortunately. While I'm glad that canine diabetes can be fairly easily managed with a little knowledge, shouldn't we be more interested in preventing our loved ones from developing this disease in the first place????

Submitted by Lisa | March 10 2011 |

For what it's worth, the dental chew treats that you can buy in the supermarket (the chewy ones made with glycerin and rice flour that are supposed to reduce tartar and plaque buildup on dog's teeth) seem to cause bladder infections in my dog, which I think may be precipitated by high blood sugar.

My beagle mix has hypothyroidism, and shortly before she was diagnosed, she started passing blood in her urine. The vet determined that she had a bladder infection, and that her blood sugar was very high. I was giving her one of these dental chew sticks every day.

The vet told me she needed to lose weight fast, and since I was concerned that the dental chew sticks might be too high in carbohydrates for her, I stopped buying them.

She's on thyroid medication now, but recently I purchased the dental chew sticks again because I was concerned about her teeth. Within 24 hours, she started passing blood in her urine.

I'm not sure what the issue is with these sticks. Could they be high in sugar or other refined carbohydrates? Whatever the reason, I've decided not to give them to my dog again.

Submitted by Emma | October 14 2013 |

I brush my dogs' teeth, he doesn't like it but I do it slowly and gently a little at a time. I don't believe those dental sticks can replace brushing.

Submitted by SS | November 21 2011 |

Great article! I never knew mixed breeds were more prone to diabetes than purebreds. As the parent of two mixes, I will definitely be keeping an eye on them. Here is more information from the VCA on canine diabetes. http://www.findavet.us/2011/11/canine-diabetes/

Submitted by vintek | March 22 2012 |

Good article. Please check out our dog diabetes product (Dia-Treaties) that works to stabilize while reducing insulin needs.


Veterinarian tested for 4 years. All natural treatment for diabetic dogs. Dogs love them. It helps their skin and coat and they perk up very quickly. They feel better. You get your old dog back.

Submitted by Kathi | April 27 2012 |

I am on the Board of the South Jersey Chapter of the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). I have also been a diabetic for 30 years. Diabetes affects pet and children alike and has been increasing 5% per year. The target age for diagnosis for kids is now 1-4 years. It is one of the top 5 diseases in canine and top 3 in cats. We have partnered with a local veterinary organization to include Pets in our annual Walk for the Cure. This program, PAWS for the Cause, is directly targeted at diabetes research. Since our inception we have raised $1.6B for research. If you would like to help us fund research to cure this disease please visit http://www.regionalvet.com/paws-for-the-cause.php. Any help you can give us is appreciated. We are a grassroots organization dedicated to managing and curing this disease.

Submitted by Gina | June 4 2012 |

My dog was diagnosed three years ago and she continues to do pretty well with exercise and a very strict diet. I think putting her on natural dog food really turned her health around. We were very happy with the Natural Balance food our vet suggested because it kept her weight at a safe number and she really likes the taste. We also give her Healthy Bones treats throughout the day to keep her insulin levels stabilized.

Submitted by Stefanie Skye | July 16 2012 |

My Keeshond Leo was diagnosed as the age of 8 back in April of 2009 (about 3 months before he turned 9 years old). He went completely blind within a month. Thankfully I was able to save up enough money to return his sight to him (people thought I was crazy and said that he would adjust; but he never did...he was becoming a scared animal all the time and that totally wasn't my Leo). He is now 12 years old and acts like he did back when he was a young dog.

Unfortunately we still have yet to fully control his diabetes. He has been pretty unregulated since the beginning. Switching to a grain free diet did help a ton (he is now eating Blue Buffalo Wilderness Senior) but he is still about 50 mg/dl above the normal range.

Submitted by mimi | April 7 2014 |

Chicken rice and green beans. Buy organic if possible and boil chicken in low sodium chicken organic broth, brown rice and steamed green beans.... they love it and it really does help with managing and controlling insulin.

Submitted by Lanette S. | February 18 2013 |

Been looking for any help with my newly diagnosed diabetic toy poodle. Last July she developed ketoacidosis. After a rush to the ER came the news of diabetes. My Angel went totally blind within a month. She was set to get cataract surgery but it was held off due to her abnormal curve test. No matter how often we seem to repeat this test and go up on insulin it's always abnormal. I really want her sight restored. Seems so unfair. She manages well without sight finally. Some say let her be but I know she wants to run around outside freely again with her sis. She eats twice a day with insulin that follows but my gut is telling me she needs a few snacks in between to stabilize her. I never give in or go against the vet but she seems always hungry. She's on Prescription Diet food. I've been reading, buying books but can't seem to find the answer. Anyone out there with suggestions please help. We're due for ANOTHER curve test soon.

Submitted by Kim and Sage | March 3 2013 |

Sage (11yo Cairn Terrier) and I have been dealing with her diabetes and cataracts since 2009...she has been hard to regulate and I do her curves with an AlphaTrak (pretty easy to do and more accurate because of the stress factor at the vet's). She has lost most of her eyesight but it was gradual and she is a terrier so not much scares her or stops her. There doesn't seem to be any one answer out there and each dog is different but I have had success feeding Sage a homemade diet of rinsed beef, Healthy Dogma supplement (reduced amount in meat when making) and a vitamin and digestive enzyme/probiotic combo. The only goodies she gets are minimal ingredient with no grain/sweeteners (like Buddy Bisquits) and yes, I do give her little goodies (tiny) throughout the day or after a walk. She does well and we have opted not to do surgery for her eyes at this time. We also are using Humulin N (Vetsulin was great for her but alas is gone). I hope some of this information helps...it's way worth it to do all this to keep them as healthy and feeling good while they are with us...good luck!

Submitted by concerned | February 19 2013 |

I am wondering if Science Diet is a good dog food, my daughter's 5 yr old schnauzer was prediabetic, he was not overweight, her vet said to start feeding Science Diet light for adult dog. He has since started pooping in the house, and can't make it through the day without an accident. Is the dog food causing this.

Submitted by Linda | March 26 2013 |

I lost one schnauzer to complication of diabetes. My second one almost died also. The vet food they were giving him was starving him to death. He is now on a diet of roasted chicken and green beans, twice a day. I also give him a mid day snack of sliced turkey. Only when I began feeding him myself did he improve. He was to the point they told us to put him down - that was over a month ago and he is thriving on green beans and chicken. In looking back, I would not feed my dog the vet prescription food... Just a thought... make sure you monitor the insulin levels when doing this (we took him in weekly to do so). we also found with our own food we brought his insulin dose from 19 unit to 6 !!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Jeff belli Slack | April 19 2013 |

Your story confirms my suspicions on vet recommended food.

One of my 3 Australian Terriers, and the youngest, most active, happy go lucky one, was just diagnosed with diabetes.

How does this happen?
My immediate thought went to the diet set by my vet. He assures me it is not and it is just bad luck.

Iam not convinced.

I am about to start the twice daily injections and I assume another change in my little girls diet.
I can not avoid the injections because I am told diabetes is NOT reversible, but I can avoid the vet recommended food.

To this end, I would really appreciate the detail/recipe of the chicken an green bean mix.

Many thanks for your post, it has helped me a great deal.


Submitted by Jeff belli Slack | April 19 2013 |

Yes, very simply, yes.

Submitted by Peter | March 19 2013 |

Even if there isn't the research evidence clearly to demonstrate that obesity causes type 2 diabetes in dogs, it is pretty likely! Why? Because it so clearly and dramatically does so in people (who, whilst not in all parameters identical to dogs metabolically, are largely so) and because every vet can tell you that they know of many obese dogs that lost weight and thereby normalised their blood sugar.
If your dog is obese and diabetic, it might be a good idea to try a diet first. Even if it didn't reverse the diabetes, obesity is bad for your dog in at least as many ways as it is for people - and they are so much easier to put on a diet!!

Submitted by Nancy Halverson | October 25 2013 |

Ginger is a Cavalier diagnosed with diabetes about 4 mos ago. Finally got glucometer on e-bay and since her fructosamine was high I stopped dog food and have her on a diet of brown rice, sm amt green veg, chicken, fish, occ. beef, occ bone to chew on, sm amt liver and her sugar dropped and dropped. Also walk 2 x a day. Now trying to adjust insulin. I am thinking she will end up on 7U am and pm with a snack mid day. She still gets low before supper. Before changing diet she was in 300s every month. I have been obsessed with getting this right and still will not be happy till I get 200 readings. I highly recommend getting a glucose monitor, otherwise I was flying blind.

Submitted by Carl | November 20 2013 |

Nancy, the only monitor that gives proper readings for dogs is the Alphatrac which is made for dogs. If you research it and other forums you will agree. Please let me know if you any other questions.

Submitted by Rehan | November 30 2013 |

Amazing stuff. the same applies to the human as well (at least to the some extent) like no over weight, etc.


Submitted by abpdermal | March 11 2014 |

it is very useful to people so keep posting i refer my friends to see your blog

Submitted by Judy Chartrand | June 14 2014 |

The only thing that isn't mention in this article is commercial dog foods. I think the fact that most of it is made with corn, should be of some concern. Our Mini Schnauzer was diagnosed over a year ago with diabetes, and is now blind. The food my ex husband fed him, corn was it's first ingredient. Many Holistic vets believe that commercial dry dog food contributes to diabetes.

Submitted by marsha | June 23 2014 |

I have been treating my little Toby Boy for 2 years (he is a Rat Terrier). He insulin is 18 units twice a day. Finding him treats is hard. I have copied some recipes for this sight to see if this will help him. He is 10 years old and lost his sight last year Sept. 21 2013. He is on this kind of food W/D Hills for diabetic dogs. With out starving him his sugar level on a good day is around 200. He gets plenty of exercise. So if anyone has any suggestion that we can do please let us know. Thank You Marsha Toby's mom

Submitted by Lee | July 1 2014 |

Hi, we have an 11 year old labrador who has recently been diagnosed with diabetes in the last six weeks, we only realised that there was a problem when he started to urinate in the house, he's a Labrador on the larger size should I say, however he's only ever eaten the recommended food as prescribed by the vets, he never ever get any additional scraps of the plates or anything like that and walks regularly three times a day.

My question is I know it's still early days he is on 24 ul twice a day since diagnosis and there is still no better control over his urination. Every now and then he goes and has litres of water to discharge the XS glucose in his system which we have been told it is perfectly normal from the vets.

He has lost 4 kg in the space of six weeks if not a bit more by now and I've been admitted on three occasions for 24-hour observations at the vet hospital.

We love our dog to bits, and will do anything to make sure that he's as healthy as possible, but I simply want to know how to stop the urinating in the house throughout the day and night! In the years we've had him he's never done this!

Any advice would be appreciated All we get from the vet is that it's common?

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