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17 Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are increased thirst, excessive urination, weight loss despite increased caloric intake, vomiting, and lack of energy. Diabetes is not curable but you can keep it under control if you follow the vet’s recommendations.

Diabetes in dogs is a common disease. It requires precise control of both therapy and nutrition.

Most dogs with diabetes “notify” their owners that something is wrong with their bodies. They do so through excessive water consumption and frequent urination (especially in the house).

As with humans, diabetes is not curable, but you can manage it easily and keep it under control.

In this article, you will learn what diabetes is and the most common symptoms of diabetic dogs. You will also learn how to care for a dog with diabetes.

What Is Canine Diabetes?

Diabetes is a complex, long-lasting chronic disease. Dogs suffer from diabetes for two reasons: the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin (type I diabetes), or the dog’s body can’t use the secreted insulin properly (type II).

The main source of energy for the body’s cells is glucose. Blood glucose levels are controlled by a hormone called insulin. This hormone is in turn produced by the pancreas. 

Dogs suffering from diabetes don’t have a normal response to glucose. They either can’t produce insulin to process glucose, or they can’t use insulin properly.

Some foods convert to sugar (glucose), which is a vital source of energy, produced during the digestion of food. The glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood and then transported throughout the body.

Insulin controls how the body uses glucose. Diabetes occurs when the connection between glucose and insulin does not function properly.

What Is Canine Diabetes

There are three types of diabetes in dogs:

  • Type I
  • Type II
  • Type III

Type I Diabetes in Dogs: Insulin Deficiency

Type I diabetes occurs when your dog’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin, either due to damage or malfunction. It is the most common type of diabetes in dogs and requires a daily dose of insulin. Type I diabetes is also called insulin-dependent diabetes.

About 0.2-1% of dogs have type I diabetes. It usually affects middle-aged (6-9 years) and older dogs.[1] 

Unspayed females and specific breeds are more prone to developing the disease:

  • Miniature Poodles
  • Bichons Frises
  • Pugs
  • Dachshunds
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Pulis
  • Samoyeds

Type II Diabetes In Dogs: Insulin Resistance

Type II diabetes occurs when your dog’s body fails to use the insulin properly, even though the pancreas produces it. The cells fail to respond to the insulin signals, resulting in unabsorbed glucose. This type of diabetes is very rare in dogs.[2]

This type of diabetes occurs especially in older or obese dogs. It is also called non-insulin-dependent diabetes, and dogs do not need daily insulin injections but oral medication and diet.

Insulin Resistance on Obese Dog

Type III Diabetes in Dogs: Gestational diabetes

Type III diabetes develops temporarily during heat or gestation in dogs. Pregnant dogs have high glucose levels without suffering from diabetes (type I or II).

This type of diabetes is resistant to insulin, and dogs show varying degrees of clinical signs.

Gestational diabetes is rare in dogs.[3]

What Are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are frequent urination and excessive thirst. Diabetes can lead to cataracts and blindness in advanced stages, and even death if left untreated. 

Noticing early signs of diabetes is the most important step in caring for your dog. The sooner you go to the vet the more likely your dog will have a long life. 

Here are the primary signs of diabetes:

  1. Excessive thirst
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Increased appetite
  4. Unexplained weight loss

As the disease progresses you may notice signs of advanced diabetes in your dog:

  1. Reduced appetite
  2. Reduced activity levels
  3. Stiffer and weaker than usual
  4. Depression
  5. Lethargy
  6. Cloudy eyes
  7. Worse eyesight
  8. Frequent infections of the urinary tract
  9. Vomiting
  10. Seizures
  11. Enlarged liver
  12. Kidney failure

Keep in mind that the symptoms of diabetes can be associated with other diseases, such as kidney and liver disease, hyperthyroidism, or cancer. Take your dog to the vet to rule out diabetes or other medical conditions.

Early Signs of Diabetes in Dogs

Although diabetes is not treatable, your dog is more likely to live a long and happy life if you diagnose it at the first signs.

1. Excessive Thirst

Dog Excessive Thirst

Excessive thirst, also known as polydipsia, is related to frequent urination. Dogs with diabetes drink more water because they urinate frequently. Not the other way around.

As it urinates more and more often, your dog becomes dehydrated. Its body will yearn for more and more water. Dogs experiencing this symptom drink water from all water sources they come by. Other dogs even learn to turn on the faucet.

Related: Dog Drinking Lots of Water Suddenly

2. Frequent Urination (Polyuria)

Dog Frequent Urination

Your dog starts asking more to go outside or urinate in the house.

Polyuria is one of the most common causes why dog owners take their quadruped to the vet. It occurs when the dog produces more urine than normal.

Diabetes causes the accumulation of sugars in the blood. These are sugars the kidneys fail to filter. This excess glucose reaches the urine, attracting even more water. This results in an unusually large urine volume.

3. Increased Appetite

Permanent hunger is a typical symptom of diabetes in dogs. It occurs when your dog’s body no longer receives the glucose it needs.

4. Weight Loss Despite Normal Caloric Intake

Weight Loss Despite Normal Caloric Intake

Weight loss is a common symptom of many health conditions. When linked with the fact that your dog is eating as much as its regular amount, it can be a sign of diabetes.

Dogs with diabetes have insufficient insulin levels. This prevents blood glucose from entering the body’s cells. 

As a result, the body begins to burn fat and muscle for energy, causing a reduction in body mass. 

Unexpected weight loss in dogs is often seen before diagnosing them with type I diabetes.

Signs of Advanced Diabetes in Dogs

Many of these symptoms occur in the final stages of diabetes when your dog develops complications.

1. Reduced Appetite

Getting Your Dog To Eat Dry Food

Although most dogs tend to have a normal appetite, some diabetic dogs lose their appetite.

Lack of appetite can occur in diabetic dogs for the following reasons:

  • fluctuations in blood sugar (hypo- or hyperglycemia).
  • Due to food-related causes (poor quality food).
  • Your dog is in the final stage of the disease (it is dying).

A reduced appetite can also occur due to diabetes complications:

  • Pancreatitis
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (especially gastroparesis)

2. Reduced Activity Levels/Interest In Activities

Lack of energy usually occurs when the dog’s body weakens. Some dogs will not have the energy to play or go for a walk, getting tired faster after these activities.

High blood sugar also causes certain electrolyte imbalances that can lead to improper functioning of the nerve impulses. 

These imbalances include the following:

  • Low level of sodium.
  • Low level of potassium.
  • Low level of phosphorus.

This phenomenon occurs due to high concentrations of glucose. These high concentrations result in an osmotic force that attracts water into the extracellular space, diluting the electrolytes in this space.[4]

3. Stiffer or Weaker Than Usual

sad dog

Dogs with diabetes can have stiff or wobbly gait and difficulty getting up or down. A lack of glucose in the muscles or diabetic neuropathy can cause muscle weakness.

Diabetic neuropathy is a complication of diabetes[5] in which the nerves are affected. It is rare in dogs and may include the following symptoms:

  • Progressive chronic weakness
  • Muscle atrophy
  • Incoordination

Other dogs can develop an abnormal walking pattern known as dropped hocks.

4. Depression

Due to a lack of energy, your dog can show less interest in its otherwise favorite games or activities.

5. Vomiting With No Clear Cause

Vomiting With No Clear Cause

Mild forms of diabetes do not lead to vomiting. Vomiting occurs when your dog develops diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a complication of diabetes.

Ketoacidosis is a condition associated with severe hyperglycemia, in which ketones build up in the blood. 

Symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis:

  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Accelerated breathing
  • Acetone or fruity breath

It occurs when the blood sugar level is very high, and insulin is deficient in the body. In this case, cells do not receive glucose because it is drawn from the tissues by insulin. Cells use lipids instead of glucose to get their energy. 

During this process, lipids produce certain metabolites that are toxic to the body. These ketone bodies enter the bloodstream and trigger ketoacidosis. Blood and tissues become acidic (metabolic acidosis), resulting in body malfunction.[6]

Ketoacidosis is an emergency. It requires hospitalization as it can endanger your dog’s life.

Related: Why Is Your Diabetic Dog Panting?

6. Cloudy Eyes

Dog Cloudy Eyes

Elevated blood sugar and high blood pressure directly affect the following parts of the eye and can lead to cataracts or vision loss:

  • Vision
  • Retina
  • Vitreous body
  • Crystalline lens
  • Optic nerve

In cataracts, the crystalline lens becomes progressively opaque. It is often diagnosed late as dog owners don’t notice the first signs of the disease. A dog with cataracts will start hitting objects in their environment, especially if the light is too bright or in the dark.

7. Worsening Eyesight

Dogs with diabetes have an increased risk of blindness. This is usually due to damage to the retina and optic nerve. It can also occur due to the opacification of the crystalline lens that no longer allows light to reach the retina.

Blindness is often reversible if the affected lens is surgically removed.

Cataracts and blindness can occur within a few weeks or months, or as little as 24 hours.

8. Lackluster Skin and Coat

Lackluster Skin and Coat

Dogs suffering from diabetes and remaining untreated have a “dirty” appearance. The fur becomes thinner and loses its shine, and the skin is crusty and dry.

The fur and skin will improve and look healthy with the introduction of insulin therapy.

9. Frequent Urinary Tract Infections

Diabetic dogs are more likely to develop urinary tract infections compared to the general dog population.[7]

10. Seizures and Coma

Seizures and coma can occur in the last phase of diabetes. These occur when your dog’s blood sugar is very low. It is also known as hypoglycemic coma and can be fatal.

If your dog no longer responds to stimuli, see a veterinarian immediately.

11. Enlarged Liver

Enlarged Liver

Some dogs with diabetes can accumulate fat inside the liver, which causes it to enlarge. Lipids mobilize in the absence of glucose absorption and lead to their accumulation in the liver. This condition is also called fatty liver and hepatic lipidosis.

12. Kidney Failure

High blood glucose levels act as a poison and cause damage to many organs, including the kidneys. This leads to kidney failure.

Signs of kidney failure:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Depression
  • Dull fur

How to Care for Diabetic Dogs

Dogs with diabetes need lifelong treatment. This includes special diets, a good fitness regimen, and daily insulin injections. The key to managing diabetic dogs is to keep their blood sugar levels close to normal. Avoid levels that are too high or too low as they are life-threatening.

Managing and caring for your diabetic dog includes the following:

  • Feeding it a high-fiber diet.
  • Daily exercise. Consult your veterinarian for an appropriate exercise program.
  • Maintain your dog’s insulin levels and the appropriate feeding schedules.
  • Maintain a normal appetite during insulin treatment.
  • Regular examinations and tests performed by your veterinarian. 
  • Monitoring your dog’s blood and urine glucose levels.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pet has a seizure or is unconscious. Meanwhile, rub your dog’s gums with sugar solution (corn syrup or sugar dissolved in water) to increase its blood glucose level.

Dogs are more likely to develop age-related illnesses or conditions, some of which are confused with diabetes. You can keep your pet healthy and detect problems before they become severe if you go to the vet for regular check-ups.

If you have questions about your dog’s health, ask your veterinarian.

Diabetic dogs can live a long and healthy life with proper treatment and veterinary care. Consult your veterinarian if you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior or weight.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

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