Diabetes mellitus in dogs

Diabetes mellitus is also known as sugar diabetes because of the increased blood and urine sugar levels that occur with this disease. Diabetes arises when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone that allows many tissues of the body to utilize blood sugar or glucose. If insulin levels fall, then the tissues of the body are no longer able to use blood sugar. Blood sugar rises in the body and produces many adverse side effects.

This type of diabetes is known as Type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which arises from the development of resistance to insulin, is rare in dogs.

Common clinical signs include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite and weight loss. Because glucose cannot be utilized by the body, weight loss occurs even with more food intake. A severe form of diabetes called diabetic ketoacidosis may cause the animal to become terribly ill, with vomiting, depression, weakness and dehydration.

Diabetes is diagnosed when the blood sugar concentration is significantly elevated. A urinalysis may also show glucose in the urine. Many other tests are commonly performed, including a complete blood count, a biochemistry profile, a urinalysis and a urine culture.

Most dogs with diabetes require injectable insulin to control their disease. Twice-daily injections are needed by most dogs. In addition to insulin, the diet may be changed to a low-fat, high-fiber type of food that contains complex carbohydrates. Several such foods are available by prescription through your veterinarian. Exercise and activity levels are often regulated so they do not fluctuate widely from day to day.

Monitoring is extremely important to keep the blood sugar within the desired range. Too much insulin or too little food intake may result in hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Too little insulin results in persistently high blood sugar that can result in chronic problems, especially cataracts. Home monitoring often involves using a glucometer and pricking the skin or the ear to measure blood sugar, and monitoring appetite, food intake and urination. Based on the glucometer measurements of blood sugar, the dosage of insulin is adjusted to the proper level by the veterinarian.

Diabetes can be challenging to regulate, but it can be successfully managed in most dogs. It is necessary for owners to educate themselves about the disease and to remain in close contact with their veterinarian. Most dogs readily accept the injections and the necessary monitoring.

Dr. Karsten Fostvedt is a veterinarian at St. Francis Pet Clinic in Ketchum.

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