Diabetes, the core disease itself, is amazingly simple! Essentially, your (or your dog, cat, etc) blood glucose, or blood sugar, is too high. The basic principle of diabetes is the same if you are a human or an animal.
Normally that blood sugar will rise as a meal you eat is digested but go back down as the body’s cells use that sugar for energy. If a dog is diabetic, that sugar either stays in the bloodstream or the cells can’t get enough of it for whatever reason.
That’s the simple idea in a nutshell! Diabetes equals high blood sugar. In diabetic patients, one of the terms listed in bold below isn’t working properly. This is a major problem and can be pretty drastic, even fatal if left untreated. Thankfully, it is typically easy to treat!
Why is Blood Sugar Hugh?
Imagine a healthy dog without diabetes. The dog eats a meal and complex sugars are broken down in the body to glucose (simple sugar). Those simple sugars enter the dog’s bloodstream via the small intestines. That blood sugar is now higher than it was!
The dog’s pancreas then releases a hormone called insulin (very important to remember)! Insulin allows the body’s cells to take in that blood glucose, or blood sugar, for energy. That glucose acts like food for the body’s cells. Blood sugar starts to go back down to normal levels.
What is Pancreas?
The pancreas is a small organ in a dog’s (or human’s) abdomen that both helps with digestion and helps regulate blood sugar. It is essential for life, and patients need medical intervention when it fails. In diabetic humans or animals, there is usually a problem with the pancreas.
What is Type 1 Diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes in dogs is the most common type. If your dog has type 1 diabetes, his pancreas isn’t able to produce enough insulin. Blood glucose can’t enter the dog’s cells without insulin. If the cells can’t get that glucose, they can’t get the energy they need to function.
Patients with type 1 diabetes will have to inject insulin themselves, or dogs receive daily insulin injections, so their bodies can use that glucose for energy as they should.
What is Type 2 Diabetes?
Cats are more likely than dogs to develop type two diabetes, but this can affect our dogs. A.K.A. Insulin resistant diabetes, a dog’s body does not respond normally to the insulin released by his pancreas. Since that hormone insulin is what enables blood glucose to enter cells, those cells either don’t get enough (but some) or not much at all.
Unlike type 1, this is sometimes reversible through weight loss and good nutrition/exercise. Obese dogs (about 50% of dogs are obese in the US) are more likely to develop type two diabetes.
Is Dog Diabetes Fatal?
It can be.
Imagine a very attentive and conscious dog parent (we’ll call her Lisa) that just learns her little one (we’ll call him Fred) is diabetic. She is terrified! Because she is so worried about her baby, she follows her veterinarian’s instructions explicitly and spares no expense.
With a veterinarian-approved, strict daily exercise regimen and nutritional program, Fred soon returns to that ideal weight of his youth. Even though he needs daily insulin injections for his type 1 diabetes, a cost she is happy to endure, Fred can live the same kind of long and fruitful life any other healthy dog would!
The Opposite Scenario
Now, imagine Lisa begins noticing strange lethargic behaviour and frequent ‘potty accidents’ with Fred. She just assumes he needs more training, and Fred is just tired all of the time because he is so overweight. Lisa never bothers taking Fred to see her local veterinarian.
Lisa has no way of knowing Fred is diabetic and never treats him for it. His blood sugar skyrockets while the cells in his body aren’t able to get enough of it; Fred’s pancreas stopped producing insulin. Fred’s hyperglycemia rises so high he slips into Diabetic ketoacidosis, a medical emergency, and eventually passes in her car as she rushes to the veterinarian.
Diabetes can be fatal, and it can lead to UTI’s or other medical issues if it is not treated. On the other hand, most cases of Diabetes are extremely easy to treat! If an owner is attentive and thorough every day, many diabetic dogs can live the same wonderful lives healthy dogs would!
What Causes Diabetes?
A lack of insulin produced from a damaged pancreas, or insulin resistance from the body, are the simple reasons. Diabetes in dogs is caused by high blood sugar. But why isn’t the pancreas producing enough insulin?
Imagine an obese dog who is obese because he is consistently fed a plant-based, high carbohydrate diet. Too much dog food has led to chronic overeating, or the dog is fed too much sugary human foods (for example). That dog’s pancreas is constantly overworked, trying to produce enough insulin to keep up with these high blood sugar levels. Eventually, it suffers damage, leading to pancreatitis you see below.
Risk Factors Include:
- Age- middle age to senior dogs at most risk
- Gender- unspayed female dogs most at risk
- Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas)
- Numerous other health complications- discuss with your veterinarian if your pet is suffering a health condition.
- Poor genetics
Symptoms of Dog Diabetes
- Excessive thirst (drinking more water more often)
- Increased urination, accidents in the house, or frequent potty breaks
- Weight loss due to inefficient nutrient conversion
- Increased hunger (body’s cells aren’t getting enough fuel)
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness, lethargy
- Depression, inactivity
- Enlarged liver, liver failure
- Urinary tract infections
- Kidney failure
- Medical emergency
- Rapid breathing
Food to Help Avoid Dog Diabetes
The best thing you can do for your pet is to maintain a healthy, nutritionally balanced diet! Ensure your dog maintains a healthy weight and keep up with your regular veterinary visits.
While it is not necessary to avoid grains altogether, try to avoid foods made nearly entirely of corn or wheat (too many high carbohydrate sources, for example).