The incidence of diabetes in the dog population is not very high, but all veterinarians are called upon to deal with this complicated disorder from time to time. Diabetes occurs more frequently in female dogs and is more common in older dogs over 5 years old. There seems to be no breed susceptibility, but it has not been reported in boxer dogs.
Why is my dog losing weight and drinking lots of water?
The underlying cause of diabetes in dogs is a deficiency of insulin in the animal. Insulin is a hormone secreted by specialized cells within the pancreatic gland.
In a normal dog, there is a balance between the levels of insulin and two hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. This balance keeps the level of blood sugar constant by allowing excess glucose formed from the breakdown of food to be stored in the liver.
When there is a deficiency of insulin glucose storage within the liver does not occur and excess glucose accumulates in the blood. As the blood sugar levels increase, glucose is lost from the kidney cells into the urine.
Water is drawn from the kidney cells to balance the rise in osmotic pressure of the urine causing the dog to compensate by drinking water excessively.
Increased thirst is one of the first symptoms of diabetes in dogs. The constant loss of glucose through the kidneys prevents the dog from utilizing the full energy potential of its daily food so that it becomes excessively hungry.
Even if extra food is available the dog loses weight, as another important function of insulin in the body is to build protein and fat from surplus carbohydrates. The hormones from the pituitary gland exacerbate the weight loss by promoting the breakdown of stored protein and fat to form more glucose and fatty acids.
The symptoms of diabetes vary according to the degree of insulin insufficiency and the length of time that the condition has been present. At first, the dog may only have increased thirst and loss of weight, despite eating more.
As more of the body’s reserves of fats and proteins are used, the by-products of this breakdown accumulate in the blood and begin to produce toxic effects. Vomiting and dehydration soon lead to muscle weakness, labored breathing, and eventually collapse and death.
How do you treat a diabetic dog?
Treatment of diabetes is possible by administering a daily dosage of insulin by injection.
The amount of insulin necessary to supply the daily needs is found by hospitalizing the dog and gradually increasing the dosage of insulin until the blood sugar falls to an acceptable level.
This dosage of insulin is directly related to the amount of food eaten and the amount of exercise taken by the dog daily. It is most important to keep both the amount of food and type of food constant. Exercise decreases the amount of insulin required, so that marked changes in the daily activity of the dog must be avoided.
Treatment of dogs showing toxic effects from prolonged insulin insufficiency is very difficult, as irreversible changes may have occurred before treatment is begun.
Any dog showing the early warning signs of loss of weight and excessive thirst should be examined by your veterinarian as the treatment of uncomplicated diabetes is quite feasible.
Choosing an appropriate diet for your diabetic dog is very important. Due to their condition, they urinate much more than a healthy dog, so they are losing a lot of fluids from their body. This can quickly lead to dehydration.
Always provide a large bowl of fresh, clean drinking water and change this daily. A dog suffering from diabetes will drink excessively to try and combat the fluid loss caused by their increased urination.
Many veterinarians will advise a wet food diet for diabetic dogs as the moisture content is much higher than dry kibble. This will also help to reduce the effects of fluid loss for your diabetic dog.
When it comes to nutritional content, fiber is definitely necessary. Insoluble fibers are the ones to look for and are usually labeled as ‘crude fiber’. These fibers slow the digestive process and the absorption of carbohydrates, which is beneficial to regulating blood sugar levels.
Be mindful that increasing your dog’s fiber intake will also increase the amount of fecal matter the digestive system produces. To prevent any unwanted accidents, you may need to add additional walks or increase the amount of time your dog has access to the yard or garden.
If your diabetic dog is carrying a little extra weight, changing onto a lower calorie diet or offering smaller portions will help with controlling the diabetes. Remember, when changing your dog’s diet, it is best to do so slowly over at least a week.
Add a small amount of the new food to their current diet. If they tolerate the new food without any side effects, you can begin to increase the amount of the new food and decrease the amount of the old diet.
Your veterinarian may advise you on certain brands of dog food that are veterinary certified for dogs with diabetes. It is not necessary to choose only from what your veterinarian recommends, but you can compare those to other suitable brands by checking the nutrient contents and choosing the one you think is best suited to your dog’s needs.
What should a diabetic dog not eat?
To ensure good control over your dog’s symptoms, maintaining the consistency of his diet is key. This means giving the same sized portions at each mealtime and keeping those mealtimes the same each day.
You should also refrain from giving any tables craps or leftovers as treats. This is because you cannot be sure of the sugar content in processed or cooked human food or how they will affect your dog’s symptoms.
When checking labels of dog food, avoid those that list things like corn syrup, sugar or honey. These foods contain fructose and sucrose which will raise your dog’s blood sugar levels and cause him to feel quite unwell. It will also make controlling his insulin more difficult.
Finally, if you are giving fiber supplements rather than feeding a high fiber diet, avoids those which have added sugars or sweeteners. The most common sweetener used in mass produced food is Xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.