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Canine Diabetes: Recognizing Symptoms and Management | Pupford

February 12th, 2024

Filed under Dog Health

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Canine diabetes is a complex metabolic disorder that affects dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes. Similar to diabetes in humans, it involves problems with insulin production or utilization, leading to abnormal blood sugar levels. Left untreated, canine diabetes can result in serious health complications.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention, and management strategies for canine diabetes, empowering dog owners to recognize the signs early and provide optimal care for their furry companions.

Table of Contents:

  1. Understanding Canine Diabetes
  2. Causes of Canine Diabetes
  3. Recognizing Symptoms
  4. Diagnosing Canine Diabetes
  5. Prevention
  6. Managing Canine Diabetes
  7. Living with a Diabetic Dog

Understanding Canine Diabetes

Canine diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus in dogs, is a metabolic disorder that affects their ability to regulate blood sugar. Approximately 1 in 500 dogs will get diabetes.

Canine diabetes encompasses two primary types: Type 1 and Type 2.

In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin, the hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels. This deficiency may result from autoimmune destruction of insulin-producing cells or other factors. This form of diabetes is more common in dogs.

On the other hand, Type 2 diabetes involves insulin resistance, where the body's cells become less responsive to insulin, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. Obesity is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes in dogs, as excess body fat can impair insulin sensitivity.

Causes of Canine Diabetes

The onset of canine diabetes is attributed to multiple factors. Here are 7 potential predisposing factors of canine diabetes.

Genetic Predisposition

Genetics play a significant role in predisposing certain dog breeds to diabetes. Breeds such as Samoyeds, Miniature Schnauzers, Poodles, Pugs, Dachshunds, Beagles, and Cairn Terriers are known to have a higher genetic predisposition to diabetes. While genetics alone may not cause diabetes, they contribute to an increased susceptibility to the condition.

a photo of two schnauzers running in a grassy field

Immune-Mediated Disease

In some cases, canine diabetes may result from immune-mediated destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. This autoimmune response disrupts insulin production, leading to insulin deficiency and subsequent diabetes. Immune-mediated diseases, such as immune-mediated thyroiditis or systemic lupus erythematosus, can trigger this autoimmune response, contributing to the development of diabetes.

Pancreatic Disease or Injury

Diseases or injuries affecting the pancreas can impair its ability to produce insulin, leading to diabetes. Conditions such as chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic tumors, or pancreas trauma can disrupt the normal functioning of pancreatic cells responsible for insulin secretion. Damage to pancreatic tissue interferes with insulin production, contributing to the onset of diabetes in affected dogs.


Obesity is a significant risk factor for the development of Type 2 diabetes in dogs. Excess body fat alters the body's metabolism and insulin sensitivity, leading to insulin resistance. As a result, the pancreas must produce more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, eventually leading to pancreatic exhaustion and diabetes. Obesity prevention through proper diet and exercise is essential in mitigating this risk factor.

a photo of an overweight mixed breed dog sitting and staring up at their owner


While diabetes can affect male and female dogs, some studies suggest a slightly higher incidence in females. Hormonal differences between male and female dogs may contribute to variations in diabetes prevalence.

According to the American Kennel Club, unspayed female dogs are twice as likely to get diabetes compared to male dogs.


While dogs of any age can be diagnosed with diabetes, it is most common in middle-aged and senior dogs. Primarily diagnosis is between the ages of 7 to 9.

Steroid Use

Long-term administration of corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can increase the risk of diabetes in dogs. Corticosteroids interfere with insulin function and glucose metabolism, leading to insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar levels.

Dogs prescribed corticosteroids for conditions like allergies, autoimmune diseases, or inflammatory conditions require close monitoring for potential diabetes development.

a photo of a brown and white husky at the vet getting head scratches

Recognizing Symptoms

Early detection of canine diabetes is essential for prompt intervention and improved outcomes. Here are 8 common symptoms to look out for.

Increased Thirst & Urination (Polydipsia & Polyuria)

One of the hallmark symptoms of canine diabetes is increased thirst and urination, also known as polydipsia and polyuria, respectively.

Dogs with diabetes often exhibit excessive thirst, leading them to drink more water than usual. This excessive drinking is accompanied by frequent urination, as the kidneys attempt to eliminate the excess glucose from the bloodstream.

Pup parents may notice their dog needing to urinate more frequently or having accidents indoors due to the increased urgency.

a photo of a beagle drinking water from a bowl

Weight Loss

Despite maintaining or even increasing their food intake, dogs with diabetes may experience unexplained weight loss.

The body's inability to properly utilize glucose for energy leads to the breakdown of fat and muscle tissue as alternative fuel sources, resulting in weight loss. Pup parents should monitor their dog's body condition regularly and consult a veterinarian if they notice significant or unexplained weight loss.

Change in Appetite (Polyphagia)

Some diabetic dogs exhibit an increase in appetite, known as polyphagia, despite losing weight.

This increased hunger is driven by the body's inability to effectively use glucose for energy, leading to persistent feelings of hunger. While some dogs may experience increased appetite, others may exhibit a decreased appetite or even food aversion.

Changes in appetite should be noted and discussed with a veterinarian, as they may indicate underlying health issues.


Lethargy or decreased energy levels are common symptoms of canine diabetes.

Dogs with diabetes may appear lethargic, weak, or less active than usual. This lethargy is often a result of the body's inability to properly regulate blood sugar levels, leading to fluctuations in energy levels.

Pup parents should pay attention to changes in their dog's activity level and behavior, as persistent lethargy may indicate an underlying health issue requiring veterinary attention.

a photo of a German Shepherd sleeping on hardwood floor

Cloudy Eyes (Cataracts)

Cloudy or opaque eyes, known as cataracts, may develop in diabetic dogs as a result of elevated blood sugar levels affecting the lenses of the eyes. Cataracts cause visual impairment and may progress to complete blindness if left untreated.

Pup parents should monitor their dog's eyes for signs of cloudiness, blurriness, or changes in vision, as early detection and treatment of cataracts are essential for preserving vision and preventing complications.

Urinary Tract Infections

Dogs with diabetes are more prone to developing urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to elevated glucose levels in the urine, which create an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Symptoms of UTIs in dogs include increased frequency of urination, straining to urinate, bloody or cloudy urine, and signs of discomfort while urinating. UTIs can exacerbate the symptoms of diabetes and require prompt veterinary treatment to prevent complications and promote healing.


Vomiting can be a symptom of advanced diabetes in dogs, particularly when blood sugar levels become dangerously high (hyperglycemia) or when diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) develops.

a photo of a yellow lab laying on the ground with a blue ice pack on their head

Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a severe complication of untreated or poorly managed diabetes in dogs. It occurs when the body breaks down fat for energy in the absence of sufficient insulin, leading to the production of ketones and metabolic acidosis.

Symptoms of DKA include vomiting, weakness, rapid breathing, lethargy, dehydration, and a fruity odor on the breath. DKA is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary treatment to stabilize the dog's condition and prevent life-threatening complications.

As devoted pup parents, it is crucial to monitor our dogs closely and seek veterinary attention if any of these signs are observed.

Diagnosing Canine Diabetes

Diagnosing canine diabetes involves a thorough veterinary evaluation, including a physical examination, blood tests (such as glucose levels), and urinalysis.

These tests help confirm the presence of diabetes, differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, assess the severity of the condition, and rule out other underlying health issues. Early diagnosis enables timely initiation of treatment, preventing further complications and improving the prognosis for affected dogs.


While some risk factors for canine diabetes, such as breed predisposition and genetics, cannot be modified, there are preventive measures that pup parents can take to reduce the likelihood of their dogs developing diabetes.

Maintaining a healthy weight through regular exercise and a balanced diet is crucial, as obesity is a significant risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Providing a nutritious diet with appropriate portion sizes and avoiding excessive high-calorie treats and table scraps can help prevent weight gain and promote overall wellness.

Our training treats are the perfect option for pups looking to watch their waistline. Shop our full line of Freeze Dried Training Treat flavors!

Additionally, scheduling regular veterinary check-ups allows for early detection of any underlying health issues, including diabetes, facilitating prompt intervention and management.

a photo of a dog watching someone prepare vegtables on a counter

Managing Canine Diabetes

Effective management of canine diabetes requires a multidisciplinary approach involving dietary modifications, insulin therapy, exercise, and ongoing veterinary care.

A veterinarian will prescribe an individualized treatment plan tailored to the dog's specific needs, including the type of insulin, dosage, administration schedule, and dietary recommendations.

Consistent monitoring of blood glucose levels, adherence to medication protocols, and regular veterinary follow-ups are essential for optimizing treatment outcomes and ensuring the dog's well-being.

Living with a Diabetic Dog

Living with a diabetic dog entails making adjustments to daily routines and providing supportive care to maintain the pup's health and quality of life.

This may include administering insulin injections as prescribed, monitoring food intake to regulate blood sugar levels, maintaining a consistent exercise regimen to promote weight management and overall fitness, and scheduling regular veterinary appointments for monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan.

Pup parents should also be prepared to manage any potential complications that may arise and seek timely veterinary assistance when needed.

While managing diabetes in dogs can be challenging, with proper care and attention, diabetic dogs can lead happy, fulfilling lives alongside their loving families.

a photo of a pomeranian getting a shot

Canine Diabetes Recap

Canine diabetes is a complex yet manageable condition that requires vigilance, dedication, and ongoing veterinary support.

By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, implementing preventive measures, and adopting effective management strategies, dog owners can provide their diabetic pets with the best possible care and quality of life.

Remember, early detection, proactive management, and a collaborative partnership with your veterinarian are key to successfully navigating the challenges of canine diabetes and ensuring a bright future for your furry companion.

Shop all of our Pupford products for everything you need for a happy and healthy pup!


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