By Dr John Rand, D.V.M.
Based on various population surveys, somewhere between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500 dogs will develop diabetes mellitus. Dogs most commonly develop diabetes due to an auto-immune destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas, the cells responsible for insulin production. After >90% of these cells are gone, the dog will start to show signs of diabetes. This destruction is permanent and leads to an absolute insulin deficiency. This lack of insulin is akin to Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus in humans. The inability to secrete sufficient insulin following a meal results in high blood sugar.
The normal blood sugar ranges for dogs are similar to those of humans, usually around 80-120 mg/dL, Common signs of diabetes in dogs include excessive thirst and urination, increased hunger, and weight loss. Sugar spills over from the blood into the urine, predisposing diabetic animals to urinary tract infection. At the time of diagnosis, somewhere around 50% of dogs with diabetes will have an asymptomatic bladder infection that will also have to be addressed. If not already present at the time of diagnosis, cataract formation and subsequent blindness is usually inevitable, even in well-regulated dogs.
Most dogs that are diagnosed with diabetes are middle aged to older (6-9 years), but juvenile onset can rarely occur. Female dogs are three times more likely to be diabetic than male dogs. While any breed can develop diabetes, schnauzers, beagles, poodles, and German Shepherd dogs seem to have higher prevalences than most.
Treating diabetes in dogs is all about regulating as much of their day to day life as possible.
Diabetic dogs should be fed exactly the same every day; same food, same volume, same times. Diabetic diets should contain a good quality protein, low fat, and complex carbohydrates with high fiber contents for slower glucose absorption.
The food should also be selected and rationed such that the pet is at an ideal body weight. Dogs are most effectively regulated when they are neither fat nor skinny. Obese dogs often have some degree of insulin resistance, necessitating higher doses of insulin and larger blood sugar fluctuations.
While exercise can help a pet to lose weight and otherwise keep them happy and healthy, exercise in diabetic dogs must be regulated. Strenuous or prolonged exercise can drastically affect the action of the insulin you are administering.
The more regularly you can monitor your pet’s blood sugar, be it at home or with your vet, the less risky the condition becomes, and the better prognosis becomes. Be sure to speak in depth with your veterinarian to know if you are doing everything you can to manage your dog appropriately. New advances and recommendations in diabetic monitoring and treatment are being made every day.
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