Everything You Need to Know About Canine Diabetes
Diabetes is the most common endocrine related condition in dogs. It can be classified into two categories.
• Diabetes insipidus: This occurs as a result of the body (kidneys) being unable to regulate water content.
• Diabetes Mellitus: This is the most common type of diabetes. It occurs as a result of the body being unable to regulate sugar levels in the bloodstream due to inefficiency of the hormone known as insulin or decreased insulin production by body cells. It’s characterized by hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (excess sugar in urine).
Insulin is a metabolic hormone secreted by the beta cells found in the pancreas. It helps in the regulation of blood sugar levels. In cases of hyperglycemia especially after a meal, it is secreted and sensitizes cells of body tissues to take up glucose from the blood stream , store it and release it when the blood sugar is low especially in between meals or during physical activity.
For the sake of this article we will focus on diabetes mellitus.
Diabetes Mellitus, as mentioned above, is the most common form of diabetes in dogs. It can manifest itself in two forms.
• Type 1 Diabetes: This is an auto immune disease where the body fights against the beta cells found in the pancreas that secretes insulin. This results in a deficiency in insulin in the body. It is the most common form of diabetes in dogs.
• Type 2 diabetes: This occurs when body tissues are insensitive to insulin. It’s common among senior and obese dogs. Accumulation of visceral fat around body organs prevents activation of body cells by insulin to take up glucose which is essential in energy production in the body.
How Does Canine Diabetes Occur?
When a dog is deficient of insulin, blood sugar levels increase. The cells’ inability to take up glucose for energy results in the breakdown of fats and proteins as alternative sources of energy. This in effect leads to muscle wasting and loss of weight, which in turn causes the dog to have a high appetite. As the body tries to rid of the excess sugar in the blood through the kidneys, it causes seepage of water into the kidney tubes (glucose has a high osmotic pressure than water) which results in excretion of high amounts urine. This results in an increase thirst and intake of water. High glucose levels not only rob cells of body tissues energy required to run physiological processes but also leads to multiple organ damage e.g. kidneys, eyes, heart and nerves among others.
Signs of Diabetes Mellitus
• Increased thirst
• Increased urination
• Ravenous appetite
• Increased appetite
Other side effects resulting from diabetes include:
• Kidney failure
• Enlarged liver
• Urinary tract infections
Diagnosing Canine Diabetes
A veterinarian will ask about the history of the dog in an effort to establish presence of the four classical signs of diabetes. Thereafter they will measure glucose levels in both blood and in urine. Blood glucose levels between 22 and 33 mmol/L are usually a confirmatory diagnosis of diabetes mellitus. Normal blood glucose levels lie between 4.4 to 6.6 mmol/L. Glucose levels increase after meals and it’s therefore advised to do the blood test after fasting off food overnight.
Treatment of Canine Diabetes
Diabetes is a chronic condition requiring lifetime management. Treatment entails use of exogenous insulin, dietary management and exercise.
Injectable insulin is usually prescribed for diabetic dogs, which should be given during meal times. The diet should be high in protein, moderate in fat and have minimal carbohydrates. Foods high in fiber such as pumpkins, sprouts etc. help in managing blood sugar fluctuations and should also be included in the diet especially in obese dogs. Meals should be consistent and given at fixed times. Insulin should be give within an hour after feeding to manage the spike in glucose levels. Treats should also be high in protein and contain very little carbohydrates. If possible raw lean meat is ideal or high protein vegetables. Commercial treats more often than not are high in carbohydrates, fillers and additives which can cause more harm than good. Treats should be given within 4-6 hours when insulin levels are at their peak as they might cause a spike in glucose levels.
Care should be taken not give a high dose of insulin as this can lead to low glucose levels which is life threatening especially if accompanied by strenuous physical activity.
Management of diabetes is a lifelong commitment especially to the owners. It is incurable and lasts until the terminal stages of a dog’s life.