The most common form of diabetes in older dogs is diabetes mellitus, often referred to as "sugar" diabetes. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin, which is necessary for the body to efficiently use sugars, fats, and proteins. This form of diabetes seems to occur more frequently with female dogs than male dogs. Onset usually appears when a dog is approximately 8 years old.
There are some conditions that predispose a dog to developing diabetes mellitus. For example, dogs that are overweight, have Cushing's disease, or have an inflammation of the pancreas are at greater risk of developing diabetes.
Symptoms of diabetes mellitus include:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Decreased vision (from cataracts)
If left untreated, a dog with diabetes is likely to develop kidney, bladder, or skin infections. They can also develop cataracts in the eyes, fat accumulation in the liver, and/or nerve or muscle dysfunction.
Treating diabetes mellitus
If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, it's a good idea to do some research and learn as much as you can about the disease. Depending on your dog, it may take several months of trials with a variety of types of insulin, dosage amounts, and numbers of insulin injections. Frequent visits to the vet will be required to gain control of the disease. Weight and diet management are also extremely important factors in treatment. A dog with controlled diabetes should be checked by a veterinarian at least every 2–4 months.
Tips for home care
- Keep a record of daily insulin dosages, water intake, urine output, appetite, and body weight.
- Closely follow the diet and exercise routine your vet recommends. This will help to minimize large fluctuations in your dog's sugar levels.
- Learn as much as you can about diabetes mellitus in dogs. The more you know, the more you can be of help to your dog.
- If you feel something is wrong, trust your instincts and contact your vet immediately.
- Maintain ongoing communication with your vet. He or she can be of tremendous help in terms of any new information or treatments.
- Join a support group with other dog owners who are successfully dealing with a diabetic dog. While a vet can provide excellent medical support, other dog owners can provide valuable emotional support.