The diagnosis of diabetes in a beloved family dog can be devastating. Can a dog with diabetes live a normal, happy life...and will caring for the pet be a tremendous or difficult responsibility? Care.com asked Dr. Shawn Kearns, a small animal internist at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, Mass. to answer these questions, and more.
Care.com: What causes diabetes in dogs?
Dr. Kearns: The most common cause of diabetes in dogs is believed to be immune destruction of the beta cells in the pancreas. These cells are responsible for the production of insulin, and once destroyed, insulin is no longer produced. The result is an insulin-dependent diabetes, commonly referred to as Type I diabetes in humans. There are other less common causes in dogs, such as a genetic predisposition, drug-induced diabetes, and diabetes secondary to pancreatitis.
Care.com: Can diabetes occur in any type of dog, and at any age?
Dr. Kearns: Yes, diabetes can occur in any dog and at any age, however it tends to occur in middle-aged dogs (6-9 years old). There are some dogs predisposed to diabetes and some breeds in which juvenile diabetes occurs more commonly. A genetic predisposition for diabetes mellitus is more common in German Shepherds, Schnauzers, Beagles and Poodles. Golden Retrievers and Keeshonds are more prone to juvenile diabetes.
Care.com: Many people believe that obesity causes diabetes in dogs. Is this true?
Dr. Kearns: Obesity is considered a cause of Type II or non-insulin dependent diabetes in that it causes resistance to the insulin being produced within the body. This is more common in humans and is considered a factor in cats as well. In dogs, however, diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin production. Managing weight control is important in managing diabetes in dogs, though, because obesity may affect the response to the insulin injections.
Care.com: What are the symptoms?
Dr. Kearns: Symptoms of diabetes typically include an increase in water consumption, an increase in frequency and volume of urination, and weight loss even with a good appetite. However, some dogs with untreated diabetes can also present with a history of these signs that has progressed to inappetance (decreased or lack or appetite), vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy.
Care.com: What tests determine if a dog has diabetes?
Dr. Kearns: Generally a blood glucose and a urine glucose are sufficient to diagnose diabetes in dogs.
Care.com: Once diabetes has been diagnosed, what kind of diet or treatment is necessary to keep the dog healthy?
Dr. Kearns: Dogs need insulin for the treatment of diabetes. Most diets formulated for diabetes are high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, as this has been shown to help with fluctuations in glucose through the day. This diet also helps with maintaining a healthy weight in many dogs. Diets higher in simple sugars, such as semi-moist foods, are not recommended.
Care.com: Can anyone care for a diabetic dog, or does treatment require special skills?
Dr. Kearns: Treatment does require the ability to give injections with a very small needle, so owners must be able to do this. Most are able to learn how during a short training session with a doctor or technician.
Care.com: How often should a diabetic dog visit the vet?
Dr Kearns: The frequency of vet visits depends on how well the animal responds to treatment. Although most dogs respond well to treatment and can be rechecked every 4-6 months, some have other conditions or are more resistant to treatment, requiring more frequent visits.
Care.com: What will happen to a dog with diabetes if it doesn't receive treatment?
Dr. Kearns: Diabetes is a disease in which glucose is not reaching cells due to the lack of insulin. If untreated, the body essentially is in a state of starvation and starts to break down fats in addition to protein and carbohydrates. The breakdown of fats produces ketones. The build up of these ketones can make dogs very sick to the point of usually requiring very intense hospitalization.
Care.com: If diabetes is properly controlled, can the dog live a healthy, happy life with a normal life span?
Dr. Kearns: If diabetes is well controlled, dogs can live a happy, healthy life. However, they are more susceptible to infections and if other problems arise, treatment may become more difficult.
Care.com: Is there anything dog lovers can do to prevent the onset of diabetes in their pets?
Dr. Kearns: Since auto-immune destruction of the pancreas is the most common cause of diabetes in dogs, there is currently no way to prevent the onset.
Care.com: Where can people learn more about diabetes in dogs?
Dr. Kearns: There are many online sites with information on diabetes, including CanineDiabetes.org. There is a lot of information available on the Internet, so you should always consult your veterinarian before making any changes to your dog's treatment.
Faye Rapoport DesPres writes about pet care issues for Care.com and other publications. She has five cats and a website at ourplacetopaws.com.