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What are the Signs of Diabetes in Pets?

Diabetes is more common in older pets, but it can also occur in younger or pregnant pets. November is Pet Diabetes Awareness Month, making this the perfect time to talk about pet diabetes, the signs and what you can do to help manage this disease. The good news is that with proper monitoring, treatment, and diet and exercise, diabetic pets can lead long and happy lives.

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body can not use glucose (a type of sugar) normally. Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells.   The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is made by the pancreas.

In human patients, diabetes is classified as Type I or Type II.  Type I occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin, and type II occurs when the body can not respond normally to the amount of insulin made by the pancreas.  Although diabetes in pets is sometimes classified as Type I or II, the difference between the types is less clear in pets than it is in humans.

What Can Make a Dog at Risk for Diabetes?

  • Age. While diabetes can occur at any age, it mostly occurs in middle-aged to senior dogs. Most dogs who develop it are age 5 or older when diagnosed.
  • Gender. Unspayed female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to have diabetes.
  • Chronic or repeated pancreatitis. Chronic or repeated pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) can eventually cause extensive damage to that organ, resulting in diabetes.
  • Obesity. Obesity contributes to insulin resistance and is a risk factor for pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes.
  • Steroid medications. These can cause diabetes when used long-term.
  • Cushing’s disease. With Cushing’s disease, the body overproduces steroids internally, so this condition also can cause diabetes.
  • Other health conditions. Some autoimmune disorders and viral diseases are also thought to possibly trigger diabetes.
  • Genetics. Diabetes can occur in any breed or mixed-breed, and it seems genetics can play a role in either increased or reduced risk. A 2003 study found that overall, mixed-breeds are no less prone to diabetes than are purebreds. Among purebreds, breeds vary in susceptibility, some with very low risk and others with higher risk. Some that may be at higher risk include miniature Poodles, Bichons Frises, Pugs, Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Puli, Samoyeds, Keeshonds, Australian Terriers, Fox Terriers, Cairn Terriers, and Beagles.

What are the signs of diabetes in pets?
Noticing the early signs of diabetes is the most important step in taking care of your pet. If you see any of the following signs, your pet should be examined by a veterinarian. The earlier the diagnosis, the better chance your pet may have for a longer and healthier life.

  • Excessive water drinking and increased urination
  • Weight loss, even though there may be an increased appetite
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cloudy eyes (especially in dogs)
  • Chronic or recurring infections (including skin infections and urinary infections)

Diabetes may be suspected based on the signs a pet is showing, but the diagnosis is confirmed by your veterinarian by finding consistent hyperglycemia and glucosuria. Although a diagnosis of diabetes is often relatively straightforward, your veterinarian may run additional blood tests to rule out other medical conditions seen in older pets.  A urine culture might be recommended to rule out a urinary tract infection. 

Successful treatment of diabetes requires regular examinations, blood and urine tests, and monitoring your pet’s weight, appetite, drinking and urination. 

Dogs and cats with diabetes usually require lifelong treatment with special diets, a good fitness regimen and, particularly in dogs, daily insulin injections.  The key to managing diabetic pets is to keep your pet’s blood sugar near normal levels and avoid too-high or too-low levels that can be life-threatening.  A treatment that works for one pet might not work as well for another pet, and patience is important as you and your pet adjust to the new diet and medications.