What Are The Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs?

When a dog presents with diabetes, the clinical signs are easy to spot.

Excessive Urination.

You may notice your usually well trained dog starts to urinate in the house, even in it's sleep. This is caused by an elevated level of glucose in the dog's blood resulting in the dog needing to drink excessive amounts of water to expel the sugar out of their body through the urine. This is known as polyuria (excessive urination). Try not to scold your dog for this, they cannot help it and it will usually stop once treatment starts and your dog's blood glucose levels reduce. Diabetic dogs are also prone to urinary tract infections due to the excess glucose in the urine and this in turn can lead to accidents in the home due to an uncontrollable urge to urinate often. If your dog’s urine is sticky it also means that it contains glucose and should be further investigated.

Excessive Thirst.

As mentioned, a dog presenting with diabetes that is either unregulated or not yet receiving treatment for the disease, will drink excessive amounts of water, known as polydipsia. The need to drink water is due to the high sugar levels in the blood. Glucose begins spilling into the urine, this is called the renal threshold, attracting water from other body tissues. The uncontrolled elevation of glucose in the blood leads to dehydration causing the dog to drink excessive amounts. This usually stops quite quickly when your dog begins insulin treatment. However, even once regulated, if your dog has an episode of high blood sugar levels, he will begin searching out water. Never withhold water from a diabetic dog.

Rapid Weight Loss.

A symptom that is very common in newly diabetic and unregulated dogs is rapid weight loss. You may find your dog is also experiencing excessive hunger and will search constantly for food. This is due to the lack of insulin in the body which is needed to convert the glucose in the blood into energy. When the body can no longer produce energy from glucose, it will take the fat from the body and use that instead. Once the fat has been used the body will then start on the muscles leading to diabetic neuropathy.

Unusual Panting.

Heavy and unusual panting is often suffered by dogs when the glucose in the blood reaches a certain level. Panting may also be caused by a disease that is often associated with diabetes in dogs - Cushing’s Disease (Hyperadrenocorticism). Cushing’s most noticeable symptoms are an enlarged 'pot belly' abdomen and hair loss. Cushings disease makes regulating a dog's diabetes more of a challenge often resulting in the need for a higher insulin dosage.

Sweet Smelling Breath.

A sweet, fruity smelling breath, not unlike acetones, is a common indication of Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA). Ketoacidosis is a serious metabolic emergency and must be dealt with by a vet immediately as this can become fatal very quickly. DKA can develop when a dog has suffered from long term undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes mellitus, due to a consistently high blood glucose level. Because of  the lack of insulin, glucose cannot be used by the body for energy. The body will then use fats instead to provide energy needed for the dog. Lipolysis is the breakdown of lipids which involves hydrolysis of triglycerides into glycerol and free fatty acids. During lipolysis, high levels of ketones are produced. Ketosis and acidosis then will develop and are accompanied by electrolyte imbalances. In the early stages, the main signs of diabetic ketoacidosis are: passing large amounts of urine, severe thirst, nausea and sickness, refusing food, lethargy, stomach pain and heavy panting. Ketoacidosis is an emergency and treatment must be started as soon as possible. Treatment involves a hospital stay with intravenous fluid therapy given to correct fluid deficits, acid-base balance and electrolyte balance, also intravenous administration of rapid-acting insulin to lower high blood glucose levels caused by the presence of ketones. Caninsulin is an intermediate-acting insulin and is not suitable for intravenous administration. Blood glucose needs to be lowered and staying between 11 and 14 mmol/L for at least 4-10 hours before Caninsulin can be administered subcutaneously.

Lethargy, Sickness and Diarrhoea.

Lethargy, sickness and diarrhoea, as well as a tender stomach and the refusal of food are amongst the common signs of your dog developing Ketoacidosis or Pancreatitis. If your dog presents any of these symptoms please seek vet intervention as soon as possible.

The good news is that most, if not all of the symptoms listed above disappear once a dog begins receiving daily insulin. Diabetes is not a disease than should be left untreated for any length of time and ideally needs managing as soon as any symptoms arise. Diagnosis involves a simple blood test and urine test undertaken at your vets office.