Information about Diabetes in Dogs
What is Diabetes?
In order to understand the problems associated with diabetes, it is helpful to understand something of the normal body’s metabolism.
The cells of the body require the sugar known as glucose for energy, and they depend on the blood stream to bring glucose to them. However, cells cannot absorb and utilize glucose unless a chemical known as insulin is present. Insulin is normally produced by the pancreas.
In the diabetic animal, there is not enough insulin.
Because there is not enough insulin, the body’s cells cannot receive glucose from the bloodstream. The body is then “fooled” into thinking that starvation is occurring. This leads to protein, starch, and fat breakdown as the body utilizes its stored energy resources.
Yet, all along, there has been plenty of glucose in the blood; in fact, by now there is a large excess of glucose in the blood. In the diabetic animal, there is so much glucose in the blood that the kidney is overwhelmed and glucose spills into the urine. In severe cases, the byproducts of fat breakdown (known as ketones) are also found in the urine, which is a more complicated diabetic event.
Glucose draws extra water with it into the urine. This leads to excess urine production and excess thirst to keep up with the fluid loss caused by excessive urine production.
Here are the main clinical signs of diabetes:
- Excessive eating
- Excessive drinking
- Excessive urination
- Weight loss
Another common symptom of diabetes is urinary tract infections. All of the sugar in the urine makes the bladder an excellent incubator for bacteria. Antibiotics are necessary to clear up such an infection when it occurs, and analysis of the urine may be needed to help detect these infections.
In dogs, excessive glucose in the bloodstream can also affect the lens of the eyes, resulting in cataract formation. This phenomenon is not seen in cats.
How to Treat Pet Diabetes
The treatment for diabetes in dogs involves insulin injections, which are usually given twice daily. You can obtain insulin and insulin syringes, as well as information on how to give injections, from your veterinarian. These injections are usually given every 12 hours immediately before or after your pet eats a meal.
Never alter your pet’s insulin dose on your own. It is only through careful monitoring that an insulin dose should be adjusted. This monitoring typically involves blood and urine tests. Your veterinarian may keep your pet for a day to run a “glucose curve,” where your pet’s blood glucose is measured several times throughout the day. Another test called “fructosamine” involves just a single blood draw. The decision regarding which test to run depends on your pet’s individual case.
What to Watch For
The biggest concern for any diabetic is the development of hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood glucose levels. This occurs when the insulin or some other factor causes your pet’s blood glucose to drop too low. The signs of hypoglycemia include weakness, incoordination, trembling, lethargy, seizures, and coma.
If any of these signs are noted, immediately administer a sugar-containing solution, such as Karo syrup. Even simply pouring syrup on your pet’s gums will help raise his/her blood sugar levels. After doing this, immediately contact a veterinarian.
In addition, you should bring your pet in for a re-examination and/or bloodwork if you note any of the following:
- Sudden change in appetite (either a ravenous appetite or no appetite at all)
- Excessive thirst and/or urination
- Any general illness (lethargy, vomiting, etc.)
These are signs that your pet’s diabetes may not be under control. It is common for diabetics to need their insulin dose readjusted from time to time. During these re-regulation periods, expect additional blood and/or urine tests.
Some Pets are Difficult to Regulate
Some pets seem to require frequent re-regulation. There may be an underlying problem making it difficult to regulate your pet’s diabetes. Here are some possibilities should your pet fall under this category:
- Improper administration of insulin. If possible, have your veterinarian observe you giving the insulin injection to your pet. He or she may be able to offer some tips to make the injections more effective. In addition, it is important that the insulin is not expired.
- Rapid insulin metabolism. Insulin wears off quickly in some animals. Your pet may require a different type of insulin or more frequent injections (i.e. twice daily injections if you have been giving once daily injections).
- Insulin overdose. An insulin dose that is too high for a specific dog may actually lead to elevated glucose levels (and clinical signs of diabetes) at the end of the day. In these cases, excess eating, drinking, or urinating are seen in the afternoon and evening but not in the morning.
- Administration of other medications. Some medications (such as prednisone) will interfere with insulin.
- Hormones. Progesterone also interferes with insulin. Unspayed female diabetics should be spayed once they are sufficiently regulated.
Although diabetes is a permanent disease, the outlook with treatment is good. Most dogs will eventually develop cataracts, but otherwise they will go on to live a normal life span.
Diabetes: Giving Insulin Injections to Pets
- For the treatment of diabetes, your pet needs to receive insulin injections twice daily. Ideally, the injections should be given 12 hours apart and when your pet is fed.
- Insulin should be kept refrigerated.
- Never shake the insulin bottle as this can damage or destroy the insulin molecule. Instead, gently roll the bottle in your hands before drawing up insulin in the syringe.
- The syringes you will receive are disposable and “single use” only. We recommend saving an empty milk jug or bleach bottle to put the syringes in after they have been used. When the container is full, the lid can be screwed on and the entire container thrown away in the garbage. This prevents anyone who handles your trash from being accidentally “poked” by one of the needles.
- The needle attached to the syringe is very small and thus easy to bend. To prevent the needle from bending, insert the needle into the insulin bottle at a 90 degree angle (in other words, straight up and down).
- The correct volume is measured from the tip of the syringe (the end with the needle) to the tip of the black plunger. If you have any questions about how to measure the insulin, please call us; it is very important that your pet receive the right amount of insulin.
- When filling the syringe with the insulin dose, do the following:
- Holding the syringe, pull the white cap off the end of the plunger, then pull the red cap off to reveal the needle.
- Draw a small amount of air into the syringe.
- Insert the needle through the center of the rubber stopper on the vial of insulin.
- Turn the syringe and vial upside down and inject the air in the syringe into the vial. Then pull back on the plunger to draw insulin into the syringe. Draw in more insulin than you actually need.
- Inspect the syringe for air bubbles. Tap the syringe with your finger to get the bubbles to float to the tip of the syringe.
- Now push on the plunger to expel the air bubbles back into the vial and set the black plunger at the desired volume. NOTE: It will not harm your pet if you accidentally inject some air bubbles under the skin, but the bubbles in the syringe interfere with accurate measurement.
- Pull the needle out of the vial.
- When giving the insulin injection, do the following:
- Most pets hardly notice their insulin shots. However, for the first few days it is often helpful to have someone hold your pet as you get accustomed to giving the injections.
- Hold the syringe in your right hand (switch hands if you’re left-handed).
- Pull the skin of the back of the neck up with your left had to create a “tent.”
- Quickly put the needle through the animal’s skin as far as it will go. The needles are very sharp and thin, so this is easy and painless. However, take care to not push the needle through one layer of skin and not into your own finger, into the animals underlying muscle, or through the skin and out the other side!
- Making sure the syringe and needle are pressed against the skin, pull back on the plunger to make sure there is no blood.
- If no blood is seen, then push on the plunger to inject all of the insulin into your pet.
- If blood is seen, simply remove the syringe and re-insert at another point.
- Withdraw needle and dispose of syringe.
- Reward your pet with a favorite treat during or immediately after the injection and praise him or her generously. By making the procedure a pleasant experience, most pets will actually learn to look forward to their injection—all they think about is the treat!
If your pet escapes in the middle of an injection, don’t attempt a second injection and thus risk an overdose of insulin. Simply try again in 12 hours with your pet’s regular dose.
When you notice that you are running low on insulin, please call our office at least 10 days before you think you will need more. Because of its relatively short shelf life, we do not keep insulin in our pharmacy at all times, but instead only order it when we know a pet needs it.