Diabetes in Pets

Pet Health and Safety  •  Pam Karkow  •  Friday, November 20, 2020

Whenever I think of diabetes, I remember the famous scene in Steel Magnolias when Shelby (played by Julia Roberts) is getting her hair done before her wedding. She suffers a hypoglycemic attack and begins to shake and act confused. As beads of sweat appear on her face, her mom tries to force her to drink a cup of orange juice. The scene is a frightening portrayal of what can happen when a body’s sugar levels are not regulated. Diabetes not only affects people, but can also impact dogs, cats, and other animals (including apes, pigs, and horses). Dogs can’t tell us when they feel bad, so it is important to know the warning signs of diabetes as well as understand just what it does to the body.

Breaking down diabetes…

Before we dive in, let’s talk about the relationship between glucose and insulin. Glucose is fuel for your body’s cells and insulin is the “gatekeeper” that tells your cells to grab the glucose out of the bloodstream so your body can use that fuel. So, low on insulin, low on fuel, and high on sugar. Both of which can wreak havoc on a body’s (animal’s) system.

Types of diabetes

Insulin-deficiency diabetes

In this type of diabetes, the most common for canines, your dog’s body is not producing enough insulin. The pancreas (an important organ located next to the stomach) is the organ responsible for releasing insulin into the body. When the pancreas is damaged or not functioning well, it doesn’t release enough insulin. Dogs with insulin-deficiency diabetes must be administered daily shots to replace the missing insulin. 

Insulin-resistance diabetes

The pancreas produces some insulin with this type of diabetes, but your dog’s body is not utilizing it well. Your dog’s cells aren’t responding to the gatekeeper’s (aka insulin’s) message to pull the glucose out of the bloodstream for use as fuel. This type of diabetes is common in older and/or obese dogs.

Warning signs of Diabetes?

There are early signs of diabetes such as excessive thirst, an increase in urination, weight loss, and an increase in appetite. More advanced signs of diabetes include loss of appetite, lack of energy, depressed attitude, and vomiting. If you suspect your dog is suffering from diabetes, make sure to visit your vet, who will conduct a series of tests including checking for excessive glucose (sugar) in the blood and urine.

What causes diabetes in dogs?

Diabetes can be genetic, but it also hinges on a few other factors, some of which are in our control as pet parents. Unspayed female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to become diabetic, which is another reason it is wise to spay your dog if you don’t plan on having puppies. PetPartners can help reimburse towards having your dog spayed/neutered with the PetPartners DefenderPlus Wellness Plan. The flexibility of this plan allows you to choose which benefits work best for you and your dog. For more on the benefits of having your female dog spayed, see our post, Spay/Neuter Awareness Month.

Additionally, dogs who are obese or take a steroid medication (long-term) are also at greater risk. Of course, age and other health conditions such as pancreatitis, both out of our hands, are risk factors, too. 

Is there a treatment?

Yes! Diet, exercise, and/or injections can help.


Diet plays an important role in keeping your diabetic dog healthy and happy. It is important to check with your vet for his recommendations on the type of food you feed your dog and to be careful about feeding your dog anything besides his dog food. Your vet will most likely recommend food with a good quality protein source and plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates that will slow the absorption of glucose. 


As far as exercise goes, this one is a no-brainer. The PetMD article, Exercising with Your Dog 101 states, “Though exercise needs are based on a dog’s age, breed, size, and overall health, your dog should spend between 30 minutes to two hours on an activity every day.” If you need ideas for how to provide exercise for your dog even during the winter months, read our post, Safe Winter Workouts for Dogs.


Injections will need to be given if your dog has insulin-deficiency diabetes. Insulin cannot be given orally because it is a protein, so the acids in the stomach would digest it. With the proper training by your vet, you can administer these shots at home, and giving the shots will become a quick and easy daily routine. Your veterinarian will determine the proper dose of insulin through a series of glucose level tests. It is best to give your dog the insulin shot with a meal.

Preparation is key!

Diabetes can sound like a scary diagnosis, but armed with information and the proper care, you can manage your dog’s diabetes successfully without complications. Communication is key, so providing your vet with feedback regarding your pet’s behaviors and eating/drinking habits will be important throughout your dog’s life. Keeping a journal to document your dog’s progress and any setbacks may prove helpful as you work with your vet to determine the best foods and proper dosage of insulin.

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