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Understanding Diabetes in Dogs

By Kathleen Buffington

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What Is Diabetes in Dogs?

Humans aren’t the only ones who can develop diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic disease that can affect dogs, cats, and other animals. Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder where a dog’s body cannot properly produce enough or respond appropriately to the hormone insulin. This results in persistently elevated levels of blood sugar (glucose) called hyperglycemia, which can cause various symptoms and lead to other conditions. Left untreated or poorly treated, diabetes can result in life-threatening complications.

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Forms of Diabetes

Diabetes occurs in dogs in 1 form: 

  • Type 1 (insulin-deficiency diabetes) is when the dog’s body isn’t producing enough insulin. Dogs with this type of diabetes need daily shots to replace the missing insulin.

7 Signs of Diabetes in Dogs 


Early signs of diabetes in your dog can include:

1. Excessive thirst

Your dog may drink more frequently, emptying the water bowl more often.

2. Increased urination

Your dog may want to go out more frequently or may start having “accidents” in the house.

3. Weight loss

Your dog may lose weight even when eating normal portions of food. As your dog’s body breaks down fats and proteins as a substitute source of energy, your dog is unable to efficiently convert nutrients from his food.

4. Fatigue, lethargy, and decreased energy levels

Changes in glucose levels can affect your dog’s energy levels.

5. Develop cataracts

Your dog may develop cloudy eyes due to excess sugars in the eye fluids, which can lead to eventual blindness.

6. Recurrent infections

Your dog may develop bacterial and fungal infections including urinary tract infections and skin infections, among others.

7. Slow wound healing

Your dog’s high glucose levels may impair their body’s ability to repair and regenerate tissue.

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Diabetes and Weight Loss in Dogs

Diabetes mellitus can cause rapid weight loss in dogs. This disease occurs when a dog’s insulin levels are low, causing an inability to efficiently utilize glucose (blood sugar) as an energy source. When your dog does not have proper insulin levels or the levels are not balanced, this will lead to weight loss. Insufficient insulin prevents glucose from entering cells, leading to a cellular energy deficit and subsequent breakdown of fat and muscle for energy. Not only can this lead to significant weight loss, but also muscle loss. Fortunately, weight loss and muscle loss can be maintained or even reversed with proper insulin management, regular exercise, and dietary changes.

Diet for Diabetic Dogs  


A balanced, consistent, and controlled diet is crucial in managing diabetes in dogs. Diets for diabetic dogs typically focus on controlling blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight, and providing adequate nutrition. Although there isn’t an all-in-one diet that will work for every diabetic dog, one of the most important approaches is to maintain consistency with feeding the same food and treats, along with insulin injections, at the same times each day.

High fiber and complex carbohydrates

Feeding your dog a high-fiber diet with complex carbohydrates can help slow down glucose absorption and prevent blood sugar spikes.

Diabetic dog foods

Prescription diabetic dog foods are available, and consultation with your veterinarian is recommended to determine the most suitable option.

Portion control

Portion control and regular feeding times are important to ensure consistent glucose levels throughout the day.

Treats and snacks

Treats and snacks should be limited based on your veterinarian’s advice.

Mix wet and dry food

Some veterinarians recommend a mix of wet and dry food to incorporate moisture and regulate calorie intake.

Regular monitoring

Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels and consultation with your veterinarian can help make necessary adjustments to the diet plan.

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Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) in Dogs

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) is a life-threatening complication of diabetes mellitus that occurs when there is not enough insulin in a dog’s body to control blood sugar (glucose) levels. Without insulin, the body cannot process or use glucose properly. When glucose levels are too high, the body creates ketone bodies from fat as an emergency source of fuel. Ketones are safe in small amounts, but using large amounts causes major health complications for dogs. It quickly leads to severe dehydration, which causes a cascade of other dangerous issues and requires rapid and intense medical intervention.


For diabetic dogs, consistent and proper insulin dosing, monitoring of blood glucose levels, and communicating with your veterinarian are key steps to help prevent DKA.

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Key Takeaways

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease.

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic disease that affects how your dog’s body regulates blood sugar levels effectively to convert food into energy. This disease will always require insulin to manage the syndrome.

Managing your dog’s diet is crucial.

A balanced, consistent, and controlled diet is crucial in managing diabetes in dogs. 

Diabetic ketoacidosis can be fatal.

Without speedy, aggressive, and appropriate medical therapy, diabetic ketoacidosis is fatal.

Your vet can help create a treatment plan.

Your veterinarian is key in creating and implementing a treatment and management plan specific to your dog’s needs.

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Kathleen Buffington

Kathleen “Kat” Buffington graduated from the University of Georgia’s School of Agriculture with a degree in biology. She began an over decade-long career in the animal health industry where she’s pursued her passion: training & educating others in all aspects of animal health. Outside of her career, she enjoys spending time with her friends & family, including 2 cats & 2 dogs.

Kathleen Buffington

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