Caring for a Dog with Diabetes

Diabetes mellitus, often referred to as just diabetes, usually affects overweight, middle-aged dogs between the ages of 7 and 9 years. It is a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin. If untreated, diabetes will lead to an early death. Fortunately, treatment is available; you can give your dog insulin by injection to replace that which her body lacks.

The main components of managing your diabetic dog are medication, diet and monitoring. It’s also important to be able to recognize when her blood glucose levels are abnormal, because this can be an emergency.


Insulin is the cornerstone of your dog’s treatment. Virtually all dogs will require injections of insulin twice daily. There is a period after she has been diagnosed where your vet will adjust the exact dose and product to find what works best for her. This means you will need to keep a close watch on her during this time and let your veterinarian know how she is responding to treatment.  This period could last days or weeks, but when the dose and frequency of insulin injections are worked out, it will be much easier to manage her.


Your diabetic dog will be healthier if she is in good body condition. If she needs to lose a few pounds, consider using a prescription diet and regulating how much she gets to eat; your veterinarian can help you with this.

A diet with moderate carbohydrate levels and moderate fat content is a good choice. Recent research suggests that there’s no need to feed a high fiber food because there is no clinical benefit to the dog. There are a number of brand-name diets that fit the bill but many of the regular adult maintenance dog foods will also be suitable. Consistency in the timing, amount and type of food is extremely important — any changes to this will affect your dog’s insulin requirements.

Because exercise also has an effect on glucose metabolism, it’s important that her exercise levels are also kept consistent.


You will need to be watchful and look for signs that your dog’s diabetes is not well controlled.  There are two potential emergencies related to diabetes mellitus. In one, hypoglycemia, blood sugar levels drift too low. In the other, diabetic ketoacidosis, blood sugar levels rise too high.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose, will happen with an insulin overdose or if your dog’s meal has been excessively delayed. She will appear lethargic, dizzy and very weak. She may also vomit or have seizures. If you suspect hypoglycemia, rub some sugar syrup on her gums, and if she is able to eat, offer a small meal.  If vomiting or a seizure has occurred, you will need to get her to an Emergency clinic as soon as possible.

High blood glucose can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis, which also manifests as lethargy, dizziness, weakness, vomiting and seizures. You may also detect a smell of acetone on your dog’s breath. This is a medical emergency, and you will need to take her to your vet straight away.

It’s easy to see that monitoring your dog’s glucose levels will be easier if you have a glucometer or urine test strips.

Diabetes mellitus is not necessarily life-threatening to your dog, but it certainly will be life-altering for you. She will need more care and vigilance on your part and that of your family. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for diabetes at this time, but with the right management, she will be able to enjoy a relatively normal lifestyle.


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