Diabetes is as much a problem for dogs as it is for humans. In fact, the canine experience of this hormonal disorder mirrors our own remarkably closely. And just as with diabetic humans the condition can be successfully managed – though you’ll have some work to do to keep your diabetic dog healthy.
Dogs generally suffer from insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, better known in humans as Type 1 Diabetes. A diabetic dog, just like a diabetic human, cannot produce enough of the hormone insulin. This substance is a vital element in the spectacular metabolic system in mammals. Produced by the pancreas, it’s what allows the energy-giving glucose from food to pass from the blood into the cells – and without that energy we simply can’t function.
The classic signs of diabetes in dogs are a ravenous appetite and a raging thirst; and if your dog seems to need to urinate far more than it used to, that too is a tell-tale sign. What is happening inside its body is that glucose is building up in the blood and failing to get through to the cells. Desperate to fuel its body the dog eats more, but this only raises the glucose levels higher, and with the cells unable to absorb it, it has only one way out – as urine, taking large amounts of fluid with it and setting your dog gasping for more water as dehydration threatens.
The causes of the insulin deficiency behind this condition are many and varied. Diseases of the pancreas or liver can start the problem, as can hormonal conditions, some drugs and certain infections. Obesity too can trigger diabetes. The condition is commonest in older, unneutered bitches, but it can crop up in any dog.
A vet will usually diagnose diabetes with blood tests if you turn up at the surgery with a dog showing the classic symptoms. The good news is that the condition can be managed, but the bad news is that, just as with diabetes in humans, doing so takes a lot of work. For a start you’ll need to regularise your dog’s diet and exercise routine, and get used to administering a regular daily dose of insulin. You’ll also have learn to watch out for the hypoglycaemic episodes when the artificially administered insulin levels get out of kilter. But happily, once you get over these challenges your diabetic dog will generally be able to enjoy a largely normal life.