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Diabetes mellitus is also known as "sugar diabetes" because of the elevation in the levels of glucose in the blood and urine of affected animals. It is diagnosed in both dogs and cats and it can be a challenge for pet owners to understand and manage effectively.

  Samoyed Dog Breed
  Certain dog breeds are more susceptible to developing diabetes.

Certain breeds of dogs — such as schnauzers, dachshunds, poodles, keeshonds, and samoyeds — are at higher risk for development of diabetes. The disease is often first diagnosed in females between 6-9 years old.

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas, an organ lying near the stomach. The pancreas has two main functions: one is to aid in digestion and the other is to produce insulin. Insulin is secreted to maintain normal levels of glucose (blood sugar). It allows glucose to enter cells from the blood stream thereby providing energy for the cells. So with diabetes, glucose accumulates in the blood and the body breaks down stores of protein and fat as alternative energy sources.

Diabetes is classified as either Type 1 (insulin dependent) or Type 2 (non-insulin dependent):

  • Type 1 results from a lack of insulin production. This is the type dogs usually get and requires insulin injections daily to stabilize blood sugar.
  • Type 2 is characterized by either decreased insulin production or insulin resistance, an inadequate response to insulin. This is the most common type in cats. It is most similar to Type 2 diabetes in humans and is often related to obesity. Humans may often be treated with an oral medication, however, dogs and cats don't usually respond well to these.
  • There is also a very rare form in puppies called Type 1 or juvenile diabetes.

Clinical Signs

Because of the lack of insulin, the body isn't able to use glucose as its energy source. It breaks down fats and proteins instead so these pets lose weight, usually with an increased appetite. The increased glucose in the blood attracts water causing an increased volume of urine, thereby causing an increased water consumption. As the disease progresses pets may experience vomiting, lethargy, loss of appetite or development of cataracts.

Diabetes Diagnosis

This is made by clinical signs, a persistently high level of glucose in the blood, and presence of glucose in the urine.


Owners must first decide how much of a financial and personal commitment they are able to make. Treatment is based on severity of signs and lab work and whether other health problems complicate therapy.

Some dogs are seriously ill when diagnosed and need to be hospitalized for several days to regulate their blood sugar. For relatively stable diabetics, treatment is usually a combination of dietary changes and insulin injections. For these cases, we show owners how injections are given. The pet will start its new regimen of food and insulin injections at home for about a week then we have them stay in the hospital for a day to perform a glucose curve. This is to get an idea of how long the insulin lasts in that particular pet and to see if we need to adjust the amount of insulin given.

A diet and routine change is usually made. Diets high in fiber are preferred in dogs as they are lower in sugar and digested more slowly. The preferred schedule is to feed twice daily, just before each injection. A recommendation is also made for the amount of food to feed. In cats, recent focus has been on decreasing their carbohydrate ingestion by feeding high protein and low carb foods. Obese diabetics should lose weight gradually.

Continuous monitoring of your pet is crucial to successful ongoing treatment. This means regular blood glucose checks with your veterinarian. Diabetic pets are higher maintenance for their owners, but the disease can definitely be managed effectively for willing owners.