Almost any species of mammal can become diabetic under the right conditions. Dogs, just like humans and cats, can develop diabetes for a variety of reasons. In dogs the condition may go undetected for a long period of time until it is finally diagnosed and the owners are able to either develop a diet to manage blood sugars or provide insulin to the dog to help with management of blood sugars in the body.
Any breed of dog and any size of dog can develop diabetes, however there has been a study completed through Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that indicates that some breeds are at a low risk for developing the condition while other breeds are at a high risks. Breeds that have a low frequency of diabetes mellitus include Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and American Pit Bull Terriers. The breeds in the study that had the highest rate of diabetes included Miniature Poodles, Toy Poodles, Pugs, Samoyeds, Dachshunds and Miniature Schnauzers. This correlates with other studies that indicate that smaller breeds tend to be more likely to develop diabetes than larger breeds. There has been some interesting debate over this comment as many vets and researchers believe that it is actually the rate of obesity and type of foods fed to smaller breeds that tend to lead to diabetes, not that the breed itself is more prone to the condition. This does seem to make sense as small and toy breeds are more often fed canned foods that may be very high in sugars, artificial preservatives and carbohydrates compared to the large breeds that are typically fed only dry kibble that is higher in protein and fiber.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that causes irregular activity of the endocrine system. This irregular activity is causes by the lack of insulin produced in the pancreas that limits the body's ability to absorb the glucose that the body carries from the digestive system to the cells of the body. Without insulin the cells cannot absorb the glucose, even though it is in the blood in the correct concentration. The result is that the body does not utilize the blood sugars and they are processed by the kidneys, resulting in potentially serious and fatal kidney dysfunction problems. In addition the dog seems constantly hungry and will eat excessive amounts of food, leading to obesity and poor overall health conditions.
As the disease progresses the by-products of the glucose in the bloodstream known as ketones are formed in the blood, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea as well as possible neurological disorders and toxicity. Dogs that are untreated can go into comas and may even die from highly elevated blood sugar levels over time.
Female dogs of any breed but in particular of small breeds or at-risk breeds for diabetes are almost twice as likely to develop the condition as they mature. Spayed females are far less at risk as they do not have the dramatic hormonal surges that may conflict or interrupt insulin production in the body when the female is in heat. Dogs between the ages of 7-9 years of age are at risk, although some puppies may have the condition.
What are the symptoms of diabetes?
The most common symptoms of diabetes in dogs are very similar to the symptoms seen in the onset of juvenile diabetes in humans. These symptoms include excessive thirst and drinking, frequent urination and the dog may suddenly start to loose weight. Since many dogs that develop diabetes are overweight to begin with, often owners are not worried until the dog becomes excessively thin or start the vomiting or diarrhea. By this stage the dog has advanced to a serious condition of blood sugar imbalance and may need hospitalization and rehydration before going on with treatment.
How is diabetes treated in dogs?
Once diagnosed by a simple blood test at the vets, treatment of diabetes is partially a weight and food management regime as well as insulin shots for the dog if required. Most diabetic dogs cannot control their blood sugar without the daily insulin shots but occasionally some will be able to develop partial functioning of the pancreas or better hormonal balances that can lead to more emphasis on controlling blood sugar through diet.
Typically dogs that have diabetes mellitus will require one or two insulin shots per day. These are usually done in the morning and late afternoon and are coordinated to match feeding times. In addition the dog should be fed three or four smaller meals a day rather than one large meal to help the body with glucose absorption and keeping the blood sugar level even and balanced throughout the day.
When the dog is first diagnosed the owner will have to take blood glucose readings through a simple blood monitor and test kit that will be provided by the vet. This is a simple test that most dogs do not object to and requires a tiny drop of blood be obtained from the dog and tested through a blood glucose meter.
Owners will also be provided information on the correct type of food for the diabetic dog and what to avoid and completely eliminate from the diet. Owners may also be provided with training on how to deal with emergency situations that may arise if the dog develops excessively high blood sugar and slips into a diabetic coma.
Careful and regular monitoring of the dog's blood sugar and regular trips to the vet for examinations are also key to the continued health of the dog. Many dogs with diabetes live very normal, active lives and are no different than any other dog. In cases where the diabetes is very severe or the condition has gone on unnoticed there may be kidney damage, eye problems or other neurological impairments associated with high blood sugar reading over time. If this is the case your vet may require more frequent monitoring and may require other drug therapies to help deal with all the various health issues your dog may be facing.
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