Diabetes mellitus or simply diabetes in dogs is a very common disease. The Golden Retriever, German Shepherd, the Miniature Schnauzer, the Keeshond and the Poodle have a higher tendency to develop diabetes, but all breeds can be affected. Females are generally more affected than males and the average age of onset is between 6 and 9 years old.
Symptoms of diabetes in dogs
Diabetes in dogs develops as a result of inadequate production of insulin by the islet cells of the pancreas. Some dogs may have a genetic predisposition for this phenomenon. The destruction of the islet cells also occurs in some cases of pancreatitis. Insulin allows glucose to pass into cells, where it is metabolized to produce energy for the metabolism. A deficiency of insulin results in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) and glycosuria (high levels of sugar in the urine). The presence of glucose in urine causes the diabetic animal to expel large quantities of urine. Consequently, the onset of dehydration and the need to drink large amounts of water.
Initially, dogs that do not metabolize sufficient amount of sugars, are affected by an increased appetite and the desire to consume more food. Subsequently, in conjunction with the effects of malnutrition, appetite tends to decrease.
In summary, the signs corresponding to the early stages of diabetes are frequent urination, large amounts of water intake, increased appetite and unexplained weight loss. Diabetes in dogs can be diagnosed through laboratory tests which will be characterized by high levels of glucose in the blood and urine. In more advanced stages diabetes in dogs is accompanied by lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, weakness and coma. Cataracts are common signs of diabetes in dogs. If not cured promptly, diabetes in dogs is a disease that affects all organs. Diabetic dogs, if left untreated, typically have enlarged liver, are susceptible to infections and often develop neurological problems.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition associated with a severe hyperglycemia, in which the ketones (acids) accumulate in the blood. Ketones are by products of fat metabolism. In diabetic ketoacidosis, the fats are metabolized to produce energy because sugars are not available. Diabetic ketoacidosis is characterized by weakness, vomiting, rapid breathing and breath that smells like acetone (the classic smell of nail polish remover). This is an extremely serious condition for the life of the animal. If you suspect that your dog may be suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis, it is essential to go to the vet immediately.
Treatment of diabetes in dogs
A controlled diet and daily injections of insulin can regulate the majority of diabetic dogs, enabling them to lead a healthy and active life. The oral hypoglycemic drugs used to treat diabetes in humans have not been proven effective for the treatment of diabetes in dogs. But research is continuing in this area and results are expected to improve medical treatment.
Insulin requirements cannot be made based solely on the dog’s body weight, because the degree of pancreatic insufficiency varies from dog to dog. The daily dose of insulin should be determined on an individual basis. In dogs that have just been diagnosed with diabetes, insulin therapy may begin at home. After a week of treatment, the dog must be returned to the clinic where an examination will take the blood glucose curve (trend in the concentration of glucose in the blood). As a result of this examination, the dose and timing of the injections will be reviewed and possibly modified. Your vet will explain how to prepare and inject insulin. It is possible that you may be required to monitor the levels of glucose in the urine by collecting of urine samples using special strips that indicate glucose levels in the urine.
The dietary management of diabetes in dogs
Obesity in dogs considerably reduces the tissue reactivity to insulin and makes diabetes in dogs harder to control. As a result, an overweight diabetic dog should be fed a diet rich in fiber and rich in healthy carbohydrates, until it has reached an ideal weight (I advise you to ask your vet to provide you with an adequate diet to follow). You should avoid wet food and snacks that are usually high in sugar.
The daily calorie requirement is determined based on the weight and activity level of your dog. Once these parameters have been established, the amount of food to be administered is determined by dividing the daily caloric requirement for the amount of calories present in a portion of food. It’s important that your dog’s calorie intake is kept constant, because the insulin requirement is calculated on this basis.
It is also important that you give insulin injections to your dog following the program recommended by your veterinarian. To prevent the onset of severe hyperglycemia after a meal, you should not feed your dog once a day. It is better to divide the recommended portions in equal shares two or three times during the course of the day, or as recommended by your veterinarian. Diabetic dogs react better to regular programs, where feeding and insulin injections are given at the same time each day. I also advise that you try to give your dog the same levels of exercise and activity so that the glucose levels in the blood are kept constant. (If you feel you do not have time to run in the park with your dog, it is better that you never go, rather than taking it out for a big run once a week, or once in a while. While playing with your dog in the park may make you feel good and help you bond with it, you must consider that its glucose levels will go skyrocket. But once again this also depends on the severity of diabetes and your vet’s personal recommendations).
A skinny dog who has lost weight should be fed a diet low in fiber (diets low in fiber provide greater caloric density) until your dog has gained the loss weight.
The probability of occurrence of diabetes in dogs reduces if you feed your dog dry food containing high concentrations of fiber and complex carbohydrates. Both of these components slow down the absorption and help to minimize sugar fluctuations in the blood after meals. As always, I personally recommend that you feed your dog raw food diet (BARF), to help prevent diabetes and as a diet during diabetes.
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