Canine and Feline Diabetes

Dog Diabetes

Overview of Diabetes Mellitus

In short, diabetes mellitus is a lack of insulin production by the body. It is unknown exactly what causes diabetes, but it is primarily thought to be a combination of genetics and bad luck. In certain breeds and body conditions (obesity) diabetes is more common. Insulin carries sugar or glucose from the blood vessels into our cells, thus no insulin leads to high blood glucose.

Treatment of Diabetes in Dogs

All dogs diagnosed with diabetes will require insulin injections for the remainder of their lives, as well as diet changes and control of body weight/ obesity. The key to diabetes control is consistency of insulin injections, monitoring the patient's blood sugars to ensure that the diabetes is well controlled, and consistent feedings of an appropriate diet. Treatment of diabetes in dogs is not a cheap endeavor, with costs of food, insulin, monitoring and supplies, and medical care, the average diabetic dog will cost the owner approximately 2000-3000$ over the life of the pet. Additionally, dental care is even more important in diabetic patients, as the bacteria in the blood stream from poor dental health and higher blood sugars ca n create more health effects and make regulation more difficult.

Insulin: We recommend Vetsulin in dogs, as research has shown that it is the most consistent product for dogs. Vetsulin is a U-40 insulin (meaning that there are 40 units of insulin per ml of Vetsulin), thus it requires special syringes that are also U-40. Human insulin syringes should NEVER be used as they are U-100 and DO NOT provide the same dose of insulin.

Monitoring: All dogs will require blood sugar checks to determine how well the blood sugars are being controlled. In general, home testing is better, as the patient is less stressed, the costs to the owner are lower, and excellent control can be obtained. We recommend use of the Alpha Trak glucometer, as it is specifically designed for use on pets. The glucometers are available through River City for at home testing, the values can be called into the clinic, and a doctor will call with recommendations on what to do next. The phone consultations will be charged for the doctor's time and expertise at $19.30. Some owners and some patients are not willing or able to pursue home blood glucose testing, and will require in hospital monitoring of blood sugars.

  1. After the first week of insulin treatment, the patient will need blood sugars obtained just prior to insulin/ food administration and 6 hours later either at home or in the hospital to determine if control of blood sugars are close to normal. If the sugars are still significantly out of normal, adjustment may be made to insulin dose.
  2. Generally, 2 weeks later (3 weeks after diagnosis) a full glucose curve will need to be performed at home or in the clinic. A sugar is obtained just before the food and insulin are given, and then generally every 2 hours through the course of the day to allow full evaluation of how well the sugars are regulated, to see the high and low points of blood sugar, as well as how well the insulin is working.
  3. In most cases with dogs, 2-3 curves are required to get a diabetic dog fully controlled. Once a patient is regulated, approximately twice monthly a blood sugar should be obtained before food and insulin to assure that sugars are being controlled. If the value is under 100 (mg/dl), or over 200 (mg/dl) you should contact the doctor.
  4. Insulin Shock: if a patient gets too much insulin, the blood sugars can become dangerously low. If your dog appears drunk or wobbly, weak, but still alert, try to get your pet to eat or administer Karo syrup, honey or even sugar water by mouth to increase blood sugars. In severe cases, low blood sugar can cause seizures or coma, and the pet should be taken to the vet or emergency clinic immediately.

Diet: The most appropriate diets for dogs that have diabetes are high fiber, low in simple sugars, and moderately restricted in fat and protein. The high fiber foods help to control weight, help the patient feel more full/ satisfied, and helps with how fast sugar enters the bloodstream (fiber is a complex carbohydrate rather than simple sugar). We recommend Hill's Science Diet W/D food as the most appropriate food for diabetic dogs. It can be fed as dry food, canned food or a combination of both. If your dog won't eat the new food, consider returning to the previous food, as it is important for your dog to eat. Then perform a gradual change to the new diet, adding in approximately 10% of the new food daily until the food can be fully changed over to the new diet.

Generally, feeding should be performed in the following way: the patient should be fed twice daily, approximately 12 hours apart, the food should be offered and eaten, and then 15-30 minutes later the insulin should be administered.

  • If no food is eaten, DON'T GIVE INSULIN!
  • If half the food is eaten, give half of normal dose.

Snacks: Control of diabetes can be challenging in some patients, and we generally recommend not giving snacks to dogs, particularly high sugar snacks like most of the over the counter snacks. If you must give your dog snacks, good treat options include baby carrots, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, canned pumpkin, tofu, or even freeze dried meat products, and still in limited quantities.

While some dogs are difficult to regulate, most dogs will have an excellent quality of life with diabetes. It is not uncommon for all diabetic dogs to require adjustments of their insulin from time to time. If you’re pet shows any of the following signs:

  • Seems to feel ill, goes off of food, generally not acting normal
  • Losing weight despite good appetite
  • Has a ravenous appetite
  • Shows significant changes in water consumption or urinary habits Please schedule an appointment for consultation with the doctor

We’re here to help! Visit to watch a video on how to give an insulin injection, monitor blood glucose with our eDiary, find expert advice and get support from our interactive community to help manage your dog’s diabetes.

For more information on the types of dog diabetes, please read:

  • Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs
    Diabetes Mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. In simple terms, it is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Click on the link to learn more.

  • Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs
    Diabetes Insipidus is a weak or watery form of diabetes. Although it may cause increased drinking and urination, it is unrelated to elevated blood sugar or a lack of insulin. It is a rare condition in dogs and can only be definitively diagnosed after extensive testing. Click on the link to learn more.
For additional information on testing, monitoring and administering insulin shots, please read:
  • Diabetes in Dogs – Testing and Monitoring
    There are several recommended tests to have done on your dog when Diabetes Mellitus is suspected. Dogs can live happily and healthfully with diabetes if proper routine monitoring is performed by you and your veterinarian. Click on the link to learn more.

  • Diabetes Mellitus – Insulin Treatment in Dogs
    Diabetes Mellitus in dogs can be controlled by administering daily insulin injections. Click on the link to learn more.

To learn more about diabetes in dogs and cats, check our Pet Health Library