Diabetes in dogs: breaking down the facts

20 June 2024 - 8 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
An illustration of a dog food bowl being overflowed with pink kibble, next to an oversized dog

Diabetes isn't just a human condition; it affects our canine companions too. The good news is that diabetic dogs often maintain a high quality of life with early detection and expert treatment. 

In this article, we'll explore the types, causes, signs, and treatments of diabetes in dogs, providing you with the knowledge you need to care for a diabetic pup.

What's diabetes in dogs?

Diabetes mellitus, commonly referred to as diabetes, is a chronic condition that affects the way your dog's body processes glucose, a type of sugar that's a vital energy source for their cells. (There's also a much rarer condition called diabetes insipidus, which involves an issue with water balance regulation in the body. But we'll just be chatting about diabetes mellitus.) 

In healthy dogs, the pancreas releases insulin to help transport glucose from the bloodstream into the cells. But in a diabetic dog, this process doesn't work as it should. There are two potential reasons for this malfunction:

  • The pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin.

  • The body can't effectively use the insulin it does produce.

This leads to elevated glucose levels in the blood and low levels within cells, which can cause health issues.

Different types of diabetes in dogs

Golden Retriever at the vet

Canine diabetes primarily manifests in three forms, each with distinct causes and management strategies. First, here's a simple breakdown of the three main types of diabetes in dogs and their causes:

Type of diabetes in dogs Causes
Type 1 Autoimmune reaction, genetic predisposition, insulin deficiency, breed susceptibility
Type 2 Insulin resistance, reduced insulin production, obesity, sedentary lifestyle
Type 3 Hormonal disorders, Cushing’s disease, steroid treatment, sex hormone drugs, high progesterone levels

Now let's get a bit more detailed:

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 is the most common form of canine diabetes. It’s usually caused by an autoimmune condition that develops when the dog's immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

As a result, the pancreas produces little to no insulin, making daily insulin injections necessary to manage the dog's blood sugar levels. Genetic factors often play a role as well, with some breeds being more susceptible than others.

Type 2 diabetes

While type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in humans (and cats), it’s extremely rare in dogs. Type 2 diabetes involves insulin resistance, where the body's cells fail to respond to insulin effectively. Over time, the pancreas may also produce less insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity and less active lifestyles. Proper diet and daily exercise are critical for management, but dogs almost always require insulin therapy as well.

Type 3 diabetes

Type 3 diabetes is associated with hormonal disorders including Cushing’s disease, treatment with steroids or sex hormone drugs, and with the high levels of progesterone seen in pregnant or unspayedfemale dogs at certain points in their heat cycles.

This form of diabetes can resolve on its own after the dog’s hormone levels return to normal, but in some cases, life-long insulin therapy is needed.

What causes diabetes in dogs?

While the exact cause of diabetes can vary depending on the type and the individual dog, several factors can contribute:

Genetic susceptibility

Just as in humans, genetics play a significant role in a dog's risk of developing diabetes, particularly Type 1. Certain breeds, such as Australian Terriers, Samoyeds, and Siberian Huskies, are genetically predisposed to diabetes.

Obesity and poor diet

Overweight dogs have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. A diet high in fat and carbohydrates can contribute to obesity and insulin resistance, paving the way for diabetes to develop, although this is very rare in dogs.

Pancreatic damage

Diseases and conditions that damage the pancreas can reduce its ability to produce insulin, leading to diabetes. Severe pancreatitis and infections are common culprits that can impair pancreatic function.

Hormonal imbalances

Other hormonal conditions, like Cushing’s disease, pregnancy, and treatment with drugs that mimic hormones can interfere with insulin function and contribute to the development of diabetes in dogs.

Understanding these causes can not only help in early detection but also in taking preventive measures to reduce your dog’s risk of developing diabetes. Regular vet check-ups and maintaining a healthy lifestyle are key.

What are the first signs of diabetes in a dog?

Early detection of canine diabetes can greatly improve your pet’s quality of life. Let's explore some of the most common initial symptoms to watch out for.

Increased thirst and urination

One of the earliest and most noticeable signs of diabetes in dogs is an increased need to drink water and urinate more frequently. This happens because excess sugar in the urine draws water along with it, increasing a dog’s need to drink.

Weight loss

Despite maintaining a good appetite or even eating more than usual, a dog with diabetes may start losing weight. This occurs because the dog’s body cannot efficiently convert glucose into energy and starts breaking down muscle and fat for fuel.

Increased appetite

Known as polyphagia, this symptom involves a significant increase in hunger. It happens because the dog's cells are not getting enough glucose, leading them to signal for more food.


Dogs with diabetes can appear lethargic and may show less interest in activities they once enjoyed. This lack of energy results from the insufficient conversion of glucose into usable energy.

Cloudy eyes

Diabetes can lead to the development of cataracts, which can cause the eyes to look cloudy.

Recurring infections

Dogs with diabetes frequently get infections affecting the urinary tract, skin and other parts of the body.

How to test for diabetes in dogs

If you suspect that your dog may have diabetes, the first step is to consult your veterinarian for proper testing and diagnosis. Early and accurate detection can help you manage the disease and maintain your dog’s lifestyle. 

When you visit the vet, the process will begin with a discussion of any symptoms your dog has been displaying. This initial conversation is vital as it guides the subsequent steps in the diagnostic process. Following this, your vet will perform a thorough physical examination to check for physical signs of diabetes, such as cataracts or infection, which are common indicators of the disease.

To diagnose diabetes, your vet will conduct several tests. A blood test will be taken to measure the glucose levels in your dog's blood. Persistently high blood glucose levels are a primary indicator of diabetes.

Alongside blood tests, a urine test may also be performed to check for the presence of glucose and ketones in the urine, which further supports a diabetes diagnosis.

In addition, a fructosamine test might be administered to measure the average blood glucose concentration over the past two to three weeks. This test is particularly useful for distinguishing between temporary glucose elevation due to stress and persistent hyperglycemia that is associated with diabetes.

Depending on the initial findings, your vet might recommend additional tests to assess organ function or detect underlying conditions that could be influencing your dog's health. Once the tests confirm diabetes, your vet will discuss the most effective treatment options tailored to your dog's specific needs. 

Afterwards, you’ll need to schedule regular follow-ups so your vet can monitor your dog’s health and adjust treatments as needed. 

How to treat diabetes in dogs

Treating diabetes in dogs requires a multifaceted approach that includes medical interventions, lifestyle adjustments, and consistent monitoring. Most dogs with diabetes will need insulin therapy, which involves daily injections to control blood sugar levels. Your veterinarian will provide instructions on how to safely administer these injections and will tailor the type and dosage of insulin to your dog's specific needs, with regular follow-ups to make necessary adjustments.

You’ll also need to exercise careful control over your dog’s meals. Your vet may prescribe a special prescription diet designed for a diabetic dog. Diabetic diets are often high in fibre and complex carbohydrates to slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream. 

A consistent level of exercise is another important aspect of treatment, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and manage weight. Your vet can assist in creating a safe and effective exercise plan for your diabetic dog. Routine monitoring of blood glucose levels at home can also be extremely helpful (more on that soon). 

Finally, routine veterinary check-ups are vital to monitor the progress of your dog's diabetes treatment. These check-ups often include comprehensive evaluations such as blood tests, urine tests, and physical examinations. Managing any concurrent health issues is also critical, as other conditions can complicate diabetes management. A dog’s insulin needs often change over time, so always stay up-to-date with your dog’s diabetes monitoring plan.

How to care for a dog with diabetes

Caring for a dog with diabetes involves consistent daily routines and a strong partnership with your veterinarian. Here's how to provide the best care for your diabetic dog:

Monitoring and management

Regularly monitoring your dog's blood sugar levels is crucial. This will help you keep your dog’s glucose levels within the normal target range, and will also help you make timely adjustments to the treatment plan. Home testing kits or continuous monitoring systems can help you keep track of these levels. You can also help your vet make well-informed decisions by keeping a daily log of your dog's eating habits, behaviour, and insulin injections.


Being aware of the potential complications associated with diabetes is important for early detection and treatment. Watch for symptoms like excessive urination and drinking, dehydration, or a sudden change in appetite or behaviour, which could indicate issues such as diabetic ketoacidosis or hypoglycemia. Immediate veterinary attention for such symptoms can prevent serious health risks.

Lifestyle modifications

Adjustments in your dog's lifestyle are necessary to manage diabetes effectively. This includes maintaining a consistent meal schedule and insulin injections to stabilise blood sugar levels. Exercise should be regular but not too strenuous, as physical activity affects glucose levels.

Long-term care

Long-term care for a diabetic dog includes regular veterinary visits for detailed check-ups and tests to adjust the treatment plan as needed. To manage risks proactively, your vet might also recommend periodic screenings for common secondary conditions like urinary tract infections.

With the right care and attention, dogs with diabetes can lead full and happy lives. The key is consistency in their daily routine and treatment plan, and a close collaboration with your vet to adjust care as your dog's condition evolves.

Living well with canine diabetes

It’s entirely possible to help your diabetic dog lead a fulfilling life, but only if you work closely with your veterinarian to create a tailored plan that suits your dog’s needs. Regular check-ups can help catch any potential issues early and keep your dog as healthy as possible. 

You should also consider investing in dog insurance that will reimburse you for vet costs, but you have to do so before your dog gets sick or their current illness will likely be considered a pre-existing condition.

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David Teich
Lead Content Editor

David Teich is Lead Content Editor at ManyPets. He loves pets, Scrabble, Oxford commas, and typing loudly.