Diabetes in Dogs (Diabetes Mellitus)

Diabetes in dogs is a common disorder and is similar to juvenile diabetes in people in which the pancreas cannot produce sufficient amount of insulin. This page looks at the symptoms, health risks, and treatment of this disease. It also discusses how to use some natural remedies such as herbs and supplements to help dogs with diabetes.

Diabetes in Dogs Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is a common autoimmune disorder in both cats and dogs. Pets that are obese, as well as neutered male cats and unspayed female dogs are more prone to the disease.

Most dogs that have diabetes are between 7 to 9 years old, although it can occur to very young dogs as well.

Two Types of Diabetes

Type I Diabetes

Sugar diabetes is divided into Type I and Type II.

Type I diabetes (similar to juvenile diabetes in people) occurs when the body attacks the pancreatic cells that make insulin.

When your dog's body does not have enough insulin, the body is unable to properly utilize or store blood sugar, resulting in increased sugar levels.

The excessive sugar spills over into the urine and is removed from the body. As a result, the body tissues do not have enough blood sugar to sustain a consistent energy level.

This is the most common form of diabetes in dogs and is frequently referred to as insulin dependent diabetes (IDDM).

Type II Diabetes

In type II diabetes mellitus, insulin is still produced, but it is either not adequately produced, or the cells are not as sensitive to it as they should be.

If the cells are not sensitive enough, then even though insulin is present, glucose cannot enter the cells.

Type II diabetes is associated with obesity, and in many cases can be cured with weight loss and exercise. This form is uncommon in dogs and is frequently referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM).

If left untreated, diabetes in dogs will lead to kidney failure, vision loss, decreased resistance to bacterial and fungal infections and may develop liver and bladder problems.


Glucose and Insulin

Glucose is sugar, and is the direct energy source for the cells in an animal's body to stay alive. Glucose can be ingested directly. In addition, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body. Even fats and proteins are converted to glucose by the body.

Insulin is a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin allows glucose to enter the cells so it can be used as a fuel. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter the cells. If glucose cannot enter, the cells die.

When a healthy dog eats, glucose level in the blood increases, which then causes an increase in insulin. The increase in insulin allows the glucose to enter the cells where it is either used or stored.

A drop in the level of glucose in the blood signals the pancreas to stop releasing insulin.

If the blood glucose drops too low another hormone, glucagon, is released which signal the cells to release some of the stored glucose. Thus a fine balance between glucose and insulin levels is maintained.

Causes of Diabetes in Dogs

There are several possible causes of sugar diabetes in dogs:

  • Obesity and Inappropriate Diet: As mentioned above, obese dogs are more prone to develop diabetes mellitus.

    In addition, dogs whose diets consist of too much high glycemic food (e.g. corn, whole wheat, rice, white potatoes, carrots) can also develop diabetes over time. It is therefore important to feed our dogs species-appropriate diets (higher amounts of good-quality animal protein, small amounts of low glycemic foods, no grains and starch).

  • Lack of Exercise: Dogs with a lack of exercise are more prone to be overweight, which in turn may result in the development of diabetes. It is extremely important that our dogs can receive 20 to 40 minutes of rigorous aerobic-type of exercise daily.
  • Over-vaccination: Many holistic vets are of the opinion that there is a definite link between over-vaccination and the development of autoimmune disorders.

    Since diabetes mellitus is a type of autoimmune disorder (it happens when the immune system attacks the pancreas), over-vaccination may be a cause of diabetes. Instead of letting our vets vaccinate our pets annually, therefore, insist on a titer test.

Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Dogs with diabetes show four classic symptoms:

The reason for the above symptoms is that the dog's body knows that it should decrease the high blood glucose level. Since it cannot decrease the glucose by cellular uptake, it then tries to eliminate it in the urine.

To eliminate glucose in the urine, the dog needs to drink a lot more water to produce a lot of urine.

Also, even though there is plenty of glucose in the blood, the cells are still hungry because they cannot get the glucose, so they signal the body to eat more. Though more food is being eaten, the body loses weight because the food cannot be used.

Besides the above hallmark symptoms, there are other signs of diabetes, such as:

  • dull, poor hair coat
  • Hair loss
  • Sweet odor on the breath
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Skin infections
  • Sores or wounds that do not heal
  • Lethargy or listlessness
  • Cataracts

Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. Insulin therapy is the most common treatment for canine diabetes.

In addition to insulin treatment, if you have a dog with diabetes, you also need to take a holistic approach to manage all facets of your dog's life in order to keep the glucose levels in check.

In particular, it is extremely important to pay attention to your pet's diet, supplements, exercise, and weight control.

Diabetic Dog Diet

The general guidelines for a healthy diabetic dog diet are:

  • Feeding the dog natural wholesome food in small doses, two or three times a day. Regular and small dosages will make it easier for the body to produce and utilize the sugar as well as the insulin.
  • Feeding time should be the same every day.
  • The amount of food should also be the same every day.

Foods to avoid:

  • Soft or semi-moist pet foods - Usually they contain a lot of sugar, preservatives, and artificial colors.
  • Fatty meats and excessive oil - Enzymes need to be produced especially for the breakdown of fat, thus digesting fatty meats puts extra stress on the pancreas.
  • High carb foods - If a dog diet is high in carbohydrates, they will eventually be broken down into sugar. Excess sugar in the blood can lead to diabetes.


A regular exercise program is important as it has the effect of decreasing insulin needs. However, irregular exercise will destabilize insulin needs, so the key is to:

  • have the same amount of exercise every day;
  • exercise at the same time of day;
  • have the same duration of exercise time every day.

If there is a change in the daily exercise routine, diabetic dogs can become seriously hypoglycemic (dangerously low blood sugar level). As a precaution, therefore, always carry some sugar source with you when you take your diabetic dog out for exercise.

Weight Control

If your diabetic dog is obese, gradual weight loss is highly recommended. Weight loss may help to reduce your dog's need for insulin. However, the key is to lose weight gradually. Rapid weight loss should be avoided.

Natural Supplements for Diabetes in Dogs

Diabetes in Dogs Supplements should be added to a diabetic dog diet to further help glucose metabolism in the body.

One important supplement is brewer's yeast. The chromium in the yeast aids the body in using blood sugar more effectively.

You can give one teaspoon to one tablespoon (depending on the size of your dog) of brewer's yeast with each meal to your dog. Vitamins C and E are also essential.

Herbs can also be used to help strengthen and support major body systems that have been weakened by diabetes. Dogs with diabetes are unlikely to be able to fully utilize nutrients, so herbs that aid digestion and nutrient absorption will be beneficial to diabetic dogs.

Dandelion leaf, alfalfa, and calendula are such herbs.

Some herbs are effective in maintaining and moderating blood sugar levels, such as dandelion root and burdock root.

Aloe vera and fenugreek seeds have also been found to be able to reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate insulin production in diabetic animals.

Garlic is another useful herb for diabetes in dogs. Garlic stimulates the stomach and intestines and increases digestive organ function.

Cinnamon may also be helpful for dogs with diabetes as it may improve how the body uses glucose by enhancing the action of insulin. Since cinnamon is also an antioxidant and is good for dogs, it does not hurt to sprinkle some cinnamon on your diabetic dog's food on a regular basis.

Although not an herb, kelp, also with antioxidant properties, may be capable of helping the body in secreting insulin, thereby lowering the blood sugar levels.

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