Diabetes in Dogs (Diabetes Mellitus)

Diabetes in Dogs


Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is a common autoimmune disorder in both cats and dogs. It is similar to juvenile diabetes in people in which the pancreas cannot produce sufficient amount of insulin.

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

Sugar diabetes is divided into Type I and Type II.

Type I Diabetes

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).

However, while in people, Type I diabetes is developed as youngsters (hence it's called "juvenile diabetes"), in dogs, Type I diabetes is an adult onset disease and is influenced to a large extent by the dog's diet and lifestyle.

Type II Diabetes

In type II diabetes mellitus, insulin is still being 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 uncommon in dogs and is frequently referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM).

What Causes 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.

To help prevent diabetes in dogs, therefore, it is important to feed them species-appropriate diets (higher amounts of good-quality animal protein, small amounts of low glycemic foods, no grains and starch).

Lack of Exercise

Dogs who don't have enough exercise are more prone to be overweight, which in turn may result in the development of diabetes. To minimize the chance of developing diabetes, make your dog exercise every day. Twenty to 40 minutes of rigorous aerobic-type of exercise daily can keep your dog lean and mean!


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.

Use of Amitraz

Amitraz is an insecticide found in some flea and tick products (such as Preventic collars, Certifect). It is also used in a mange control product called Mitaban.

It has been found that Amitraz may cause blood sugar levels to increase, resulting in diabetes.

It is important that if you have a diabetic dog, you shouldn't use any products that contain Amitraz.

What are the 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

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.

How To Treat a Diabetic Dog

Unfortunately, at present, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. In other words, diabetes is irreversible. Dogs with diabetes need to have insulin therapy for life.

Merck Animal Health has made life easier for pet parents to administer insulin to their pets. They have made an "insulin injection pen" called VetPen®. It is a refillable device made to hold Merck's Vetsulin® cartridges. Dosing is just turning a dial... You can read more about this product here.

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 close attention to your dog's diet, supplements, exercise, and weight control. You also need to monitor your dog's blood sugar levels regularly.

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. Therefore, 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 (e.g. corn syrup) 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

Manage Diabetes in Dogs Holistically Herbs and supplements are NOT alternative treatment options for canine diabetes. They CANNOT replace insulin therapy. However, they can be added to a diabetic dog diet to further help glucose metabolism in the body.

Brewer's Yeast

One important supplement is brewer's yeast. The chromium in the yeast helps 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 to Support Body Systems

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.

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

Herbs to Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

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.

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.


Kelp, with its antioxidant properties, may be capable of helping the body to secrete insulin, thereby lowering the blood sugar levels.

Puppy Banner

A Good Natural Product for Diabetic Dogs

Blood Sugar Gold for Dog Diabetes

This formula contains a lot of herbs that are effective in maintaining sugar levels in the blood, as well as to support the liver and the pancreas.

NOTE: Talk to your vet first if you want to use this herbal formula to help your diabetic dog. The formula may reduce the amount of insulin needed by your dog, and constant monitoring of the dog's blood sugar levels is absolutely necessary and important.

Eldredge, et al. Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook 4th edition (Wiley Publishing, 2007).
C.J. Puotinen, Natural Remedies for Dogs and Cats (Keats Publishing, 1999).
M.L. Wulff-Tilford and G.L. Tilford, Herbs for Pets (Bowtie Press, 1999).
R.H. Pitcairn, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats (Rodale, 2005).
W.J. Dodds, D.R. Laverdue, Canine Nutrigenomics - The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health (Dogwise Publishing, 2015).

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