Canine Diabetes

Canine Diabetes Mellitus

(Sugar Diabetes)

What is diabetes?

Glucose (‘blood sugar’) provides the cells in the body with the energy they need to live and function. Cells can only absorb glucose from the blood in the presence of insulin. Insulin is produced the pancreas. Sometimes the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body cannot respond to insulin (they become ‘resistant’ to its effect).

Insulin is like a key that unlocks a door allowing glucose to pass through. So sometimes there are not enough keys for the door, and sometimes there are plenty of keys, but they don’t fit the locks (or a mixture of the two).

This results in:

  • The cells in the body cannot absorb enough glucose and
  • Too much glucose remains in the blood

This condition is called ‘diabetes mellitus’ (this is often shortened to just diabetes).

Diabetes is seen in dogs of all ages, sexes and breeds; however, it most commonly occurs in older dogs, with females more commonly affected.


What are the signs of diabetes?

When the blood contains a high level of glucose it appears in the urine (in healthy dogs there should be none). The body produces more urine to flush out the glucose, and so your animal needs to drink more water to do this. Also as the body cannot use the sugar it is flushing out, your animal has to eat more to try to compensate, but at the same time, they lose weight!

So remember to look out for:

  • Producing more urine, and perhaps having to do this in the night (or having an accident)
  • Drinking more
  • Losing weight, especially if it is rapid
  • Eating more, especially in the earlier stages. Later their appetite may drop as diabetic toxins called ketones are produced causing them to feel or be sick.
  • Lethargy


Can diabetes be cured?

Usually the underlying cause of the diabetes cannot be cured, but with the establishment of a regular routine and the use of an insulin preparation, your dog can lead a normal, happy life.



Your vet will need to run some blood and urine tests to make a diagnosis as some of the symptoms can be the same as other problems. Occasionally there are other problems as well as diabetes, such as Cushings Syndrome.

You may be asked to withhold food for 12 hours before a blood test BUT check with your vet beforehand as this not always needed.

NEVER withhold water.


We aim to restore a good quality of life for your dog, reduce the longterm damaging effects of diabetes on the other parts of the body, and stop the symptoms that cause difficulties at home.

Just as in people, diabetes can be effectively controlled by the injection of insulin. It sounds very scary, but we have taught the most needle-phobic owners in the past and will always be there to support you. You’ll surprise yourself as to what you can do if needed.

Being overweight can increase insulin resistance, so we aim for settling at a normal weight for your pet. We can give you a guide.

Female diabetics that have not been neutered are affected each season by their hormones, so we often make special arrangements to neuter them.

In dogs, insulin is generally given at a fixed time once or twice a day, with meals following again at fixed times, and standardised exercise. A regular daily routine is the order of the day. In a normal, non-diabetic animal or person, our natural insulin levels go up and down depending on what we are doing. In a diabetic dog, we need to standardise the activities around the set insulin injection pattern.

It is important to handle and store the insulin correctly. Never shake the bottle vigorously- just gently tip it to mix.

Keep it at the correct temperature. Be aware that some fridges can freeze things placed at the very back or adjacent to the freezer section- so avoid these areas. Always return it to the fridge after use.

Used insulin syringes should be returned to the surgery in a clinical tub which we will provide free of charge to our registered clints, for safe disposal. Please, never place them in your household refuse.

Once insulin therapy has been adjusted to your dog’s needs, they should improve rapidly.  Although it can take several months to achieve full stabilisation Always follow the vet’s advice, and don’t deviate from what you have been asked to do. If you want to alter anything, ask your vet first as sometimes changes can make things unstable.

You may be asked to test urine samples on a regular basis to check for glucose and ketones using special tests sticks supplied by us. We will teach you the simple technique.

You will be asked to keep a chart on a daily basis, so that if we have problems, often we can gain clues from the information.

Repeat prescriptions of the insulin, syringes and urine testing strips can be requested, giving at least 2 weekday notice, please.

Emergency situation: Hypoglycaemia – Wobbly or collapsed

Put Jam or Honey or glucose gel on the tongue.

Telephone surgery: 0121 705 3044

Prepare to come to main surgery – 608 Warwick Road, B91 1AA

Now for the details, for those not in a ‘hypo’ situation, and who have time to read on:

One potentially dangerous complication that you should be prepared for is ‘hypoglycaemia’; this is when the blood sugar level falls too low. This may happen if too much insulin is given or if your dog refuses to eat. In this situation the brain, which is very dependent on a supply of glucose, cannot get enough energy.

The signs of hypoglycaemia include:

  • Unrest or lethargy or ‘spaced out’
  • Weakness and shivering/muscle twitching, collapse
  • Fits
  • Unconsciousness

The condition is potentially life-threatening if not treated properly

What to do if you see signs of hypoglycaemia:

  1. Give food if they are co-ordinated enough to eat.
  2. Give glucose syrup or solution, jam or honey on the tongue if disorientated. Take care not to get bitten. Keep some in the fridge just in case, which no one else is allowed to use!
  3. Call the surgery immediately on 0121 705 3044



Some of this information is courtesy of MERCK Animal Health. For more information go to