The incidence of diabetes in the dog population is not very high, but all veterinarians are called upon to deal with this complicated disorder from time to time.
Diabetes occurs more frequently in female dogs and is more common in animals over 5 years old. There seems to be no breed susceptibility, but it has not been reported in boxer dogs.
The underlying cause of diabetes in dogs is a deficiency of insulin in the animal. Insulin is a hormone secreted by specialized cells within the pancreatic gland.
In the normal dog there is a balance between the levels of insulin and two hormones secreted by the pituitary gland. This balance keeps the level of blood sugar constant by allowing excess glucose formed from the break down of food to be stored in the liver.
When there is a deficiency of insulin glucose storage within the liver does not occur and excess glucose accumulates in the blood. As the blood sugar levels increase, glucose is lost from the kidney cells into the urine.
The increased thirst is one of the first symptoms of diabetes in dogs.
The constant loss of glucose through the kidneys prevents the dog from utilizing the full energy potential of its daily food, so that it becomes excessively hungry.
Even if extra food is available the dog loses weight, as another important function of insulin in the body is to build protein and fat from surplus carbohydrate. The hormones from the pituitary gland exacerbate the weight loss by promoting the breakdown of stored protein and fat to form more glucose and fatty acids.
The symptoms of diabetes vary according to the degree of insulin insufficiency and the length of time that the condition has been present. At first the dog may only have an increased thirst and loss of weight, despite eating more.
As more of the body’s reserves of fats and proteins are used, the by-products of this breakdown accumulate in the blood and begin to produce toxic effects. Vomiting and dehydration soon lead to muscle weakness, labored breathing and eventually collapse and death.
Treatment of diabetes is possible by administering a daily dosage of insulin by injection.
The amount of insulin necessary to supply the daily needs is found by hospitalizing the dog and gradually increasing the dosage of insulin until the blood sugar falls to an acceptable level.
This dosage of insulin is directly related to the amount of food eaten and the amount of exercise taken by the dog daily. It is most important to keep both the amount of food and type of food constant. Exercise decreases the amount of insulin required, so that marked changes in the daily activity of the dog must be avoided.
Treatment of dogs showing toxic effects from prolonged insulin insufficiency is very difficult, as irreversible changes may have occurred before treatment is begun.
Any dog showing the early warning signs of loss of weight and excessive thirst should be examined by your veterinarian as treatment of the uncomplicated diabetes is quite feasible.