In this article we will look at the causes, the risks and the treatment of canine diabetes, as well the symptoms to look out for in your own pet.


Dogs need insulin to deliver glucose (blood sugars) to cells and organs, providing them with vital energy. Dog diabetes is a condition that prevents insulin from functioning correctly.

There are two forms of dog diabetes:

1) Primary Diabetes, also known as, ‘Insulin Deficiency Diabetes’. This is the most common form of the condition in dogs and is caused by the body not producing enough insulin to absorb blood sugars.

2) Secondary Diabetes, also known as, ‘Insulin Resistance Diabetes’. This is a rarer but a more serious form of the condition where the dog’s body is able to produce insulin, but vital cells and organs fail to extract and utilize the blood sugars.

Both Primary and Secondary diabetes cause blood sugars to build-up in the dog’s blood stream, with organs and cells unable to access it. This means the body is starved of the vital glucose it needs to function and instead starts to breakdown fats and proteins to use as energy instead.

Additionally, the blood sugar is left un-dissolved in the dog’s body due to the insulin unable to absorb it. This excess blood sugar begins to damage organs, which can lead to organ failure.

Here is an informative video on how insulin works in the human body, but is also the same for dogs:

Causes and Risks

Although there is no known exact cause of diabetes in dogs, there are several factors which have been linked to increased risks of the condition developing:

  • Long term use of steroid medication and Cushing’s disease.
  • Pancreatitis or damage to the pancreas.
  • Dogs around eight years of age or older.
  • Female dogs, including temporary insulin resistance while pregnant or between estrus (in heat) cycles.
  • Other serious diseases including autoimmune and canine lupus.
  • Obesity has no direct link to canine diabetes, but over-weight dogs are more likely to develop pancreatitis and are at higher risk of being resistant to insulin.
  • Symptoms

    Sometimes known as a ‘silent killer’ in humans, early signs of dog diabetes are also tricky to spot. However, there are some common symptoms to be aware of:

  • Increased Thirst: your dog may start drinking excessively and continue to seek water after consuming their regular intake.
  • Frequent Urination: as their body tries to rid the excess glucose, your dog will start urinating more often. This may also cause your dog to have increased accidents in the house.
  • Weight Loss: as the dogs body struggles to convert food into vital nutrients, their body begins to break-down fat stores and protein, causing a decline in their weight.
  • Increased then Decreased Appetite: due to the body unable to absorb vital nutrients, the dog will continue to feel hungry and have an increased appetite. As the diabetes develops into a more serious, advanced stage, the dog may lose its appetite altogether.

  • Other signs include:

  • A lack of energy.
  • A more depressed demeanour.
  • Vomiting.
  • Treatment

    The aim of diabetes treatment is to normalise and maintain the dog’s glucose level. This is done via daily insulin injections (usually one or two per twenty-four hours). Your veterinarian will be show you how to safely and effectively administer the correct dosage.

    If you don’t have pet insurance, treatment can be expensive. As well as having to buy insulin medication, needles and syringes, there will be veterinarian costs including on-going blood-tests to monitor glucose levels and regular check-ups.

    As well as the injections your dog will also need to maintain a healthy diet. Your vet can provide dietary recommendations that ensure your dog is getting enough protein, fibre and carbohydrate. It is also important to keep fatty foods to the minimum. A well rounded diet can help manage the body’s glucose absorption.

    It is also important that your dog is exercised regularly. This will help maintain blood sugar levels as well as keep the dog fit.


    At the beginning many owners feel overwhelmed. But despite the extra commitment needed for medication, your dog can lead a relatively normal life.

    Be sure to ask your vet for a diabetic plan. This will help you to get into a routine of medicating and managing your dog’s condition. Seeing a list and a prepared schedule of what to do can help reduce initial nerves.

    Helpful Resources

    There is also a great online community willing to help.

  • The Diabetic Dog Blog has a range of firsthand accounts from owners and FAQs.
  • K9 Diabetes is a forum dedicated to canine diabetes.