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Can a diabetic dog become resistant to insulin?

Can a diabetic dog become resistant to insulin?

Guide to Canine Diabetes

Diabetes, which is also called diabetes mellitus, is a condition that occurs when your dog’s body can’t utilize glucose properly. Glucose is a kind of sugar that is used as the main energy source for the body’s cells. In a healthy dog, the amount of glucose in the blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin. Insulin is created by the pancreas.

The food your dog eats is processed by the body and turned into glucose in the intestines. The glucose is then absorbed into your dog’s bloodstream and further into the tissues and cells of the body. The insulin produced by the pancreas helps transfer the glucose into the cells. If your dog’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t use the insulin properly, glucose builds up in the blood causing hyperglycemia.

Hyperglycemia leads to the body’s cells being deprived of glucose, and your dog’s cells won’t have enough energy to function the way they should. During this state of metabolic starvation, the body starts to break down fat and muscle tissues, which become sugar in the liver. This process leads to weight loss.

Dogs can have one of two different kinds of diabetes. The first type is called insulin-deficiency diabetes, and it occurs when your dog’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin. Insulin-deficiency diabetes is often caused by a damaged or ill-functioning pancreas. The second kind is called insulin-resistant diabetes, which occurs when your dog’s pancreas produces some insulin, but your dog’s body isn’t using the insulin properly, and glucose doesn’t enter the cells as it should. Insulin-resistant diabetes is more common in obese and senior dogs.


Diabetes can be spotted with the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss, which can occur with a larger than normal appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cloudy eyes
  • Chronic or recurring infections

Early diagnosis can lead to fewer complications with diabetes. If you start to see any of the symptoms of diabetes, it is important that you bring your pet in for an evaluation right away. A veterinary internist can easily diagnose diabetes.

While diabetes can affect dogs of any age, it primarily affects dogs between the ages of four and 14. Female dogs are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than their male counterparts. Certain dog breeds also seem to be predisposed to diabetes.


Diabetes is a condition that can develop at any time. There doesn’t have to be a specific cause. However, obesity is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes. Age is also a risk factor because other diseases that aging pets develop can also lead to diabetes. Some of these conditions include heart disease, kidney disease, pancreatitis, urinary tract infections, skin infections, and overactivity of the adrenal gland.

Certain medications can also increase the risk of diabetes. Corticosteroids are known for increasing the risk of diabetes in dogs.


Even though diabetes can’t be cured, by working with a veterinary internist, you can help manage and treat the condition for your pet. After diagnosis, your veterinarian will give your dog an initial dose of insulin. They will also decide on a type and dosage for the insulin and show you how to administer the injections.

Treatments may need to be adjusted based on your dog’s response to the initial treatment regimen. Over time, your dog’s treatment may need to be adjusted based on the results of the monitoring you will need to do to keep your dog’s diabetes in check.

At-Home Diabetes Care

Dogs with diabetes will need a little extra care. First, there may be some lifestyle changes you need to make with your pet. Monitoring blood sugar levels will be incredibly important to ensure that you know if your dog’s blood sugar levels are normal, high, or low.

Additional lifestyle changes will include a high-fiber diet and appropriate exercise, which can be challenging for a dog with diabetes. Female dogs should also be spayed.

With diet changes, you will want to be consistent with timing, so insulin injections are on a routine schedule. Along with proper monitoring, these injections help keep your dog’s blood sugar levels in the normal range. When your dog’s blood sugar spikes too high or dips too low, they can become very ill. It is also important to follow your veterinarian’s insulin dosage precisely because insulin overdose and underdose can also lead to very severe symptoms such as tremors, seizures, and weakness.

If you believe that your dog has undiagnosed diabetes, contact AESC right away at 720-842-5050. Our internal medicine team can help diagnose and treat dogs with diabetes. If your diabetic dog is showing signs of insulin overdose, our 24-hour emergency clinic can help care for your dog during this critical time.

Dog Diabetes Symptoms

Dog Diabetes Symptoms

Our Orange County vets are seeing increasing numbers of dogs suffering from diabetes. Knowing the symptoms of diabetes can help you to get your dog the care they need quickly. See below to learn more about dog diabetes symptoms and treatments.

What is dog diabetes?

There are two main types of diabetes in dogs, although neither form of diabetes can be cured both can be managed effectively.

Insulin-Deficient Diabetes

  • ‘Sugar diabetes’ or diabetes mellitus is an insulin-deficiency diabetes that occurs when your dog’s body isn’t producing enough insulin. This is the most common form of diabetes in dogs.

Insulin-Resistant Diabetes

  • Insulin-resistance diabetes results from the dog’s pancreas producing some insulin, but not utilizing the insulin as it should. This type of diabetes is common in older dogs, obese dogs.

How serious is diabetes in dogs?

Much like diabetes in people, diabetes in dogs is a life-threatening illness. That said, both forms of diabetes seen in our canine companions can be effectively managed with a little extra effort from pet parents. Dogs that pass away from diabetes typically do so in the first couple of months following diagnosis, before the condition has been regulated. Once the disease is being successfully managed with ongoing treatments your dog could go on to live a long, happy, symptom-free life.

What are the symptoms of dog diabetes?

If your dog is displaying any of the following symptoms, make an appointment to see your vet as soon as possible. Early diagnosis is the key to successfully managing diabetes in dogs.

The early signs of diabetes in dogs include:
  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • Excessive appetite (polyphagia)
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Recurrent infections
  • Poor coat
  • Seizures
  • Weakness/Lack of Energy
Once the disease is more advanced symptoms may become more severe and include:
  • Cataracts leading to visual impairment/blindness
  • Lack of energy
  • Joint stiffness/weakness
  • Dull coat
  • Vomiting
If diabetes is not managed effectively, or not treated at all, severe symptoms include:
  • Cataracts resulting in blindness
  • Urinary Tract Infections — UTIs
  • Kidney Failure
  • Enlarged liver/Liver disease
  • Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia is a life-threatening condition that occurs due to low blood sugar that can be caused by dog diabetes and results in symptoms such as panting, shaking, vomiting, lethargy, and sweet-smelling breath. Hypoglycemia in dogs is a veterinary emergency. Contact your nearest emergency vet if your dog begins showing symptoms that could be related to hypoglycemia.

How is diabetes in dogs treated?

Following a thorough examination and testing, if your dog is diagnosed with diabetes your vet will prescribe medications and ongoing treatments that will allow you to manage your dog’s condition.

Ongoing treatment for diabetes in dogs typically involves:

  • Daily insulin shots
  • Regular daily exercise to help avoid spikes or sudden drops in glucose levels
  • A special, vet-recommended diet
  • Close monitoring of your dog for changes in symptoms and overall health
  • Regular veterinary examinations

One of the best ways to monitor your dog’s health is through regular wellness checks at your vet’s office. Having your dog examined once or twice a year can help your vet to monitor your dog’s overall health and spot the earliest signs of diabetes.

Can dog diabetes be prevented?

While there are no guarantees, you may be able to help your dog avoid developing diabetes by providing them with a healthy lifestyle. Keep your pup’s weight at a healthy level based on their sex, age and breed, feed your dog a high-quality diet that meets all of their nutritional requirements, and ensure that your four-legged friend gets plenty of exercise every day.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Signs a Dog With Diabetes Is Dying

Signs a Dog With Diabetes Is Dying

It’s true that a dog can pass away within a month or two of beginning to show signs of diabetes, but many will live for a year or two after diagnosis with appropriate treatment.

Some do very well for even longer, particularly if they have a dedicated pet parent who can continue to provide the care they need. Dogs with diabetes usually require insulin injections, dietary management, and close monitoring for the rest of their lives.

Sooner or later, it’s normal to start to worry about your pet’s quality of life. It’s difficult to know when it’s time to think about euthanasia if your pet is no longer enjoying a reasonable quality of life.

What Are the Signs That a Dog With Diabetes Is Dying?

Most dogs with diabetes get a form of the disease where their own immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells within the pancreas. Eventually, these dogs won’t produce enough insulin to survive without treatment.

Early signs of diabetes in dogs include increased thirst and urination as well as weight loss, despite a normal or even increased appetite. These symptoms will worsen relatively quickly if the dog doesn’t receive insulin. Signs of advancing diabetes include:

  • A dramatic increase in thirst and urination
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Severe weight loss
  • Repeated infections, especially bladder infections
  • Urine that is sticky and smells sweet
  • Cataracts
  • Diabetic neuropathy (a type of nerve damage more common in cats than dogs)

The final stage of untreated or poorly treated diabetes is often a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis, which will be fatal unless the dog quickly receives aggressive veterinary treatment.

Undiagnosed and Untreated Diabetes

Most dogs who develop diabetic ketoacidosis have diabetes that has either not yet been diagnosed or is not being treated with insulin. Insulin is needed to move glucose (a type of sugar) out of the bloodstream and into cells, where it is used as an energy source.

Without enough insulin, a dog’s blood glucose levels rise to dangerous levels while their cells are simultaneously being starved for glucose. To compensate for the lack of glucose inside cells, the body begins to break down muscles and fat to produce energy.

The body produces ketone bodies when fat is used as an energy source. This works in the short term, but over time, high levels of ketone bodies in the bloodstream make the body too acidic, hence the term diabetic ketoacidosis.

Prolonged acidosis leads to electrolyte imbalances, muscle damage, heart failure, fluid buildup in the lungs, kidney damage, or death. Signs that a dog might be suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis include all of the symptoms associated with diabetes, plus:

  • More severe lethargy and weakness
  • Mental dullness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Breath that smells like acetone (think of nail polish remover or paint remover)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Death

Dogs can recover from diabetic ketoacidosis. They will need several days of hospitalization to be given intravenous fluids, insulin injections, medications to correct electrolyte abnormalities and acidosis, and symptomatic care.

Treated Diabetes With Complications

Dogs who are being treated for diabetes can also develop ketoacidosis, often because they have another health problem that has made them need a higher dose of insulin than they are getting.

The opposite problem—getting too much insulin—is just as dangerous. Dogs whose insulin needs have declined (maybe they’re not eating well or are getting more exercise than normal) or dogs that have been accidentally overdosed with insulin can develop dangerously low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Signs of hypoglycemia in dogs include:

  • Sleepiness
  • Hunger
  • Shivering
  • Unsteadiness
  • Disorientation
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

If you think your diabetic dog might be hypoglycemic, do NOT give them more insulin. Rub corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, or a sugar solution on their gums if they will let you, and more importantly, get them to the nearest veterinarian immediately.

When Should You Euthanize a Dog With Diabetes?

Monitoring a diabetic dog’s quality of life is extremely important. Using a pet quality of life scale will help you identify parts of your dog’s life that might be causing them distress. Quality of life scales should help you assess six important factors:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Peeing
  • Pooping
  • Joy (mental health)
  • The well-being of human family members

You may be able to improve the problems you uncover. For example, if your dog is showing signs of discomfort, adding a pain-relieving medication (or additional pain-relieving medications) to their treatment plan could help. Or maybe the time and financial commitments of your pet’s care are taking a toll on you. Financial assistance or respite care may be available.

Talk to your veterinarian if you are worried about your dog’s quality of life. They are your best resource for information about treatment options and help that might be available in your area.

If your dog’s quality of life is poor and there isn’t a reasonable expectation that it will improve, your veterinarian can talk to you about euthanasia. While end-of-life decision-making is always difficult, euthanasia is often the humane way to prevent more suffering.

Featured Image: iStock/Chalabala

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