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Diabetes mellitus, or sugar diabetes, develops when the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. It is a rare disease in dogs under the age of 6. Insulin is a hormone essential for the metabolism and utilisation of glucose - the body's main source of energy.

Because the glucose is not absorbed from the bloodstream of a diabetic animal, it is excreted in the urine - this requires a lot of water, and hence one of the most obvious signs of diabetes is increased drinking or water consumption. Glucose in the urine can encourage bladder infections; other signs of diabetes include muscle wasting, weakness and even coma. When diabetes is not recognised, or not managed correctly, a more serious condition can develop called ketoacidosis - at this stage a dog feels nauseous, may vomit or refuse to eat and becomes dehydrated. This is a life-threatening situation.

Managing a diabetic dog at home

Stability is a key word in managing diabetes:

  • Diet must be consistent - give a prescription dog food in the same recommended quantity (feed for your dog's ideal bodyweight) at the same time (or times) of day. For dogs receiving once daily insulin, feed three meals 6-8 hours apart - the first meal is given 30 minutes after the morning insulin injection. Never allow scavenging or give treats or titbits.

  • Exercise must be regular, never excessive or overexciting.

  • Insulin dosages must be regular, the same dose at the same time (or times) of day. Most dogs manage best on two injections of insulin every day, each given 12 hours apart; sometimes a single dose in the morning is adequate. The dosing regime that suits your dog best will be determined by your vet, based on the blood tests done during the initial stay in hospital. Never alter the dose or frequency of insulin injections unless on veterinary advice

Initially, diabetes in pets needs to be managed in hospital. The dose of insulin required varies and it takes a few days, with regular blood and urine glucose measurements taken, to be sure the dog has been stabilised.

Once stable and at home again, you will need to check your dog's urine once a day for glucose and another chemical called ketones. There should be just a trace of glucose and ketones in the urine in a well-stabilised dog. The dipstix suitable for this are available from your vet or local pharmacy.

Depending on the underlying cause of diabetes, adjustments to insulin dosing may be required. If you have any doubts about your pet's well-being, discuss these with your vet.

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