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What Is Diabetes Mellitus In Dogs?

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Diabetes mellitus is a disease characterized by an impaired ability to produce or properly utilize insulin. It occurs in many animals including dogs, cats, and humans. The focus of this paper will be canine diabetes: its types, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and the care required to keep the animal healthy.

Type I and Type II Diabetes

Canine diabetes mellitus comes in two varieties: Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas  for several reasons cannot produce enough insulin. Insulin is required for cells to absorb glucose. When there isn't enough insulin present, blood glucose rises to an unhealthy level where it can cause tissue damage, organ failure, and other complications. Type I diabetes is much less common in dogs than Type II and usually results from genetic defect. Type II canine diabetes occurs when the dog can no longer effectively use the insulin it produces. This most frequently occurs when the dog is overweight or obese. Overfeeding and unhealthy foods cause blood glucose levels to rise sharply, causing the pancreas to create too much insulin. Over time, this excess insulin causes the dog's cells to become desensitized. The presence of excess fat can also inhibit a dog's cells from using insulin properly.

Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus

Dogs with diabetes mellitus most commonly present some or all of the following symptoms: excessive urination, excessive drinking, increased appetite, weight gain, or cataract formation. Excessive urination occurs as glucose builds up in the kidneys, which then try to flush it out by increasing water output. As a result, the dog must drink more in order to satisfy its increasing thirst. Diabetic dogs will often eat more and lose weight as their cells start burning other energy sources (like fat and muscle) when glucose is unavailable. Cataract formation occurs when excess glucose is chronically present in the blood. This causes water to build up in the lens of the eye, which can rupture lens fibers and create cataracts.

Diagnosis of Canine Diabetes

Veterinarians base a diagnosis of canine diabetes on three things: Does the dog present common symptoms of diabetes? Does the dog have high blood glucose levels? Is there excess glucose in the dog's urine? Simple blood and urine tests can be used to determine these last two questions.

Caring for Dogs with Diabetes Mellitus

If a dog has type I diabetes, the options for care are limited. If a dog does not create enough insulin, it must be provided this hormone with insulin injections. It is also important for dogs with type I diabetes to be on a low sugar/high fiber diet to help regulate blood glucose levels. Care of type II canine diabetes is a bit more involved. If the dog is overweight, it must first be brought back to a healthy weight to be rid of excess fat which can exacerbate insulin resistance in certain cell types. It must also be on a low sugar/high fiber diet rich in complex carbohydrates. In addition to diet and exercise, there are also natural treatment options like mineral and herb supplementation which can increase the effectiveness of the insulin the dog produces on its own. A diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is not a death sentence for your pet. With diligent care and proper treatment, a dog with diabetes can live out its full lifespan.


Photo Credit: barabeke

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