Treatment of diabetes in dogs is fairly straightforward. The majority of dogs have Type I diabetes mellitus like humans and will need insulin injections once or twice a day. The structure of dog insulin differs from human insulin, however, so although human insulin is often used for treating canine diabetes, some dogs may benefit by using an insulin more closely related to their own, namely porcine (pig) insulin. If a human insulin is used in treatment, it is most often Humulin NPH, generally referred to as N.
1. Appropriate Health Care
If your dog is alert, hydrated, and eating and drinking without vomiting when diagnosed, your pet can be treated as an outpatient. There is no need for your vet to hospitalize a newly diagnosed diabetic who is otherwise healthy. Not only would hospitalization incur needless expense, it would stress both you and your pet and could actually delay the control of your dog's diabetes.
Exercise, especially strenuous activity, can have a positive effect by lowering your dog's blood glucose levels. If the glucose levels are lowered, the insulin dose will decrease. Exercise for all dogs is encouraged. For diabetic dogs, a consistent amount of exercise each day is extremely helpful.
(Also see the detailed information in the DIET chapter)
Avoid semi-moist foods that tend to contain high amounts of simple sugars. These will contribute to higher blood glucose levels ("postprandial hyperglycemia") that make diabetes harder to control. Current recommendations are to feed a dry food that contains a high percentage of insoluble fiber, is low in fat, and high in complex carbohydrates. Many veterinarians will recommend a prescription diabetic food. While many of these are good, you may be able to find a more nutritious and lower cost food at a pet store that will provide the same benefits. Avoid non-premium foods.
If your dog is obese, his health will improve if you control his caloric intake so that the ideal weight is achieved over a several month period. Exercise is invaluable for weight reduction also. Control of diabetes will also help the weight normalize.
If your dog is thin, this may be due to the catabolic (breaking down) nature of diabetes and with control of the diabetes, the weight should normalize. If your dog is thin, be especially aware of the possibility of ketoacidosis which can be life threatening and also altered immune function.
4. Owner responsibilites
Ask your veterinarian questions about feeding and medication schedules, home monitoring, signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and what to do, and when to call or visit the veterinarian.
Do not make changes in your dog's treatment regimen without discussing it with your veterinarian.
Keep a chart of pertinent information about your dog such as home monitoring results, daily insulin dose, weekly body weight, and other notes. Insulin dosage schedules that can be posted on the refrigerator or other prominent places can be very helpful in making sure your dog receives insulin at the proper time. Small notebooks can be used for other records. Be sure to take your notes with you when you visit the vet.
All dogs with Type I, or insulin-dependant diabetes mellitus (IDDM), will require insulin. The vast majority of dogs have Type I diabetes. Dogs can be treated with human insulins although there are insulins on the market that are formulated for canine diabetes. Most dogs will require two injections a day although there are some longer-lasting insulins that may enable a dog to be on one injection a day. Only your veterinarian and your dog's reaction can determine which insulin and which injection schedule is best for your pet.
Oral administration of hypoglycemic agents are generally not effective in dogs. Your dog will instead need insulin.
There are NO contraindications to giving a dog insulin. If your dog has diabetes, she will need insulin. Without insulin, your dog will suffer and eventually die.
Steroids, such as are given for asthma or allergies, can cause insulin resistance. If your dog is on these medications and is not diabetic, watch for symptoms of diabetes. If your dog is already on insulin and must take steroids, a dose adjustment (usually increased) is often necessary.
If your dog receives hyperosmotic agents such as mannitol or radiographic contrast materials, she should be closely monitored for complications. A life-threatening condition called hyperosmolar coma can result. Monitor your dog for higher than normal blood glucose, hydration, and activity level. Consult your vet for any abnormal changes.
Tilley LP, Smith FWK. The 5-minute Veterinary Consult, Canine and Feline. 3rd ed. 2004.
Wallace MS, Kirk CA. The diagnosis and treatment of insulin-dependent and non-insulin-dependent
diabetes mellitus in the dog and the cat. Probl Vet Med. 1990;2:573-90.