Diabetes in Dogs


Panelists Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM, and Ruth MacPete, DVM, discuss the signs and symptoms of diabetes in dogs and what pet owners should look for when suspecting this manageable condition.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Hello and welcome to Pet Connections. I’m your host, Dr. Richard Goldstein. Hearing that your pet has diabetes can be devastating and overwhelming. Although diabetes is more common in older pets, it can also occur in younger pets as well. As with any disease, it is more manageable if detected early. Diabetic pets can live long and happy lives with treatment, monitoring, diet, and exercise.

Today we are very pleased to have Azi Chegini with her dog Spider to share Spider’s journey with diabetes. Spider had diabetes when Azi adopted him 3 years ago at around the age of 2. Also with us today is Dr. Ruth MacPete, from San Diego, California. Later in the program we will be joined by Brittney Cirone, who is a veterinarian technician at the Center for Animal Referral and Emergency Services, CARES, in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. Thank you for joining us here on PetConnections.

Dr. MacPete, you know people relate to diabetes as they relate to human diabetes, obviously. People are very familiar with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, or juvenile diabetes versus type 2 diabetes. What about diabetes in dogs? What type of diabetes do dogs typically get?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Dogs most typically get type 1 diabetes, so insulin-dependent diabetes. That obviously means that they require insulin, that the body is failing to produce the hormone insulin. That’s what we most commonly see with dogs.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: And in your practice, which I understand is a busy and successful practice in San Diego, how commonly do you see diabetes?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: We actually see diabetes more commonly than people think. Usually in about 1 in 300 dogs we’ll see diabetes, and we’re seeing it in about 1 in 200 cats.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: We’ll get to cats. Let’s focus on dogs just for a minute. When people come in with a diabetic dog, what is the complaint and how do you achieve that diagnosis?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: A lot of times we’ll pick it up off of screening, so that’s one of the things that I always recommend in older pets: that we’re screening blood work annually because of diseases like diabetes. Sometimes, as you know, the signs can be subtle or nonexistent. When they come in with symptoms, some of the early signs that we see are increased thirst. We’ll see that the animal is urinating more frequently. Maybe the dog has to go outside more commonly. They’re whining to go out and are having accidents in the house. We’ll also see that they have an increased appetite despite the fact that they might actually not be gaining any weight or, in fact, may be losing weight.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: It’s interesting. Some people associate a good appetite with like good health.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: But they won’t go to the vet because they think, “Oh, he’s eating great.”

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: But in reality, they’re eating more and they can’t assimilate those calories, so they’re actually losing weight despite a good appetite.

Ruth MacPete, DVM: And sometimes they’re lethargic. But that’s one of the things, and I know you know this, why screening blood work is so important, because sometimes people don’t notice the symptoms. Especially if they have multiple pets, they’re not really sure who’s drinking more water or why they have to fill the bowl more, and so that’s why it’s so important.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: Yes, and when we do screen blood work, we’re talking about glucose, right?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: You get glucose in the blood, and it’s important that the blood is run right away, right?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: Yes, and with screening tests, too, blood and urine. In older pets, I’m recommending both. Like you said, in the diabetic pet, we’re going to see that they have elevated blood sugar levels and probably also glucose or sugar in their urine.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: When you talk to owners about their aging pets and you talk about what could happen to them, they’re maybe going to get some arthritis or kidney disease and diabetes, what do you tell them to look for in terms of diabetes?

Ruth MacPete, DVM: At first I tell them that all of these diseases are more prevalent as pets age, and I tell them to be on alert at home, looking for signs like we talked about: increased thirst or increased urination. And then, I really recommend that people screen blood work every year, sometimes every 6 months depending on the age of the pet. I also counsel people about the fact that diabetes is a manageable condition, because I think when I’m talking to people about diabetes or kidney disease or why we do these screening tests, a lot of owners question whether they want to do the blood work. They think, “Well, what am I going to do if my pet has diabetes or kidney disease?” So, that’s one of the things that I really try to stress: The fact is that diabetes in pets, just like in humans, is a manageable condition, not a death sentence.

Richard Goldstein, DVM, DACVIM: I think the message about how any change that the dog experiences—eating more, drinking more, eating less, drinking less, any change—should prompt a visit to the vet. I completely agree with you. Preventative medicine is all about screening: screening blood work annually for younger dogs and maybe every 6 months for older dogs.

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