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November is National Diabetes Month, and while this month was originally designed to increase awareness of this common endocrine disease in humans, we need to be aware of the growing prevalence of Diabetese Mellitus (DM) in dogs and cats also. Untreated, diabetes mellitus can be fatal in dogs and cats.

In veterinary medicine, there are two types of diabetes mellitus: Type I DM and Type II DM. 

Cataract formation is the most common and important complication of canine diabetes. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye following prolonged high blood glucose concentrations, leading to blindness. Avoiding high blood glucose concentrations may help prevent or delay the development of cataracts.

Type II DM is when the body has some insulin being produced from the pancreas, but it is an inadequate amount or something is interfering with its ability to be used by the body. This is most commonly seen in cats and can be transient. In other words, if your cat has recently been diagnosed with Type II DM, he or she may only need insulin injections (via a syringe once or twice a day) for a few to several months, and not necessarily for life.

Who is at risk?

Any dog could develop diabetes, but certain breeds are more likely to develop the condition. These breeds appear to be at greater risk for developing canine diabetes:

·         Cocker Spaniels

·         Dachshunds

·         Doberman Pinschers

·         German Shepherds

·         Golden Retrievers

·         Labrador Retrievers

·         Pomeranians

·         Terriers

·         Toy Poodles

Diabetes typically occurs when dogs are between 4 to 14 years old. Unspayed (intact) female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to suffer from diabetes.


Clinical signs of diabetes mellitus in dogs and cats include:

Excessive thirst
Excessive urination
Inappropriate urination
Weight loss (most commonly over the back), despite an overweight body condition
Increased hunger
Increased “whiteness” of the lens of the eye due to cataracts
Poor skin condition (like excessive dandruff or an oily hair coat)

What is canine diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus, the clinical name for “sugar diabetes,” is a condition that affects the concentration of glucose, or sugar, in your dog’s blood. Diabetes results when the dog’s body makes too little insulin or doesn’t process insulin properly.

Insulin affects how your dog’s body uses food. When your dog eats, food is broken down into very small components its body can use. One component, carbohydrate, is converted into several types of simple sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood, where it travels to cells throughout the body. Inside cells, insulin helps turn glucose into fuel. If there’s too little insulin available, glucose can’t enter cells and can build up to a high concentration in the bloodstream. As a result, a diabetic dog may want to eat constantly, but will appear malnourished because its cells can’t absorb glucose.

Type I DM is when the body doesn’t make enough insulin (which is a hormone that is normally produced from the pancreas), and requires life-long insulin therapy (delivered via a syringe twice a day). This is most commonly seen in dogs – in other words, once a dog becomes a diabetic, he or she is diabetic for life.