Treating Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs
Goals of Treating Diabetes
Once a veterinarian confirms that a dog has diabetes mellitus, she will establish a personalized treatment plan. The primary goals of treatment are to reduce or eliminate symptoms of the disease and return the dog to a happy, comfortable and active state. In most cases, the course of treatment will involve daily insulin therapy and strict dietary management.
If a diabetic dog presents in very serious condition, such as with profound dehydration, weakness and shock, it will be admitted to the hospital and probably started immediately on intravenous fluids to restore fluid and electrolyte balance.
Once the dog is stabilized, dietary modification will become important to prevent or correct the obesity that often is associated with early diabetes mellitus, as well as to stabilize blood glucose levels. Diets must be customized to each patient, but in general diabetic dogs should be fed a diet high in fiber to help reduce the rate of glucose absorption from food into the blood. A diet high in soluble and insoluble fiber, including complex carbohydrates, slows down absorption of food particles and facilitates management of the blood sugar peaks and troughs that accompany diabetes mellitus. Dogs with diabetes should be fed multiple small meals rather than a single large meal daily. One of those small meals should be fed at the time of each insulin injection. Most experts recommend that semi-moist packaged foods be avoided, because many of them contain ingredients that can exacerbate hyperglycemia (high blood glucose). If appropriate, owners should start a daily exercise regimen for diabetic dogs, after discussing this with their veterinarian.
Insulin therapy is the mainstay of treating Type 1 diabetes mellitus. It is easy to do, and the veterinary health care team can show owners how to give insulin injections to their dogs at home. The very fine, tiny insulin needles are well tolerated by most dogs. There are several different types of insulin with differing potencies and durations of action. The treating veterinarian will decide which type of insulin should be given to any particular dog, and at what amounts and intervals. It is extremely important for owners to follow the veterinarian’s instructions for giving insulin exactly, with absolutely no deviation. Improper storage, improper mixing and dosage errors can each have significant adverse effects on the success or failure of insulin therapy. For dogs with Type 2 (non-insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus, the veterinarian may prescribe other medications, such as oral hypoglycemic drugs, as an alternative or addition to insulin injections. She may also change the type or frequency of insulin given over time, along with checking for other underlying disorders that may be involved.
Monitoring a diabetic dog’s progress and response to treatment is essential. After insulin therapy has begun, the veterinarian will recommend a regular monitoring protocol, which will include periodic reassessment of the dog’s symptoms and blood and urine glucose levels. She probably will recommend performing a blood glucose curve from time to time. This test is used to assess how quickly a dog processes the type of insulin given and how effective the combination of diet, exercise and insulin is in controlling blood sugar swings. Blood glucose testing is essential to the safety and effectiveness of long-term insulin therapy.
A hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) crisis can occur if a dog with diabetes mellitus receives an insulin overdose, or when it receives the correct amount of insulin but vomits or does not eat in association with an insulin injection. This can cause weakness, lethargy, difficulty in rousing from sleep and sometimes seizures, blindness and swelling of the brain. The signs caused by hypoglycemia are usually temporary, but they can be severe and can become permanent. If an owner suspects that his dog is in a hypoglycemic crisis, he should stop all insulin therapy and take the dog to a veterinarian immediately. The veterinarian may recommend giving Karo (corn) syrup orally by rubbing it on the dog’s gums as a glucose source. In the hospital, the dog will be evaluated and probably started on intravenous fluid treatment until it is stabilized.
Treating diabetes of any type takes a real commitment from a dog’s owner. It is essential for owners to follow through on all recommended therapies and monitoring to manage this disease. It can be expensive to treat diabetes, and some owners find insulin administration difficult and/or unpleasant. Fortunately, with proper care and a conscientious owner, most dogs with diabetes mellitus can be well-managed and can maintain a good quality of life for many years.