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Diabetes in dogs: symptoms, diet and treatment

Can dogs get diabetes? Absolutely! Diabetes is a chronic disease that can affect humans and a number of companion animal species, including dogs. Although diabetes in dogs can’t be cured, the good news is that with careful treatment and monitoring, diabetic dogs can often lead a healthy, happy life.

What is diabetes?

Canine Diabetes Mellitus is a disease of insulin deficiency in which the dog’s pancreatic beta cells do not secrete insulin normally (absolute insulin deficiency), or their tissues are resistant to insulin (relative insulin deficiency), or both. This interferes with how the body uses glucose, which is the body’s main source of energy. The absolute or relative lack of insulin means the dog’s cells cannot take up glucose from the blood stream as they would normally, resulting in high blood glucose.

Diabetic dogs almost invariably require insulin for treatment, so diabetes in dogs is often described as insulin-dependent.

Causes of diabetes in dogs

Diabetes in dogs can occur when the insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas are unable to normally produce and release insulin. For example, this could be if there is damage to the pancreatic beta cells from an immune-mediated disease or pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), or when insulin resistance develops (risk factors include diseases such as Cushing’s disease or hypothyroidism), the dog being overweight, hormonal changes associated with being pregnant or in dioestrus (a phase of the oestrus cycle). Sometimes, there is a genetic cause, with some dog breeds such as Samoyed, Tibetan Terrier, West Highland White Terrier, and Miniature Poodle presenting with diabetes more often than others.

Recognising the signs of diabetes

Signs of diabetes in dogs can vary between breeds, however, here are commonly seen signs which indicate a need for consultation and testing by a vet.

Common symptoms of diabetes in dogs include:

  • Excessive urination – the build-up of glucose in the blood spills over into the urine and as a result, the dog may urinate more often than they used to, possibly inside the house
  • Increased thirst to try and counteract the loss of water through urination
  • Increased appetite and unexplained weight loss despite eating more, as muscle and fat are being broken down to provide energy for the dog
  • Low energy levels

If you notice any of these in your dog, it is vital that you seek veterinary care.

Managing diabetes in dogs: Diet and lifestyle changes

To achieve the best outcome for your dog, consider caring for a dog with diabetes as teamwork between you and your vet.


Speak with your vet regarding the best diet for your dog, how often to feed them and how much. Prescription diets for dogs with diabetes are specially formulated to have the correct balance of nutrients your dog needs and are available from your vet. Feeding a consistent diet at the same times each day is vital.


Diabetic dogs almost invariably require treatment with insulin injections. These are given at doses and intervals decided by your vet based on your dog’s test results. Your vet and vet nurse can tell you how to store, prepare and administer the injections. Many dogs tolerate these well, especially if you use reward-based training to get them used to having the injections. Rewards do not have to be food either; you can use other things your dog enjoys such as cuddles and play. Talk to your vet about what will work with your dog and if food can be used as a reward.


Your dog will need to have repeated vet visits, especially in the early days of being diagnosed as diabetic. This is so your vet can perform any necessary tests (such as blood and urine testing and abdominal ultrasounds) and also determine the ideal dose rate of insulin for your dog. A ‘glucose curve’ may involve a full day at the vet hospital so that regular blood tests can be taken in-house. It may be possible to have monitoring performed in your own home with a vet visit, or for you to help monitor blood glucose levels in your dog; speak to your vet if you are interested in those options.


Daily gentle exercise (for example, walks once or twice daily) are a great way to help control your dog’s bodyweight, and also helps you both enjoy the outdoors together.

Minimising the impact of canine diabetes: Tips and precautions

For diabetic dogs, routine is vital. Keep to the same meal times, exercise should be consistent in amount, time of day and frequency, and never change the insulin dosage without consulting with your vet. Caring for a dog with diabetes will involve regular vet visits and expenses.

Taking care of your best friend

Owning a dog brings great joy, but it can be expensive if they become ill or injured. If you are worried that your dog is unwell or may have diabetes, it is important to consult with your vet immediately. They are your pet’s health care professional and will perform diagnostic tests and provide accurate diagnosis and treatment options.

To help manage the cost of keeping your dog healthy, consider RSPCA Pet Insurance to assist in covering eligible vet bills. Having pet Insurance prior to your dog becoming unwell could be an option as some policies do not provide cover for pre-existing conditions. If you’re with RSPCA Pet Insurance, a portion of first-year premiums will go towards supporting the valuable work of the RSPCA.

Dr Catherine Tiplady bio image

Dr Catherine Tiplady

Dr Catherine Tiplady studied veterinary science at the University of Queensland. After graduation, Dr Catherine worked in veterinary practice whilst undertaking postgraduate research in Animal Welfare, gaining additional degrees in Bachelor of Applied Science (Animal Studies) (Hons 1) and a PhD. Dr Catherine has published widely in peer reviewed scientific journals and has also authored a book, ‘Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People’. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Catherine also has her own business performing gentle in-home pet euthanasia and provides veterinary care and desexing services for animal welfare charities. Dr Catherine brings her passion for animal welfare, love of writing and scientific training together to contribute quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance’s Pet Care blog.