Diabetes in dogs- Symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention

Diabetes mellitus is one of the endocrine diseases that affect the pancreas. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin, which helps bring the blood sugar or glucose into the body’s cells for nutrition. Diabetes occurs when there are insufficient levels of insulin in the blood, if the body becomes resistant to insulin, or if too much glucose is left in the bloodstream.

Dogs need to have insulin provided to them via a needle and syringe when they develop diabetes. To help maintain adequate levels of glucose in the blood and to help bring glucose into cells, most insulin treatments are given on a twice-daily basis.

IMG source – canna pet

The cells would become starved, and the body would receive a signal to eat and drink more without insulin. If glucose levels are not controlled as quickly as possible,  dogs can become severely dehydrated, lose weight, and in severe cases, can develop seizures or fall into a coma.

What is a diabetic coma?

A “diabetic coma” is when, due to the presence of high levels of glucose in the bloodstream, a diabetic dog’s mentation (aka sense of self and awareness of surroundings) is diminished greatly. Most patients with diabetes mellitus will have noticeable clinical signs, that would prompt a trip to the vet’s office for an exam and diagnostics.

Diabetic dogs tend to drink a lot, but this is because they lose a lot of water through their urine as too much glucose is present in the blood.

Glucose spills over into the urinary bladder from the kidneys at high levels. Pets with diabetes urinate more than normal because glucose attracts a lot of water. In case of other signs of illness like vomiting and diarrhea, diabetic dogs if left untreated can get very dehydrated, especially if they stop drinking due to an upset tummy. This creates a hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, which basically means that the concentration of sugar in the blood is extremely high. It can alter a dog’s state of consciousness, when the brain becomes affected by this. Coma is extremely rare, but it is possible when there is insufficient insulin in the body

Symptoms of diabetes in dogs

Diabetic dogs can have a combination of different clinical signs. The most common symptoms include increased thirst, increased urination, and increased appetite. When cells become starved of glucose, fat and muscles may be broken down by the body for energy, resulting in weight loss.

Diabetic dogs may also appear lethargic at times because their body doesn’t get enough energy. The glucose that cells normally pick up for energy will remain in the bloodstream and won’t make it to the tissues that need it. This can also cause problems with important internal organs like the liver and the brain. If there are illnesses secondary to diabetes-like pancreatitis, vomiting and diarrhea may occur. Cataract formation in the eyes can also occur. 

cataract due to diabetes

Signs that can indicate the onset of a diabetic coma

It can take a few weeks for diabetes to be well-controlled with treatment if your diabetic dog was only recently diagnosed. You will need to look for signs that your dog’s blood sugar is too low, during this time. This may happen if too much insulin has been given. These overdosed pups may appear very lethargic and minimally responsive.

With severely low sugars, dogs can develop tremors and seizures. If you see this, then it is crucial to get your dog to the vet. If you can comfortably check your dog’s blood sugar at home with a glucometer, you can check it at the time when he’s lethargic.


Continuous-monitoring systems like the FreeStyle Libre are being used by more vets. The sensors last up to two weeks and you can scan with a reader or with a special app on your phone. Sugar levels can be detected by it without having to poke your pup with a needle to obtain a blood sample!

Alternatively, lethargy, fatigue, restlessness, and depression can be caused by prolonged hyperglycemia(aka very high glucose levels). Neurologic problems such as hind limb weakness and twitching may also occur. When your dog is in a hyperosmolar hyperglycemic state, there is a possibility of seizures. The occasional high sugar reading is okay, but persistent high readings are problematic and can lead to this state.

Causes of diabetic comas


When diabetes is poorly controlled, diabetic comas are a possibility. Insulin resistance may be developed by some pets, even if a certain insulin type is being taken by them for a long period of time. The effectiveness of insulin can be decreased by infections and inflammatory diseases like pancreatitis. A sharp drop in the amount of glucose in the bloodstream can be caused if too much insulin is given. When the brain is starved of its main energy source, it can lead to seizures and a coma.

One of the tissues that are broken down for energy is fat when there isn’t enough glucose entering the body’s cells. When fat is broken down too quickly by the body, it is converted into a type of fuel that leaves behind ketone bodies as waste products. These are very acidic and they can cause dehydration and harm the internal organs when they build up in the bloodstream.

Non-ketotic hyperosmolar diabetes mellitus can be developed in dogs, where there is some insulin in the body but not enough to get diabetes under control. This means that no ketones are present but the conditions are still suboptimal for the body. Diabetic comas are more likely to occur in this particular situation.

Treating diabetic comas

In a situation of altered dog’s consciousness, it is important to check his blood glucose. If this can be done at home and the sugar comes out to be very low, applying Karo syrup or corn syrup to the dog’s gums would be recommended by most of the vets. It can buy you some time, by bringing up blood sugar, while driving to your vet’s office or an emergency hospital.

Treating diabetic comas in dogs

If a sugar value is very high but your dog is acting normal, your vet can be called and asked about the next steps. If the glucose is very high but your dog is lethargic or non-responsive, he needs to be taken to the hospital or an emergency room right away!

Dogs with poorly controlled diabetes and diabetic ketoacidosis are typically hospitalized for fluid therapy, supportive care, and sometimes antibiotics. Your vet will intervene with anti-seizure medications if there are neurologic signs like tremors or seizures. To look for an underlying cause of why the diabetes is poorly controlled, they may run other tests. It is difficult to control female dogs, and so, if the dog is diabetic, she may be recommended spaying by the vet.

It can be difficult to control diabetes, especially in its early stages. It is important that you follow your vet’s directions when giving food and insulin. There can be better control by avoiding treats and snacks. If it can’t be controlled, it will increase the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis and non-ketotic hyperosmolar diabetes mellitus. Contact your veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately! If your diabetic dog is ever lethargic or non-responsive.

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