Worried About Having A Diabetic dog?

Having a diabetic dog used to mean he was likely to die, and sooner rather than later. Today, thank goodness, that's no longer the case. Once you understand more about diabetes in dogs you'll realize that it's a disease that's easily treated at home and your Cocker Spaniel can go on to live a long and healthy life!

Types of Dog Diabetes

Beautiful buff colored Cocker Spaniel!

It may come as a shock to hear that your dog has diabetes, especially if you thought that it could only happen to humans! 

First of all, there are two types of diabetes in the canine world: 

  • Diabetes Mellitus, which is also known as sugar diabetes; 
  • Diabetes Insipidus, which is a very rare condition. 

It's more likely for your dog to have Diabetes Mellitus as it's the most common canine form.

In the human world, we have two types of diabetes: type 1, which can only be treated by insulin injections, and type 2, which can be managed by medication and a change in diet. 

In the doggie world, type II diabetes is very rare and it's more common to see type I diabetes.

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas, an organ situated behind the stomach. 

The pancreas has two main jobs; it produces digestive enzymes and insulin.

Digestive enzymes help to process the food that your dog eats, breaking it down into nutrients, such as glucose, which are absorbed from the intestines into the blood stream and then carried to cells throughout the body. 

Insulin is a hormone that regulates your dog's blood sugar levels by helping cells in his body to take the glucose and convert it into energy.

When your dog has diabetes, his pancreas stops producing insulin (or produces very little) resulting in dangerously high levels of glucose in the blood stream - a serious condition known as hyperglycaemia.          

Without insulin, the cells are unable to absorb glucose and turn it into energy. Consequently the cells begin to shut down, leading to damage in organs, such as the kidneys, bladder and liver.

A diabetic dog is also at risk of developing cataracts, which gradually affect their vision and can lead to blindness. Thankfully cataracts can be easily remedied.

In simple terms, diabetes is a failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar, which COULD lead to organ damage, coma and ultimately death.

Symptoms of Dog Diabetes 

There are certain classic symptoms of this disease; for example, your Spaniel may: 

  • drink more water than usual;
  • pee more often;
  • be constantly hungry;
  • lose weight for no apparent reason;
  • seem lethargic;
  • have a sweetness to his breath;
  • develop cloudy eyes;
  • suffer from regular infections;
  • vomit;
  • develop skin and coat problems;
  • develop cataracts.

Learn more about dog diabetes symptoms

What Causes Diabetes in Dogs?

The jury's still out on this one, I'm afraid, but research suggests that it may be caused by several factors:

  • genetics, 
  • damaged or inflamed pancreas, (chronic pancreatitis), 
  • a poor diet, 
  • obesity, 
  • insufficient exercise.

Dog diabetes can also occur as a reaction to certain drugs.

Thankfully, the Cocker Spaniel isn't prone to this disease; it's not in their genes.

However, they can often develop diabetes in later life, usually as a result of obesity or a poor life-long diet. 

Diagnosing A Diabetic Dog

It's best if you don't try to diagnose this yourself. 

It's good to be informed, but if you suspect your dog has diabetes, speak to your vet as soon as you can. List your dog's symptoms, including any changes in mood or behaviour. 

The vet will test his blood and urine for sugar. If the results show high levels of glucose he may decide to give an injection of insulin to help lower the sugar levels. 

He may also carry out tests to determine how your dog's kidneys and liver are functioning.

Once your pet has been formally diagnosed with diabetes, treatment can begin.

Treating A Diabetic Dog

Treating diabetes usually involves insulin injections, a change of diet, regular exercise and weight management.

Testing and Insulin Injections

Your Cocker Spaniel will need to be tested each day, as well as having insulin injections daily for the rest of his life.

Your vet will explain what's necessary once he's given his diagnosis.

If you're a bit nervous about giving your dog injections, your vet will show you how and will supervise you until you're comfortable. 

How To Give Insulin Injections

Giving the injections isn't too difficult because you don't need to find a vein; you just need to get the needle under the skin. The folds of skin at the scruff of the neck are ideal, but there are other areas of the body you can use.  

The needles, by the way, are very fine and won't hurt your dog - trust me, he'll hardly feel a thing.

Why not watch the video below and see for yourself just how simple it is? 

Managing Your Dog's Weight 

Owning a diabetic dog means it will become even more important to manage and control his weight. 

You can do this by making sure your Spaniel has a healthy diet and gets plenty of regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.  

A Healthy Diet:

A healthy diet will keep blood sugar levels balanced.

Your vet will almost certainly recommend changing your pet's diet to something that's higher in fibre and proteins, lower in sugars and fats, and one which contains more complex carbohydrates (those which are digested more slowly). 

He may also recommend that you feed your dog several small meals throughout the day, instead of one or two main meals each day, to avoid sugar spikes. 

Ideally, your Cocker Spaniel should eat natural protein (ie. unprocessed), healthy fats, such as fish oils, a few fresh fruits and vegetables, and vitamin and mineral supplements. 

Sugar shouldn't figure in his diet at all, except for those found naturally in fresh fruit and vegetables. 

Healthy Treats:

Treats and tit-bits from your dinner plate will become a 'no-no'. Yes, it will be difficult, but very necessary. However, if you really can't bear not to treat your dog now and again, perhaps your vet can recommend something that you can safely give him.

Alternatively, you could try one or two of these to use as low fat treats:

  • strips of liver dried in the oven;
  • dried beef or chicken strips;
  • frozen green beans - it doesn't matter if they're raw or cooked;
  • tuna in spring water.

You may choose to prepare your pet's meals yourself but, if you don't have the time (or the inclination), you may want to consider prescription dog food that's specially prepared for diabetic dogs and which you can buy from vets and most good pet stores. 

Regular Exercise and Weight Control: 

I'm sure your pet is already well-exercised; however if you've lapsed recently, now is definitely the time to begin again.

Keep your Cocker Spaniel fit with plenty of exercise in the fresh air!

Exercise is even more important to his health now...so don't be tempted to miss a walk just because it's raining!

Don't overdo it though, especially if he's 'middle-aged' and not used to being exercised regularly.

Begin any new exercise program gently - perhaps a 15 minute stroll, increasing it gradually until he's walked for an hour (or more if he's comfortable, ie. not panting too much). When he's okay with walking for an hour, try increasing the pace in the middle of his walk.

If your pet is overweight, it will become essential that he slims down a little and whilst regular exercise will help to maintain your dog's weight, you may need to take extra measures to help your Spaniel to shed those extra pounds.

Diabetic dog care isn't rocket science. A good walk every day, a few Frisbee runs, and a healthy diet will have your pet in tip-top condition in no time at all!

Living With A Diabetic Dog: Conclusion

Once upon a time, if a dog was diagnosed with diabetes it almost certainly meant he would die, prematurely, from diabetes. 

Today however, although it's a chronic, incurable disease, it's easily manageable with insulin and the best bit is...it can be treated at home!

It can be time-consuming and quite stressful until you get into the 'swing' of dealing with it, but once you've mastered the testing and daily injections, and got your head around the change in diet and exercise, you'll soon realize that there's absolutely no reason why your pet can't continue to have a happy, healthy life despite being a diabetic dog!

If you'd like to learn more about diabetic dogs, this interesting article goes into more detail.