In Western countries, around one in every 250 dogs develops diabetes mellitus. A dog usually has Type 1 diabetes, caused by a lack of insulin in his blood. It's important to be aware of the warning signs associated with inadequate insulin levels and to take your dog to a veterinarian when you see them. If you manage your dog's diabetes properly with insulin therapy and a high fiber diet, he can have a happy life.
While the exact cause of diabetes isn't clear, autoimmune disease -- where the dog's immune system attacks and destroys its own insulin-producing cells -- obesity, chronic pancreatitis, genetics and some medications can play parts in its development. A dog is at a higher risk of developing diabetes if she is around 6 to 9 years old, overweight and female. Female sex hormones can increase blood sugar levels. Dachshunds, schnauzers, poodles, keeshonds, samoyeds and Australian terriers are more likely to develop the condition.
The cells in a dog's body need glucose, which is a sugar extracted from the dog's food and carried in the bloodstream to the cells. The cells need the hormone insulin -- produced by the pancreas -- to be able to absorb and use the glucose. When there isn't enough insulin, the glucose can't get to the tissues that need it, and an excess of glucose builds up in the blood. The dog's kidneys normally stop glucose loss through urine. But with an excess, the kidneys can't cope, and glucose, which takes water with it, is lost with the urine. This causes the dog to have to keep peeing and to drink more to cope with the loss of fluid.
Recurring urinary tract infections are another common warning sign a dog has diabetes and low insulin levels. The buildup of glucose in the urine, which is normally used by the dog's cells, turns the dog's bladder into a perfect incubator for bacteria. Other signs include an increase in appetite, while the dog loses weight. There may be muscle-wasting; he could be lethargic and could suffer with chronic skin infections.
Sometimes, one of the first signs of diabetes is cataracts. A cataract is a partial or whole opacity of the eye's lens that inhibits the dog's sight. Several causes of cataracts exist, but diabetic cataracts can develop very quickly, and the dog may be blind within a few weeks. While the eye normally absorbs glucose from the eye fluids, an excess of glucose turns into sorbitol. The sorbitol pulls water into the lens, which causes the cataract. Once diabetes is regulated, cataracts can often be removed surgically.
If diabetes, and the lack of insulin, goes untreated, the dog's body will start using stored fat for energy. The cells break the fat down into ketones to get this energy, but if the ketones start to build up, the dog's blood becomes more acid. If this happens, the poor dog may be sick, weak, dehydrated and depressed. His breath will smell of acetone -- rather like nail varnish -- and he could go into a coma and collapse. Diabetic ketoacidosis is life-threatening. An affected dog will need to be treated with balanced intravenous fluids and insulin.
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