Diabetes mellitus

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Mature cataracts in a dog with diabetes mellitus[2]

Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a relatively uncommon endocrine disease of dogs compared with type II diabetes mellitus in humans and cats.

Diabetes mellitus in other species is typically characterized by pancreatic islet cell destruction due to chronic pancreatitis or immune-mediated disease, leading to hyperglycemia and glycosuria[3]. In dogs, diabetes is usually observed in obese dogs where compensation for obesity-induced insulin resistance results in increased secretion of insulin[4], thus excluding them from the normal classification of diabetes mellitus. As well, natriuresis (urine sodium loss) and water loss-induced dehydration are not a feature of canine diabetes, which differs markedly from human and feline patients[5].

This disease should be distinguished from diabetes insipidus, a totally unrelated disorder characterized by vasopressin dysregulation due to central diabetes insipidus (hypothalamic-pituitary disorders) or nephrogenic diabetes insipidus (nephron impairment as a result of genetic or acquired disease).

Diabetes results in disorders in the metabolism of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins[6], leading to multiple organ pathologies in numerous organs including the liver, kidney, pancreas, eyes and nervous system.

A number of forms of diabetes have been recognized in dogs:

  • Type I - juvenile (insulin-dependent) diabetes mellitus - common in dogs
  • Type II - adult-onset diabetes mellitus - rare in dogs compared with cats[7]
  • Type III - gestational diabetes mellitus in pregnant dogs - predisposition to diabetic ketoacidosis[8]

The underlying cause(s) of diabetes in dogs is poorly understood but includes:

Prevalence rates of diabetes in dogs varies from 10 - 20 dogs per 10,000, with rising rates probably related to increased obesity amongst this species. Females and neutered males appear to be over-represented. The peak age of occurrence is 7 - 11 years. It occurs rarely in dogs under 1 year of age[14].

Additional diseases associated with canine diabetes is increased predisposition to common infectious and inflammatory diseases such as cystitis, glomerulonephritis[15] and cataracts[16], due primarily to upregulation of proinflammatory cytokine production without a concurrent change in anti-inflammatory cytokine production.

Clinically affected dogs are middle-aged and commonly present with gradual weight loss, persistent hyperglycemia, hepatomegaly, polyuria secondary to osmotic diuresis (when blood glucose > 20 mmol/L), polydipsia and polyphagia and in protracted cases, ataxia due to diabetic polyneuropathy.

Urine testing usually reveals glucosuria and ketonuria is present in about 65% of dogs. Increased serum alkaline phosphatase, alanine amino transferase and hypertriglyceridaemia are common.

In most dogs, there is an associated elevation in blood glucagon and ketoacid production, due to mobilized fatty acids, resulting in diabetic ketoacidosis, characterized by hyperglycemia, metabolic acidosis (venous pH < 7.35)[17] and ketosis (BOHB concentration >2.0 mmol/L)[18]. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a serious consequence of diabetes, sometimes exacerbated by use of oral biguanide agents such as metformin.

Diagnosis is based on presenting clinical signs, blood test to confirm persistent hyperglycaemia and elevated fructosamine.

Additional testing may be performed including canine pancreatic lipase immunoreactivity (cPLI), urine culture, thoracic radiographs and abdominal ultrasonography.

A differential diagnosis would include diabetes insipidus, other causes of polyuria and Fanconi's syndrome.

Treatments include:

  • Weight loss in dogs with obesity - obese dogs have greater postprandial glucose, triglyceride, insulin concentrations[19] and insulin resistance[20]
  • Diet change - diabetic diet management- high in complex carbohydrates, low in simple sugars[21] and moderately restricted fats are recommended for the early cases of diabetes[22]
  • Oral diabetic agents
- Acarbose - modest improvement in glycemia control in dogs[23]
- Metformin - largely unreliable in dogs and not recommended[24]
- Glipizide - show variable efficacy at glucose control unless used in concert with insulin
- Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists - novel synthetic glucagon agonists which increase glucagon levels, resulting in reduce insulin secretion, reduced appetite and delayed gastric emptying[25]
- Lispro - short-duration effect, usually reserved for diabetic ketoacidosis
- Protamine zinc insulin - medium-duration effect, twice daily injections
- Caninsulin - intermediate effect, twice daily injections
- Glargine - long-duration insulin, once daily injections

Long-term glucose control can be monitored by serum fructosamine or glycosylated hemoglobin determinations[26].

Remission is a rare event that is possible after the resolution of insulin resistance conditions, especially those related to the estrus cycle[27] such as pregnancy, ovarian remnant syndrome and pyometra.

Long-term management of most canine diabetic patients must address quality of life issues such as long-term glucose testing (carpal pad prick testing[28]), long-term costs, time spent of monitoring glucose levels, concerns over leaving the dog for extended periods of time or in boarding care, and long-term secondary health issues[29].


  1. Pet Medicine Supply
  2. Veterinary Ophthalmology Services
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