Diabetes and dogs

As with ourselves, this is a growing problem in dogs.  And as with us, it can (for the most part) be avoided with just a small attention to diet and exercise.

What is diabetes?

Sugar diabetes (diabetes mellitus) occurs when there is either insufficient insulin produced by the pancreas or when the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin.  The result is that blood glucose levels rise and this leads to the classic signs of diabetes including:

Increased thirst

Increased urination

Increased appetite

Weight loss

What are the risk factors for getting diabetes ?

This one’s easy.  Over-weight dogs with an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.  These are commonly the main problems that we face in our own struggle with diabetes.  Recognising the slide towards this situation is sometimes not so straight forward though.  Hopefully that’s where the health professionals at your Veterinary Centre come in.  At each (and every) visit we weigh dogs at nurse clinics and veterinary consultations.  Slowly, over the years we can build-up a library picture of the changing weights as they go through their life stages.  The annual health check then becomes a useful point to have that review of any subtle (or not so subtle!) changes in weight that may give a clue to an impending problem.  Once alerted it’s then our role at the Veterinary Centre to make sure we trim the pounds to get a dog back in to the “safe zone”.  Let’s be clear, no-one is trying to make a “size zero” out of every dog that appears at weight check clinics.  Dogs don’t have to be in a LBD by a date in the far-too near future!  We can take a more realistic approach to weight control, over a longer period, with our pets, and hopefully set them on a course that keeps them around a target weight.

So what is overweight in a dog ?

There used to be a saying to help alert us to weight gain: “If you can pinch an inch.”  Translating that to our pets isn’t quite so straight forward.  In dogs the aim is have just enough fat covering the ribs so that when you press against them you don’t have to push too hard to feel the ribs underneath the fat covering.  Too light and there’s a danger of playing “piano keys” on the ribs!  Too heavy and…well that’s pretty obvious really.  The other check is to look down on your dog from above and check for a small waisted appearance just ahead of the hips – not so easy with a shaggy-coated dog though.  The actual ideal weight of any dog is very specific to that individual, just like it is for us.  Relying on a specific weight target is less important than looking for a shape target.  As in ourselves there is always a weight that we work towards, but it can be modified if the shape is reached before the magical number that we’ve decided on.

But if my dog gets diabetes, it can be treated, right ?

Yes.  That’s the short answer.  But more often than not diabetes is a lifelong treatment with potentially poor knock-on effects for many other aspects of your dog’s health.  The management involves blood tests, which may need to be undertaken frequently in the early weeks of the stabilisation process, which will mean you get to know the route to your Vets rather too well.  Ongoing special diets may be needed as well.  Basically it’s an awful lot of hassle when just a small degree of attention to your dog’s expanding waistline could have prevented the slide towards this problem starting in the first place.  Weight checks are provided free of charge in nurse-led clinics at Veterinary Centres which helps to reduce the pain of having to make the appointment in our all too busy schedules in the run up to Christmas.  However, for your dog’s sake, it might just be the very best present he’s ever been given!