Golden retriever laying down playing with his red toy. Golden retriever laying down playing with his red toy.

Diabetes in Dogs

What is Canine Diabetes?

Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs

Diabetes mellitus is a condition that affects the amount of glucose, or sugar, in your dog’s blood. Diabetes occurs when your dog’s body makes too little insulin, stops producing it completely, or has an abnormal response to insulin.

Insulin affects how your dog’s body uses food

When your dog eats, carbohydrates are converted into several types of simple sugars, including glucose. Glucose is absorbed from the intestines into the blood, where it travels to cells throughout the body. Insulin is required for the transfer of glucose from the blood into the cells so it can be used for energy. If there’s too little insulin available, glucose can’t enter cells, and instead builds up to a high concentration in the bloodstream. This is known as hyperglycemia.

As a result, there is not enough energy for the cells to function normally and they become “starved.” Over time, weight loss ensues despite a ravenous appetite. The build-up of glucose in the blood spills over into the urine and draws large volumes of water, resulting in increased thirst and urination.

How Common is Pet Diabetes?

Canine diabetes is more common in middle-age and older dogs, but it is also seen in young dogs. While believed to be underdiagnosed, diabetes mellitus affects an estimated one in 1 in 300 dogs.1

The primary cause of canine diabetes is largely unknown, but experts suggest that genetics may play a role.

“My vet told me certain dogs are at greater risk for diabetes!”


Animated character Spike sitting.

Related Conditions

Dogs with diabetes can develop complications subsequent to becoming diabetic. Careful control of blood glucose concentrations may help minimize these complications.

Common complications of canine diabetes

Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye following prolonged high blood glucose concentrations, leading to blindness. Other complications could include frequent infections and ketoacidosis (which cause decreased appetite, vomiting and lethargy,) which requires immediate veterinarian attention or similar.

These complications can be severe and impair how insulin works. Contact your veterinarian any time your dog experiences any change in signs.

Which Dog Breeds Are at Risk?

Diabetes typically occurs when dogs are between 4 to 14 years of age. Unspayed female dogs are twice as likely as male dogs to suffer from diabetes.

Any dog could develop diabetes, but these breeds appear to be at greater risk for developing canine diabetes2:

Close-up of cocker spaniel on grass.
Cocker Spaniels
Dachshund being pet by its owner while on a walk.
Doberman standing in tall grass.
Doberman Pinschers
German shepherd outside tilting her head.
German Shepherds
Golden retriever being hugged by little girl.
Golden Retrievers
Labrador retriever running with a stick in his mouth.
Labrador Retrievers
Pomeranian in the lap of her owner.
Terrier on the bed playing with a purple ball next to a woman.
Poodle in the lap of a woman.
Toy Poodles
Schnauzer laying in a yard of grass
Miniature Schnauzers
Keeshond in tall field of grass.
Samoyed standing in a field of yellow flowers.

If you feel your dog is at risk for developing diabetes, consider having your pet tested during a regular veterinary examination at least once a year.

Further Reading

Golden retriever and cat laying next to each other. Golden retriever and cat laying next to each other.

Talk to Your Vet Today

Find a veterinarian to learn more about pet diabetes, and how cats and dogs can lead a happy, healthy life with proper management.

  1. Canine diabetes mellitus; can old dogs teach us new tricks? Catchpole B, Ristic JM, Fleeman LM,Davison LJ. Diabetologia 48:1948-1956, 2005.
  2. Feldman EC, Nelson RW. Canine and Feline Endocrinology and Reproduction. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Saunders; 2004:486–538.


VETSULIN® and VETPEN® are for use in animals only. Dogs and cats known to have an allergy to pork or pork products should not be treated with VETSULIN®. VETSULIN® is contraindicated during periods of hypoglycemia. Animals with severe ketoacidosis, anorexia, lethargy, and/or vomiting should be stabilized with short-acting insulin and appropriate supportive therapy before use. As with all insulin products, careful patient monitoring for hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia is essential. Overdosage can result in profound hypoglycemia and death. Progestogen and glucocorticoid use should be avoided. The safety and effectiveness of VETSULIN® in puppies, kittens, breeding, pregnant, and lactating dogs and cats has not been evaluated. Keep out of reach of children. Avoid contact with eyes. In case of contact, immediately flush eyes with copious amounts of water for at least 15 minutes. Accidental injection may cause clinical hypoglycemia. In case of accidental injection, seek medical attention immediately. Exposure to the product may induce a local or systemic allergic reaction in sensitized individuals. For complete safety information, refer to the product label.