Diabetes in Dogs: Know the Symptoms 

4 min read
Aug 21, 2023

Diabetes is one of the most common dog diseases. Treating it can be costly, however, as a vial of insulin can range from $40 – $150 monthly.1 Add to that the monthly cost of specialty foods and vet visits, and the costs of treating diabetes in dogs begin to stack up. Let’s take a closer look at what canine diabetes is, what to expect when managing it, and how pet insurance may be able to help cover some of the related expenses.

Understanding Dog Diabetes: Causes and Symptoms

Diabetes is a disease in which the body doesn't process insulin, or the body can’t respond correctly to the insulin it produces.2 In either case, the disease affects how the body processes blood sugar (glucose), which provides the primary source of energy to muscles, tissues, and the brain. While diabetes mellitus is common in people, many are unaware that the disease commonly affects dogs as well.

The most common type of diabetes in dogs is diabetes mellitus, sometimes called “sugar diabetes.3 Dogs diagnosed with this disorder are dependent on potentially expensive daily insulin injections to maintain their blood sugar balance. Another type of diabetes, called insulin-resistance diabetes, is when a dog’s body can still produce its own insulin, but the body can’t respond to it. While diabetes can’t be cured, it can be managed, meaning your dog can go on to enjoy a healthy and happy life with you.

A MetLife Pet Policy May Help Cover Diabetes Costs 

See What's Covered

Causes of Diabetes in Dogs

There are many factors that can put a dog at risk for diabetes, including:1

  • Age: Most diabetic dogs developed their condition around 5 years old, which is considered middle-aged for dogs.
  • Sex: Female dogs, particularly those who haven’t been spayed, are twice as likely to develop diabetes.
  • History of pancreatitis: Pancreatitis causes damage to the primary organ responsible for producing insulin. This can often lead to diabetes in dogs.
  • Obesity: Being overweight can increase your dog’s insulin resistance. Obesity also puts them at risk of pancreatitis.
  • Steroid medication: If your dog takes steroids for allergies or an autoimmune condition, long-term use can increase their risk of developing diabetes.
  • Cushing’s Disease: Similarly, Cushing’s Disease causes the body to overproduce steroids and puts dogs at risk of diabetes.
  • Genetics: Although diabetes in dogs can occur with any breed, some are genetically predisposed to develop the condition. Purebreds at higher risk of diabetes include:
  • Poodles
  • Dachshunds
  • Pugs
  • Miniature schnauzers
  • Samoyeds
  • Australian terriers
  • Fox terriers
  • Beagles

While some of these factors — like genetics — can’t be changed, it’s still important to know where your dog’s medical history puts them in terms of diabetes risk. Understanding and discussing these factors with your vet can help you prepare for the eventuality of diabetes and take steps to help prevent it.

Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Delaying treatment of dog diabetes can lead to organ damage and other complications. That’s why it’s so important to keep an eye out for some of the most common signs of diabetes in dogs:1

Increased thirst

Does your dog appear to be endlessly thirsty? You might think it’s because they’re urinating so frequently. However, the more they urinate, the more dehydrated they’ll become. So if you’re noticing these symptoms, but your pup hasn’t been more active than usual, it’s a good idea to bring them in to see the vet.

Weight loss without a change in diet

If your dog is eating regularly and loses weight, either suddenly or gradually, this can be a symptom of diabetes. When insulin isn’t working to break down glucose, your pet’s cells become starved of necessary nutrients. As a result, their body begins to use muscle and fat as energy sources instead, leading to weight loss.

Increase in appetite

You may notice your dog has an increase in appetite, also known as polyphagia.4 Your dog might be hungrier because the amino acids their cells need aren’t getting into the cells or aren’t being used properly.

Lethargy or lack of energy

Lack of activity or less energy to participate in usual activities are a common symptom of dogs with diabetes. What happens is sugar becomes trapped in your dog’s bloodstream, and the body doesn’t receive the glucose necessary for energy.

Vision difficulties

Diabetic dogs are at an increased risk of blindness. Many dogs with diabetes will eventually develop cataracts as a long-term complication. Both cataract development and vision loss can happen quickly or over a long period. Some vision loss can be repaired with surgery.

Lackluster coat and skin

If diabetes goes untreated, a dog will become chronically dehydrated from the loss of water through its urine. This results in dry and scaly looking skin. The coat will also lose its luster and shine. The good news is this can improve with treatment.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Dogs often develop infections of the urinary tract secondary to diabetes. This is because the increased sugar in the urine creates a favorable breeding ground for bacteria in the dog’s bladder.

Muscle weakness

If you notice your dog having difficulty moving around or lying down, this is likely due to stiffness or muscle weakness. A lack of glucose getting to the muscles can cause trouble with strength and movement. This may be particularly noticeable in the hind legs.

dog being held by a female vet

Types of Insulin for Diabetes in Dogs

Once your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, the next step is to start giving them insulin. You might think all insulin is the same, but there are actually three different types: short-acting insulin, intermediate-acting insulin, and long-acting insulin.5

Short-acting insulin goes into effect almost immediately by quickly stabilizing a dog’s blood sugar. However, these effects don’t last very long, usually less than 8 hours.6 Because of this, short-acting insulin is typically used by vets to treat diabetic ketoacidosis and other dangerous complications.7

Intermediate-acting insulin takes longer to go into effect, but it also has a longer impact on your dog’s blood sugar, lasting between 8 and 14 hours.6 (Interestingly, it doesn’t last as long in cats with diabetes.) You’ll typically need to administer intermediate-acting insulin twice per day.

Finally, long-acting insulin helps maintain stable blood sugar by mimicking natural insulin release levels. Although it can last up to 24 hours, it may need to be administered once or twice daily depending on your dog’s needs.6

Your vet may prescribe one or all of these types of insulin. It’s important to follow their directions and establish a regular schedule for giving your dog insulin.

Dog Insulin Cost: What To Expect

Insulin prices for diabetes in dogs can vary greatly. Although the average range is between $40 and $150 per month1, it can sometimes cost as much as $400.8 The difference comes down to your dog’s specific dosage and where you buy the insulin.

Larger dogs will typically need a higher dosage, resulting in a higher monthly cost. Your vet may be able to help you find a cheaper source of insulin, or you can search online to compare costs. Either way, you should always discuss the topic of medication with your trusted vet.

Pet Insurance Could Help You Save on Dog Diabetes Costs

Treating diabetes in dogs may be less expensive than it is for humans, but the cost is still nothing to sneeze at. Any unexpected bills can be a significant burden for dog owners.  Dog insurance can help you manage your pup’s diabetes by reimbursing you for a portion of covered and approved medical bills, including vet visits and prescriptions.

For example, take the story of real-life MetLife Pet member Kubo. Kubo was a senior husky living out his golden years in a small town in Ohio. His parents had been managing Kubo’s diabetes for several years, so they were no stranger to the high cost of treatment. In just one month, Kubo’s insulin expenses were over $675. But thanks to their dog insurance policy, Kubo’s parents were reimbursed for nearly $550. That meant they only had to pay about 20% of the total cost of their pup’s life-saving medication!9

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Get a free quote today from MetLife Pet Insurance so you can afford the care your dog deserves.

Help Protect Your Pup From Major Illnesses

**As with any insurance policy, coverage may vary. Review our coverage and exclusions.

1 “How to Save on Dog Insulin,” PetCareRx

2 “What Is Insulin,” Health Central

3 “Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment,” American Kennel Club

4 “Why Is My Dog Always Hungry?”, PetMD

5 “An Overview Of The Different Types Of Insulin For Dogs And Cats,” Kingsdale Animal Hospital

6 “Insulins commonly used in dogs and cats,” American Animal Hospital Association

7 “Diabetic Ketoacidosis In Dogs: Everything About DKA,” Kingsdale Animal Hospital

8 “The Cost of Having a Dog with Diabetes,” Tufts Your Dog, 2022

All claims paid amounts are based on MetLife internal claims data from October 2022. Story altered for illustrative purposes.

Coverage issued by Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886, and Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85454. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations and application is subject to underwriting. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC (“MetLife Pet”) for details. MetLife Pet is the policy administrator. It may operate under an alternate or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota) and MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).

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