If your dog needs insulin, he or she most likely has Type 1 diabetes. Managing a diabetic dog comes with a steep learning curve that includes monitoring their blood sugar and giving them life-saving insulin. In almost all cases, once your dog needs insulin, he requires it every day for life. This can feel overwhelming for many dog parents.
With the right knowledge, a little practice and a good veterinarian, you can manage your dog’s diabetes like a pro! Your veterinarian may recommend changes to diet, exercise and environment, but insulin is critical for diabetic dogs. Feeling confident with insulin — including how and when to give it — as well as what type of insulin you may use, is the first place to start.
Insulin is a hormone produced by your dog’s pancreas. This hormone helps regulate the glucose in the bloodstream. Without insulin, the sugar in your dog’s blood builds up to a dangerously high level. This can result in life-threatening electrolyte imbalances and one very sick dog.
Dogs that are diabetic usually suffer from Type 1 diabetes. This means that the cells in their pancreas that make insulin have stopped working. Type 1 diabetes can be caused by many factors, including:
Unfortunately, Type 1 diabetes in dogs cannot be healed and how to treat it requires daily insulin for life.
The most labor-intensive time in your dog’s journey with diabetes is in the beginning. Your dog may be recovering from a recent crisis of high blood sugar, and determining your dog’s ideal insulin type and dose requires a period of trial and error.
Here are the steps to follow to get your dog’s blood sugar properly regulated.
In the beginning, your veterinarian may need to perform a blood glucose curve that requires blood glucose values every two hours. This gives your veterinarian information about your dog’s blood glucose throughout the day and in relation to insulin administration. This can be done in a clinic or at home. The advantages of performing these curves at home include a more comfortable day for your dog and a more accurate reading, as stress caused by a veterinary visit can change blood glucose levels.
Several types of insulin can be used for your dog, and your veterinarian may start with one type and move to another. These vary in cost and in duration of action. They also have different syringe types that they are compatible with.
Insulin syringes are either U-100 or U-40. The U-100 syringes are compatible with insulin that has 100 units per milliliter of insulin. The U-40 syringes are compatible with insulin that has 40 units per milliliter of insulin. Mixing up the syringes could cause your dog to get too little or too much insulin.
Below are common insulins used in dogs and their associated syringe types:
Ultimately the type of insulin you settle with will depend on your veterinarian’s preference, what is available, cost and how your dog responds.
The most dangerous effect of insulin is low blood sugar. When your dog is given insulin, their cells are more able to utilize the body’s glucose. If levels of sugar in the blood become too low, your dog gets sick and could die if not treated. If your dog skips a meal, do not give him or her their insulin dose.
Always properly mix insulin before administration. Symptoms of low blood sugar include:
If you suspect your dog has low blood sugar, give corn syrup (ask your vet about how much to give) and seek emergency veterinary care.
Managing Type 1 diabetes may feel intimidating at first. You and your pup will soon be in a rhythm with a new confidence in your daily routine. Surround yourself with a support team that includes a veterinarian you like and trust, pet sitters or a neighbor who can help give your dog’s insulin if you are gone and an online community of other dog parents that are also caring for a diabetic dog. You are your dog’s best medical advocate, and your furry friend is so lucky to have your love and support.