What to Know: Adopting a Diabetic Dog

Michael Kearley, DVM
By Michael Kearley, DVM on May 26, 2022
woman holding up a brown and white dog

What Does It Mean if a Dog Is Diabetic?

If you’re thinking about adopting a diabetic dog, you may have a lot of questions about how to best care for your new family member.

The first thing to know is that there is  a lot of help around you. Your veterinarian, and perhaps the shelter or rescue, can provide guidance to help make sure your dog is happy and healthy.

Diabetes mellitus (DM) in dogs is similar to what occurs in humans when blood sugar (glucose) is persistently high due to insufficient levels of the insulin. This hormone carries glucose into the cells to be used for energy, and without it, cells starve and the body will use its stores of fat for energy (causing further complications).

There are two main types of diabetes in dogs:

  • Type I, or insulin dependent, occurs when there is too little insulin produced by the pancreas. Because of this, dogs will depend on insulin being administered to them for life. This type of diabetes is the most common form in dogs.
  • Type II diabetes, or non-insulin dependent, is often seen in obese dogs, those with Cushing’s disease, or dogs that have been on chronic steroids.

Adopting a Diabetic Dog

Congratulations on adopting your new pup!

Dogs that require more medical attention (such as diabetes) are often unwanted, so you’re providing a loving forever home. As a pet parent, it’s important to understand your dog’s diabetes will need to be treated for life and will require a bit more effort in management.

Most diabetic dogs are middle-aged to older, and may have other health conditions along with their diabetes. But as long as the diabetes is well managed, you and your pup should enjoy companionship for years to come.

Your initial step should be to educate yourself about diabetes. Partnering with your veterinarian is the first step to take. The shelter or rescue from where you adopted your dog can also be a great resource for information.

Be sure to review what is known of the dog’s medical history and determine what the first few months of care will look like. Dogs recently diagnosed with DM often require more diagnostics and medical workups than those previously diagnosed and actively managed.

If a dog has been diagnosed with DM, and is being managed in a shelter or rescue, many of the initial costs and testing may not need to be performed once adopted.

Prior to taking a dog to his or her’s forever home, be sure to discuss the following with the shelter staff:

  • How long has the dog been diagnosed with DM?

  • How often and how much insulin is given (bigger dogs often require more insulin)?

  • What type of insulin and what type of insulin syringes are required?

  • Is the dog well-regulated on insulin?

  • Does its past medical history include diagnostics or other treatments?

  • Does its current medical history include additional medical conditions such as (cataracts, chronic pancreatitis)?

  • Are there any in-house, low-cost testing coupons or discounted medical care to help with future costs?

  • Is the dog fed a specific type of diet, and if so, how much and how often?

  • What special diet is the dog on, how much food is provided and at what times?

  • What other options can be considered if the special diet is not available?

Treatment and Management Options for Diabetic Dog

Initial testing will determine whether the insulin dose is effective or needs changing. An all-day blood glucose curve will be conducted that checks your dog’s blood sugar every couple of hours to make sure his/her blood sugar is not dropping too low or staying too high. 

Assuming your dog was recently diagnosed with diabetes as a shelter intake, initial testing often includes blood work and urine testing with a urine culture. Your dog will be sent home with insulin and most likely a diet recommendation.

Your shelter team will be able to determine whether this testing was recent enough or needs to be re-evaluated with your primary vet.

Once the proper dose of insulin is established and the diabetes managed, your dog should only need to be re-evaluated a few times each year. However, the bulk of treatments will be your responsibility at home.

Insulin for Diabetic Dogs

Most dogs will be managed with once- to twice-daily insulin injections under the skin, and your daily routine may need to be modified to accommodate for care management. Insulin injections may seem daunting at first, but your vet team will ensure that you are set up for success on this process.

Over the course of your dog’s life, you will most likely need to check blood levels to ensure proper levels of insulin dosages are being maintained. This process involves glucose monitoring and can be performed at home.

Diet for Diabetic Dogs

Be sure to fully understand your dog’s diet and nutrition needs. You should feed your dog the same thing, around the same time every day. Consistency is key which leads to better regulation of blood sugar.

It’s important to understand that even a well-regulated diabetic dog may need to drink and urinate more frequently. Make sure your dog has access to fresh water and, consequently, can urinate when needed.

Finally, keeping a journal is a good idea when monitoring daily water intake, urination habits, energy level, and appetite. If you see any changes, be sure to talk with your veterinarian.

Cost of Caring for a Diabetic Dog

Caring for a diabetic dog is rewarding but it is also important to be fiscally responsible because there are additional costs for proper care. Unfortunately, pet insurance may not be an option for diabetic pets, since diabetes is often considered a pre-existing condition.

When adopting a diabetic dog, keep in the mind that health care management will include:

  • Insulin: There are various types such as Vetsulin, Prozinc and Humulin; costs are variable but expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $180 for about one or two months depending on the type of insulin and amount given (your vet will help you determine the best insulin for your pup’s needs).
  • Insulin syringes: Be sure the type of needles match the insulin given. For example, Vetsulin requires U-40 syringes, whereas Humulin requires U-100 syringes. The costs are variable but expect to pay between $20 to $40 for a three-month supply.
  • Sharps container to dispose of used syringes are about $10.
  • At-home blood glucose monitoring equipment such as the AlphaTRAK 2 (about $70) or the FreeStyle Libre monitor ($130).
  • Diet: Prescription diets are typically recommended for diabetic pets.
  • Karo Syrup (or similar product): Often placed on the gums during a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) event wherein your dog may experience weakness, lethargy, or even seizures if too much insulin was given. Only use this syrup under the direction of your veterinarian.

Long-Term Management of Diabetic Dog

Keeping a healthy and consistent routine of diet and exercise, scheduled feedings, and insulin administration is key to managing your dog’s diabetes.

For most dogs, allow them to set their own pace in terms of activity. Consideration should be taken if other conditions are present, including whether your dog interacts with others as diabetic dogs are more prone to infections.

Be patient as your dog settles into his new surroundings. Transitioning from the shelter environment to life with you and your family can be quite scary and stressful. It’s important to pay attention to behavior and energy patterns during this time as the dog can become unregulated, so partner with your family veterinarian on the ways best to minimize stress.

Your dog should be examined within a few days of adoption so the veterinarian can review its full medical record. In addition to the products listed above for DM management, it’s recommended that you provide your dog with all the essential creature comforts such as plenty of toys, collar, harness, leash, and comfortable bedding.

You’ve already unlocked a great life for your pup by giving them a forever home. As more time goes on, the more comfortable you will be in providing a great life and the right balance of diabetic management for your pup.


How long do dogs live after being diagnosed with diabetes?

Dogs living with diabetes can have a relatively normal life; their life expectancy is variable but as they are prone to infections and long-term complications can occur, certain precautions will need to be taken throughout their life.

How can you tell if a dog is diabetic?

Often, the first sign you may notice is an increase in thirst, urination, hunger (or any combination thereof) as well as any unexplained loss in weight. Weakness and cataracts can develop, and if left untreated, will lead to hospitalization and treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis—a life-threatening condition wherein you dog may experience extreme lethargy, dehydration, vomiting, and a decreased appetite. 

What happens when a dog has diabetes?

Essentially, the dog’s cells are not able to get the much needed “fuel” it needs to function properly, and this is often attributed to insulin deficiency. Left untreated, the fat stores will be broken down as an emergency fuel source, followed by electrolyte imbalances, and additional problems will follow.

Featured Image: iStock.com/StefaNikolic

Michael Kearley, DVM


Michael Kearley, DVM


Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...

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