Canine Diabetes Mellitus

by Vickie Halstead RN, CVNS, CCRN, CEN, LNC

The BFCA Health Committee is concerned that diabetes may be on the rise in Bichons, due to the gradual increase in reports in the last few years. Diabetes may be inherited but may also be an acquired or autoimmune disease. We are searching for a canine diabetes research project that may help answer this question. In the interim, at least we can inform you about the disease.

Diabetes involves a deficiency in insulin that is produced in the pancreas, which impairs the ability of the tissues to use glucose, fats, and proteins. The prevalence in dogs is 1/400-500 and Bichons are currently not included in the breeds predisposed to this disease. The causes include genetic susceptibility, pancreatitis, immune-mediated destruction of the pancreas (due to the use of preventive medications for fleas and ticks and excessive vaccinations), Cushing’s disease, viral diseases, obesity, and some drugs can damage the pancreas such as Steroids. The most common clinical signs are increased water intake and accidents in the house due to excess urine volume. The disease seems to be more severe if it occurs at a younger age.

Diabetes can be diagnosed by testing the blood glucose level, which will be high due to the lack of Insulin. Excess glucose will spill into the urine from the kidneys, which can also be tested via a urine sample. Diagnosis also involves ruling out another disease that presents with similar clinical signs, Fanconi Syndrome. The kidneys, due to a malfunction, spill glucose into the urine, but the blood glucose is not elevated. The BFCA health committee has received only one report of this syndrome, but be advised to ask your veterinarian about this disease if symptoms persist despite Insulin therapy. At this time researchers are not sure if the disease is inherited or acquired. For more information on Fanconi Syndrome, and how to help with research, see this web site:

The prognosis for diabetes with proper treatment is good, with most dogs having a normal life span as long as the glucose levels are managed properly. Treatment involves giving Insulin injections daily, monitoring blood glucose levels with your veterinarian, a diet with high fiber and low fat (raw diet or dry kibble without grains), and weight loss if obese. The optimal management is via a canine internist at a university veterinary clinic. Complications include seizures or coma due to alterations in blood glucose levels, and cataracts due to chronic high glucose levels. Regular visits with a canine ophthalmologist is absolutely necessary since poorly managed glucose levels can cause cataracts that progress very quickly and may require surgery to save the eyesight.

Until we know more about the causes of diabetes, breeding advice is guarded. If you see a trend toward diabetes in a family of Bichons, consider breeding away from that line. Obtain either a blood glucose level or a urine test for glucose before breeding. The fertility of dogs can be impacted by diabetes, plus a diabetic bitch has a higher chance of problems with pregnancy, whelping, and nursing.

Research for this article includes:
The Merck Veterinary Manual
The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult by Larry Tilley& Francis Smith
Textbook of Medical Physiology by Arthur Guyton & John E. Hall
The Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook by James Griffen & Liisa Carlson
Dogs, Diet, and Disease: An Owner’s Guide to Diabetes Mellitus, Pancreatitis, Cushing’s Disease, and More by Caroline D. Levin RN