Five potential complications of diabetes in dogs

Five potential complications of diabetes in dogs

Health & Safety

Diabetes is a condition that affects a small but significant number of dogs in the UK, and unfortunately, incidence rates of the condition are actually on the rise. Diabetes may be present from birth or can be acquired later in life due to either a hereditary predisposition to the condition or as a result of obesity and other issues-but both varieties of diabetes require a significant amount of care and lifestyle management on the part of the dog’s owner.

There is a lot to think about if your dog is diabetic, particularly if their diagnosis is fairly recent, and carefully monitoring and controlling your dog’s diet, exercise levels, lifestyle and general wellness all take a reasonable amount of effort, particularly if this is compounded by the need for insulin injections too.

As well as the day-to-day care that a diabetic dog requires, it is also important for the owners of such dogs to understand some of the secondary complications that can occur in diabetic dogs too, and know how to minimise the risks, and recognise a potential problem that is developing.

In this article, we will look at five of the most common potential complications of diabetes that can arise in dogs, including their risk factors and symptoms. Read on to learn more.

Increased risk of bacterial infections

Diabetes has a systemic effect on the whole body of the dog, although the effects of this are minimised when the condition has been brought under control and is managed properly. However, because diabetes can lead to higher than normal levels of glucose in the blood, this can make it easier for potentially harmful bacteria that would normally be killed or neutralised within the body to thrive, increasing the risk of the dog developing various types of infections.

This may mean that a diabetic dog will be more prone to picking up bacterial infections than a dog in full health, and may find it harder to shake them off and recover fully. Any infections should be treated and monitored with vigilance, and blood: glucose levels reassessed if necessary.

Cataract formation

Cataracts are a common complication of diabetes in dogs, because once again, a high blood: glucose level can cause a range of problems. Initially, this will cause clouding of the lens of the eye and then progress to potential blindness if left unchecked.

Owners of diabetic dogs should remain vigilant to any changes that present in their dog’s eyes, and have cataracts treated and removed promptly in order to ensure that the dog’s vision is not compromised.


Glaucoma is another eye condition that can be caused as a result of diabetes, often as a tertiary complication of cataracts which are in turn, often a secondary complication of diabetes. Glaucoma is caused by high levels of protein within the eyeballs and an increase in pressure, which can give affected dogs bulging or protruding eyes. This tends to be painful, and several other risks accompany unchecked glaucoma including the potential for retinal detachment.

Ensuring that cataracts are diagnosed and treated promptly can help to greatly reduce the chances of glaucoma development, and advanced stage untreated cataracts can actually make glaucoma impossible or much harder to treat.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

If your dog’s diabetes goes untreated, the treatment protocol used is not a good fit for the condition or if something goes wrong with your day-to-day management of the condition, they may potentially develop a dangerous condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. This occurs when the dog’s body cannot process the sugars present in their food, and so instead begins to digest its fat stores and even muscle, which leads to weight loss.

This breakdown of the body’s necessary fats leads to the development of ketones, which in turn can trigger hyperglycaemia, or overly high levels of blood: glucose. Ketoacidosis can be quite quick in onset, and lead to symptoms including weight loss, lethargy and muscle weakness, excessive thirst and hunger, and needing to go to the toilet very frequently. In acute cases, diabetic ketoacidosis can also cause serious dehydration and vomiting, and potentially, sudden onset blindness.

This if all of course very serious, and if you start spotting any of the above symptoms or think a problem is developing, speak to your vet immediately. Left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can prove fatal, but it can usually be treated and corrected with the appropriate treatment.

Your vet may also wish to reassess your dog’s treatment protocols in order to reduce the chances of the condition recurring again in future.


Neuropathy can be caused by nerve damage as a result of overly high blood: glucose levels, which can present with a range of symptoms that might not obviously be connected to their diabetes. Weakness or tremors in the joints, particularly of the back legs, may indicate nerve damage as a secondary result of diabetes, and if you spot a problem of this type, it is important to contact your vet immediately, because the damage may increase and become irreversible.

However, if the problem is recognised quickly before permanent damage has occurred, restoring the balance of the dog’s blood: glucose levels will often reverse the condition and restore the dog’s movement and condition.



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