Diabetic Neuropathy in Dogs

Diabetic neuropathy is an uncommon, but potentially life-changing side effect of diabetes. Dog owners need to know more about this rare condition that can cause paralysis, nerve damage or even death. Let’s look at how diabetes affects your dog, what the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy look like, how your veterinarian can treat the condition and what you can do to prevent it in your dog.

What Diabetes Does to Your Dog

Diabetes is the most common hormonal disorder of dogs, and it mainly affects female dogs between the ages of 5 and 7 years of age. Under normal conditions, your dog’s endocrine system keeps his metabolism functioning correctly so he can maintain his health. If your dog has diabetes, his body cannot produce a high enough level of the hormone insulin, which helps his body gain quick energy from glucose. Because he cannot properly process glucose, your dog’s blood sugar level remains high.

Dogs with diabetes present with a particular set of symptoms, including:

  • excessive thirst
  • frequent urination
  • higher-than-normal water consumption
  • lethargy
  • sleepiness
  • urinating in the house or in other inappropriate places
  • weight loss

If you notice that your dog has developed any of these symptoms, make an appointment to have your veterinarian test him for diabetes.

What Canine Diabetic Neuropathy Looks Like

Diabetic neuropathy, which is more common in cats than in dogs, can develop at any time following a dog’s initial diagnosis of diabetes. Its main symptom is progressive weakness or paralysis in a dog’s hind legs, which is caused by excessive levels of glucose in the dog’s blood. The high glucose levels damage the sheaths, or coverings, on the nerves in your dog’s body, and the nerves in his hind legs are particularly vulnerable to damage. Both legs are affected equally in diabetic neuropathy.

The first clue that you may have that your dog has diabetes is when he is unable to stand. He may drag his paw or leg while walking, or his feet may suddenly go out from under him as he walks.  He may not stand correctly on his paw pads, or he may have trouble getting up if he’s lying down or sitting. Finally, your dog may begin lying down after short walks.

As the condition progresses, your dog may start crouching as he walks. He may lose bowel and bladder control, and all four legs may eventually be affected. If left untreated, canine diabetic neuropathy can lead to the development of gangrene, which can result in tissue death, amputation or death.

How to Treat Canine Diabetic Neuropathy

The severity of your dog’s diabetic neuropathy will determine the level of treatment required to resolve the condition. In mild cases, the symptoms disappear after the dog’s blood sugar levels are controlled. More severe cases may require regular supplements of vitamin B12 or other medications to bring the symptoms under control.

How to Prevent Canine Diabetic Neuropathy

Preventing canine diabetic neuropathy is as simple as keeping your dog’s diabetes under control. You and your veterinarian can devise a diabetes treatment plan that includes

  • a daily exercise routine
  • a nutritious diet
  • medication, as needed, to control the disease
  • regular veterinary checkups