Testing And Monitoring Diabetes In Dogs

Most dog owners think they can tell whether their dog has diabetes with simple urine or blood sugar test. What they don’t know, instead, is that diagnosing and monitoring diabetes requires more than just a simple glucose test.

From a series of diagnostic blood sugar and urine glucose tests to regular monitoring blood and urine glucose tests and urine tests to detect UTIs, dog diabetes testing and monitoring can be more complex than you think.

This article explains the range of tests used to diagnose and monitor dog diabetes. You’ll learn about the range of diagnostic dog tests your vet will run on your dog when diabetes is suspected and the crucial diabetes monitoring tests you can carry out at home to ensure your dog’s diabetes is kept under control. Keep reading for the details!

What Tests Diagnose Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs?

When you bring a dog to the veterinarian with signs of diabetes, your dog’s vet will ask you to describe the history of your dog’s health and consequently perform a general physical assessment. 

A dog undergoing a checkup by a vet

To confirm or rule out diabetes in your dog, the vet will recommend 3 screening tests:

  • A complete blood count (CBC).
  • A serum biochemistry profile.
  • A urinalysis.

We’ll explain the purpose of each of these tests in diagnosing diabetes in your dog in a bit. But first, let’s understand why the veterinarian performs so many tests on your likely diabetic dog.

Why so Many Tests on my Diabetic Dog?

To correctly diagnose diabetes mellitus in a dog, a series of fasting blood and urine glucose tests need to be done

The normal fasting blood glucose value in dogs is 75–120 mg/dL. Therefore, if your dog has diabetes signs and shows higher blood glucose levels than normal while fasting (fasting hyperglycemia), the vet will do multiple blood sample tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Similarly, high glucose levels in the urine while fasting (fasting glycosuria) from a first sample will lead to more tests to confirm the diagnosis.

If the series of tests for both fasting blood and urine glucose return high glucose level results, then your dog has diabetes

Your dog’s vet will also test serum fructosamine levels to help determine if the high-glucose levels are caused by stress or other temporary health issues. If not it is likely caused by a consistent low insulin production. If your dog’s high blood sugar levels are triggered by stress, fructosamine concentrations will be normal.

In addition to blood and urine glucose and fructosamine tests, other screening tests need to be carried out to give additional details on:

  • The severity of your dog’s diabetes.
  • Any contributing diseases and health conditions.
  • Other drugs that your dog is taking.
  • Any complications connected with diabetes.

Underlying conditions triggering the onset or determining the gravity of diabetes in your dog will need to be treated at the same time that your dog is being treated for diabetes. But, what do all these preliminary tests really signify?

What does a CBC Test Reveal in a Diabetic Dog?

A complete blood count test helps you and the vet understand the presence and severity of diabetes in your dog by focusing on: 

  • The Red Blood Cells (RBCs) and White Blood Cells (WBCs)

Dogs with uncomplicated diabetes usually have red and white blood cells within the normal range (WBCs: 6,000 and 17,000 per microliter & RBCs: 5.6-8.7 x 106 per microliter).

Instead, dogs with complicated diabetes have a low RBCs count (anemia) and a higher-than-normal WBCs count. This is indicative of infection and other inflammatory diseases like pancreatitis.

  • Packed Cell Volume (PCV)

Packed cell volume is the proportion of your dog’s blood that is packed with cells. PCV rises when there’s an increase in RBCs or when the blood volume is reduced due to conditions like dehydration.

Although your diabetic dog drinks a lot of water, he also loses plenty of it by producing dilute urine. This can lead to dehydration.

With a complete blood count test, a vet can detect dehydration in your dog by focusing on the packed cell volume. Dogs with diabetes have an increased PCV.

What does a Urinalysis Reveal in a Diabetic Dog?

A healthy dog’s urine does not contain any sugar (glucose). Instead, a dog with diabetes will consistently record glucose in urine (glucosuria).

A tube with urine, a paper and pen.
Photo Credit: mydoctordiaries

 A complete urinalysis will focus on

  • The presence of red and white blood cells in the urine

Frequent urination in diabetic dogs comes with the loss of blood minerals (electrolytes) such as phosphorus. If a lot of phosphorus is lost, the blood cells can rupture in the bloodstream. This will leave traces of blood in the urine (detected in the presence of blood cells). 

  • The presence of bacteria in the urine

Glucose in the urine creates a favorable environment for the growth of bacteria. This then leads to UTIs, a common occurrence in diabetic dogs.

A urine culture may be performed to determine the type of bacteria detected in the urine of a diabetic dog and the appropriate antibiotic treatment that’s required.

  • The presence of ketones in the urine

Ketones are emergency energy sources that the liver produces by breaking down stored body fats to make energy when glucose levels in the body are low. When they break down, ketones create an imbalance in the dog’s pH, causing an acidic environment known as acidosis. 

Because of insulin deficiency and poor conversion of carbohydrates into blood glucose and body energy, diabetic dogs have a heightened body fat breakdown. As a result, the urine of a diabetic dog will show the presence of ketones, which also indicates a severe case of dog diabetes

What does the Serum Biochemistry Profile Reveal in a Diabetic Dog?

Serum is the watery, clear part of your dog’s blood that remains when the blood clots. Serum fluid will record high levels of glucose in a diabetic dog.

The level of glucose in serum may rise temporarily when your dog is stressed out (maybe about going to the vet or taking blood samples). Repeated high glucose levels in blood serum are a sign of diabetes.

This is why the veterinarian will perform a series of serum biochemistry tests. The goal is to determine if the high blood sugar levels in the serum result from temporary anxiety or are caused by consistent hyperglycemia. This is done by collecting blood samples from your dog over several days. 

Also, a change in serum electrolytes (potassium, chloride, and sodium) can tell the veterinarian that your dog is losing significant amounts of electrolytes in the urine, which happens in diabetes cases. Loss of electrolytes also comes with altered body functions and can cause complications like dehydration, ruptured RBCs, nerve dysfunction, and cell damage. 

Apart from the CBC, Urinalysis, and Serum profile preliminary tests, your dog’s vet will also recommend blood pressure (BP) testing.

Why does the Vet Recommend Taking a Diabetic Dog’s Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension or simply BP, is associated with diabetes in dogs. A study confirmed that dogs with diabetes had a significantly higher blood pressure mean than healthy dogs.

A dog undergoing a blood pressure check up.

While your dog may not have high blood pressure at the onset of diabetes, the condition may develop over time. As such, regular BP checkups are an essential part of diabetes testing and monitoring.

Besides, untreated high blood pressure can cause other complications in diabetes dogs, including kidney failure, blindness, and stroke.

What are the Diabetes Monitoring Tests Required once a Dog is Put on Insulin Therapy?

Once insulin therapy and other key diabetes in dogs treatment routines are started, monitoring your diabetic dog’s progress is crucial. 

This will mainly involve blood and urine home dog diabetes monitoring tests. Reporting these tests to your dog’s vet will help determine if the current insulin dosage is appropriate or needs to be adjusted.

Change in insulin requirements in your dog can be due to one of these factors:

  • Comorbidity (presence of other diseases).
  • Weight gain or weight loss.
  • Progesterone hormone fluctuations in unsprayed female dogs.
  • Change in exercise schedule.
  • Other medication taken together with insulin.

Home Dog Diabetes Monitoring Tests

The home diabetes monitoring tests you will need to perform consistently on your dog are:

  • Blood sugar tests.
  • Urine glucose and ketones test.
Blood being taken out from a dog through injection
Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz, via Wikimedia Commons

Blood sugar tests

Blood sugar tests are the most accurate way of tracking your diabetic dog’s glucose levels. It can be done at the vets. However, because this is consistent tracking of your dog’s blood sugar, vets usually direct dog owners to do the tests at home.

A portable glucometer with blood test strips is used. Some of the most common types of glucometers available on the market are the AlphaTRAK 2 and the PetTest Red Dot Blood Glucose Monitoring Kit

More recent digitized methods like the FreeStyle Libre 2 also provide a skin-mounted glucose sensor that records data in a connected app. 

Urine glucose and ketones test

Since glucometers are the most commonly used method, here’s how to test your dog’s blood sugar with a glucometer:

  1. Have the glucometer and glucose test strip ready for the procedure.
  2. Hold your dog’s earflap for a minute to warm. Warm skin makes collecting the drop of blood needed for the test easier. 
  3. Spot a hairless spot on the earflap and quickly prick it with a sterile medical needle. 
  4. Collect the appearing drop of blood onto a glucose test strip.
  5. Firmly press the pricked spot with clean gauze or cotton to stop the bleeding.
  6. Insert the blood sample into the glucometer following the instructions provided and record the reading. The reading should be compared with normal blood sugar levels in dogs (about 100–250 mg/dL for most of the day).
  7. Keep a consistent record of the blood sugar test readings and report after some days to the veterinarian as instructed. 

While it is not as accurate as the blood glucose test, the urine glucose and ketones test can be done at home to help track your dog’s glucose levels.

Follow this procedure to test your dog’s urine for glucose and ketones:

  1. Bring your dog for a walk while on a leash and carry with you a clean container to collect urine.
  2. Pay attention to notice your dog urinating and collect urine in the container.
  3. Once home, immerse the dipstick (provided by the vet) into the urine and soak the test pads.
  4. Take the dipstick from the urine and tap dry.
  5. Check the specification on the stick container to see how long you should wait to read the results (usually 1 minute).
  6. Read the results by placing the stick on the chart that’s on the dipstick bottle and comparing the colors.
  7. Record the results on a designated record paper or book and include details on the time the urine was collected and when the day’s insulin injection was given.

Usually, a dog’s urine glucose test is done 1-3 times a day:

  • First thing in the morning before the insulin injection and your dog’s first meal.
  • Late afternoon just before the second meal.
  • Late in the evening before bedtime.

Together with monitoring your diabetic dog’s glucose levels through blood and/or urine tests, home dog diabetes monitoring also includes:

  • Monitoring your dog’s appetite.
  • Keeping an eye on your dog’s water consumption.
  • Watching the dog’s energy levels.
  • Noticing if your dog needs to pee a lot.

Once your dog’s insulin dosage is determined and his diabetes regulated, random checks can be done to monitor your dog’s diabetes. 

Any changes in blood sugar levels or other diabetes monitoring areas like water and food consumption should be reported to the vet. These could indicate the need for insulin dosage adjustment. Note that changes to your dog’s insulin dosage should only be done by a vet.

Additional Monitoring Test (by the vet)

Your dog’s vet may recommend a serum fructosamine profile to assess the pet’s response to insulin once in a while. This test shows the average glucose levels over 7 to 14 days and is done from a single blood sample.

Also, because diabetic dogs are prone to infections, regular urine tests for UTIs are recommended for ongoing dog diabetes monitoring. These infections are often silent and asymptomatic. That is until they become severe and interfere with your dog’s blood sugar regulation.

Final Thoughts

Testing is a crucial element of dog diabetes diagnosis and monitoring. Most dog owners think that a single test is enough to tell if their dog has diabetes. However, diagnosing and monitoring diabetes requires a series of preliminary and regular examinations.

The description of all the tests required for the diagnosis and monitoring of dog diabetes in this article will help you, as a dog owner, to better understand the crucial role you and the vet play in managing your dog’s diabetes successfully.