In a healthy dog, blood sugar levels are precisely balanced, and the pancreas produces just the right amount of the hormone insulin to help regulate the dog’s energy requirements. Diabetes occurs when too little insulin is produced (Type 1 diabetes) or because the body isn’t responding correctly to insulin production (Type 2 diabetes). Like humans, dogs can suffer from both. But Type 2 is particularly common in overweight or older pets, as the pancreas becomes less efficient as a dog ages.
Diabetic dogs become very thirsty because there’s too much sugar in the urine, which, in turn, draws water out of the body. Other symptoms include hunger, lethargy, cataracts and weight loss. A dog with diabetes may also look unfit because muscle is being burned instead of fat.
Some breeds are more vulnerable than others – for example, the Samoyed has a higher incidence of developing diabetes whereas Boxers are unlikely to – but for all breeds of dog, at every life stage, the risk of diabetes is reduced with appropriate levels of exercise and a complete, balanced diet. If you notice your dog is drinking more and is showing other related signs of diabetes, do speak to your vet as soon as possible.
Your dog’s kidneys do two things – they filter waste from the body, and they concentrate the urine when your dog needs more water, or when he is drinking less. The kidneys naturally deteriorate with age, which is why kidney disease is much more likely to occur in older dogs.
The first sign of kidney disease is usually extreme thirst, but as the toxins in the blood build up, your dog will also go off his food, feel nauseous or even be sick. It’s important to seek your vet’s advice if you notice any of these symptoms.
Good dental hygiene is very important in the prevention of canine kidney disease because bacteria from the teeth and gums can leak into the bloodstream and infect the kidneys. Choosing a dog food specifically developed for older dogs can help, too. These recipes often contain premium-quality protein, which produces less waste for the kidneys to process.
Older dogs can be at risk of an underactive thyroid gland, which is known as hypothyroidism (unlike older cats, which are more prone to hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid gland). Although the condition usually develops in middle-aged dogs, it is often not diagnosed until later in life.
Metabolic rate, vitality and co-ordination are all controlled by the thyroid gland, so if it’s not working as well as it should, your dog will lack energy and may be eating less, yet appear to gain weight. It’s also very likely that he’ll drink less, too.
Hypothyroidism is more common among medium to large breeds – particularly black and tan breeds, such as the Doberman Pinscher – and among older dogs. In fact, the symptoms are often dismissed simply as a sign of old age. As with any changes to normal habits, always check with your vet if you’re concerned that your dog is drinking less or is showing any other symptoms, as thyroid medication could dramatically improve your pet’s quality of life.