Pet Diabetes & Human Diabetes: What’s the Difference?

By Dr . Joi Sutton|2017-11-27T14:35:39-05:00Updated: August 14th, 2014|Pet Care, Pet Diabetes, Pet Newsletter|12 Comments
  • Pet Diabetes & Human Diabetes

I was out to dinner with one of my favorite vet clients last week and he asked me what differences exist between human diabetes and pet diabetes. I honestly couldn’t come up with any huge difference other than the fact that humans have longer lifespans than dogs and cats, so veterinarians get to treat fewer of the long term than MDs see. Perhaps because of this difference, we veterinarians don’t need to be as rigid with our glucose goals as medical advisors for human diabetics.

Human diabetics are unable to adequately utilize the energy they get from food because of a lack of insulin or inability to respond to insulin. The same goes for pets. Human diabetics with elevated blood sugar overwhelm their kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine and subsequently pee excessive amounts. They are constantly thirsty for trying to catch up on hydration. The same goes for pets. Unregulated diabetic people may lose weight despite having a voracious appetite. Pets? Yep, it’s the same.

Human diabetics can sense when their blood glucose is elevated or low and can give themselves insulin or eat something to compensate. Uh oh! Here’s a big difference between human diabetes and pet diabetes. It’s the opposable digit our critters lack! They would have a heck of a time with a syringe, not to mention they don’t have a checking account to pay for their medical supplies. Yep, our diabetic pets are reliant on their humans.

Perhaps the difference in diabetes in pets compared to in people, is it is more in how we treat the disease, rather than the disease itself. I know folks who would go to the moon and back to help their pets live better. I’ve also met folks who view pets as disposable. And then there are the folks who would do anything for their pets but may be limited by financial or time constraints. Every situation is a bit different. The key is to find a veterinarian who can formulate the ideal diabetes protocol for your situation.

Diabetic humans nearly always check their blood glucose before eating anything. Home glucose checks are now a feasible option for pets with the great technology available these days. It is really easy for pet owners to get a glucose reading without hurting their pets. I’m not saying that checking your pet’s glucose twice daily is the best routine for you and your pet, but it is now at least a viable option for those who choose to do so. Folks who elect tight diabetic control for their feline diabetics will likely check a blood glucose at least twice daily. Or, if a cat is going into diabetic remission, they will likely need to check a blood glucose before giving each insulin injection.

If your pet is a really good eater who is well-regulated, you probably don’t need to check a blood glucose before each feeding. For pets whose lives revolve around their next meal, periodic glucose curves to ensure regulation are probably perfectly adequate. Of course, we want you to have a blood sugar test kit at other times so that if your pet is acting goofy or ill, you know how to adjust the insulin dose for that situation.

It appears the answer to my friend’s question is that there isn’t much of a difference between human diabetes and pet diabetes. It’s more a matter of how we treat the disease.

As always, I enjoy hearing from our readers and clients. You can email me at [email protected]. I get a lot of our article topics from questions by readers.

NOTE: Consult your veterinarian to confirm that my recommendations are applicable for the health needs of your pet.

About the Author: Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work though Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida. Connect with Dr. Joi on LinkedIn


  1. Lily Walker November 17, 2020 at 10:33 am - Reply

    Hello, As part of my sixth form education I will be completing an E.P.Q (Extended Project Qualification) which will give me an opportunity to research a topic of interest. My aspiration is to become a veterinary surgeon, so inspired by my grandparents dog (Alfie), who was diagnosed with diabetes two years ago, I am thinking of exploring the title, ‘The comparative occurrence and effects of diabetes in canines and humans’. Sadly – yet typically – Alfie recently developed cataracts which resulted in blindness; this has generated many more questions that I can then research: ‘As well as certain breeds being susceptible to diabetes are genetics and over breeding contributing factors?’; ‘Why do such a high percentage of dogs develop blindness so quickly, compared to humans?’; ‘How and why does the treatment for cataracts differ for canines and humans?’; ‘Why is the recovery process in canines so much more complex that humans after cataract surgery?’ I just wondered if you have any advice to help with my EPQ or any answers or opinions on my questions. Thank you.

    • Dr . Joi Sutton November 22, 2020 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Because humans can check their blood glucose themselves whereas dogs are dependent on a h7man (the owner) checking their glucose levels results in tighter glucose regulation for h7mans than for pets. It’s unfortunate. And poor glucose regulation results in cataract formation.
      Additionally, manyhumans have health insurance. Few diabetic pets have health insurance.
      Humans can alert their doctors to poor or deteriorating vision earlier than pets. Unfortunately the pet’s vision may already be substantially decreased by the time the pet owner recognizes the vision loss.
      Good luck in your endeavors! We need bright minds in the vet biz!

  2. rose September 30, 2019 at 4:22 pm - Reply

    hi my sons dog Onxy has diabetes and its pretty expensive I wanted to know can she take human insulin she is on lantus 13 mil 2x a day i take levemir and humilog can she take one of these instead

    • Dr . Joi Sutton October 19, 2019 at 9:59 pm - Reply

      Rose, levemir is actually my favorite insulin for dogs in general. The problem with levemir is that it is so potent for small dogs (and can’t be diluted out) that we sometimes can’t dose it properly. For example, if a dog takes 4 units of vetsulin or NPH the levemir dose may be one unit. If we get down to tiny amounts for small dogs it may not be feasible to dose accurately. With the 3/10 cc syringes it is easier to see, but it may be difficult for dogs requiring less than a unit of levemir. I’ve never used lantus in a dog. It isn’t that it can’t be done, but some vets who have tried it in the past don’t report good results. Remember that each pet is a unique experience. Have a chat with your family veterinarian.

      • Lynn Walsh February 17, 2020 at 9:21 am - Reply

        My dog was diagnosed with diabetes a cple of months first giving him the injections were ok…now we have to muzzle him,as he gets very angry…& has bent needles…he is usually a placid dog….Is there any oral medication he can take i.e human diabetic medication…

        • Dr . Joi Sutton February 23, 2020 at 10:19 pm - Reply

          Oral meds aren’t effective for doggie diabetics as they are for human type 2 diabetics. Diabetic dogs need insulin.
          If your dog is usually placid but now angry, have you spoken with your vet? Is there some other medical issue in addition to the diabetes? And perhaps your vet can help you with your technique for giving injections. Do you rub the area first to limit discomfort when poking with the insulin needle? I would recommend you get a soft nylon muzzle to place on your pet prior to the injection until you solve this unusual situation.
          Please have a chat with your veterinarian who knows your pet. I hope you get to the bottom of this!

  3. Amy August 28, 2018 at 1:38 am - Reply

    I just came across your article “”. I really loved reading the article.

    Very informative article! Thank you for sharing such a great article.

    It’s funny, I recently published a post called “Canine Diabetes – Symptoms, Effects And Treatment” Here is the link: “”

    It might make a nice addition to your list. Either way, keep up the awesome work!

    Amy J Smith

  4. ADW Guest Post October 31, 2014 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Once again I appreciate and thank you for your
    email and reprinting the articles. I have been following you for some time and
    I think I missed a couple of the articles. Thanks and keep up talking
    with us.

  5. ADW Guest Post August 18, 2014 at 11:49 am - Reply

    M&T lab is 10 years old and has been a diabetic since she is 4. Called my
    vet to discuss what to give her for arthritis but the medicine he has suggested is so very expensive it cannot be afforded it would come to approximately 112.00 a week just for that medication. I read to give her alfalfa vitamins making sure not to give it to her when she eats.I also give her cosequin ds do you think the alfalfa will help her also read about vitamin e
    I don’t know what other anti inflammatory drugs there are that are a decent price range. This dog means very much to me but I was priced out of the medicine he suggested.

    • Dr Joi September 27, 2014 at 1:34 pm - Reply

      Hi! If your dog is relatively big, you may be able to get your veterinarian to write a script for meloxicam. It is an anti-inflammatory. The smallest size pill on the human market can be fraction end for big dogs. I carry it in my own hospital for big dogs. The veterinary version of meloxicam is called Metacam and is a solution because pets typically need a small dose relative to humans. Chat with your vet and hopefully your pet can find some arthritis relief. I’m also a fan of tramadol for arthritic pets. That is a mild narcotic. :). Joi

  6. biffy August 14, 2014 at 7:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Doc! I needed that info.Even though our vet briefed me on this and I am on my second diabetic dog (85 pound black Lab), it’s good to know I’m doing it right. What about urine strips? That’s what I use and it appears to be fairly accurate as far as how much insulin I should “plus or minus” the syringe. My dog requires Levemir because the Humulin just didn’t carry him through. He gets fed every 12 hours. He has been fairly steady at 15 to 16 units twice a day.

    • Dr Joi September 27, 2014 at 1:36 pm - Reply

      Hi there! Hmmm…. I’m not a huge fan of urine strips. Getting blood glucose values with a glucose meter is much more accurate. 🙂

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