The Genetics of Diabetes in Dogs

Dogs with diabetes develop the disease due to age, disease, injury or genetic predisposition. While research on diabetic dogs isn't as extensive as that for humans, enough research has been done to show that there are genetic markers indicating that certain breeds are more likely to develop diabetes than others. This doesn't mean that all dogs of the indicated breeds will develop diabetes, it simply means that they are more likely to develop the disease and that precautions should be taken to lessen the chances of that happening.


Diabetes is an insulin deficiency, in this case caused by an autoimmune destruction of the islet cells of the pancreas. The islet cells are where the body produces insulin, therefore, in diabetes, the insulin production is either impaired or ceases completely.

Breed Risk Categories

A 2007 study broke out various breeds into low, medium and high risk categories for developing diabetes based upon the identification of genetic markers and genetic testing on both diabetic and normal representatives within each breed. While the Boxer and Weimaraner scored the very lowest risk factor, the Cairn Terrier and Samoyed ranked the highest risk factor.

  • Low Risk: Boxer, Weimaraner, German Shepherd, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Golden Retriever, Springer Spaniel
  • Neutral Risk: Cocker Spaniel, Mixed Breeds, Labrador Retrievers, Doberman, Jack Russell Terrier, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Rottweiler
  • Moderate Risk: Poodle, Border Terrier, English Setter, Dachshund, Collie, Border Collie, Schnauzer, Yorkshire Terrier, Bichon Frise
  • High Risk: Cairn Terrier, Samoyed

Avoiding Diabetes in a Genetically Predisposed Dog

Just because a dog may fall into one of the higher risk groups doesn't mean he's doomed to becoming a diabetic. It simply means giving him the healthiest lifestyle you can in order to prevent those risk factors from taking control. A common sense approach is best.

  1. Maintain your dog at a healthy weight. If you're not sure what that is, ask your veterinarian. Extra weight puts stress on your dog's body, especially critical organs like the heart and pancreas. In the case of the pancreas, the more stress, the more likely it will be to stop functioning.
  2. Feed your dog a well-balanced, healthy diet. While there has to be fat in your dog's diet to help maintain certain bodily functions and systems, a high fat diet can cause problems with the pancreas, causing pancreatitis or even begin the breakdown of insulin production.
  3. Allow your dog plenty of activity. Whether it's daily walks, playing in the yard or house or going to the dog park, activity helps keep your dog's life happy and body functioning properly. Activity also helps to keep his weight at an appropriate level.

When it comes to diabetes, genetic predisposition only means there is a possibility that the disease will develop. It's not an absolute. Maintaining a good weight, eating right and a good activity level will help keep your dog in good shape. Avoiding diabetes is a simple matter of helping your dog lead a healthy lifestyle and enjoying his life.

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