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Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs – 5 Critical Signs of Dehydration You Should Know


Diabetes insipidus in dogs is a rare disease that causes severe thirst and extreme urination. It can be controlled, but not cured. In fact, dogs with this metabolic condition urinate so much that they lose control of their bladders. Are you worried about your dog drinking too much water? It’s natural to be worried when our dogs do something out of character, but that doesn’t mean he/she is sick.

You know your dog better than anybody. Pay attention to the cues that could signal the need for a trip to the veterinarian. This post isn’t designed to diagnose nor is it meant to suggest treatment. Please bring your dog to a licensed veterinarian for accurate diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. This post will help you with information about diabetes insipidus including the signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and life expectancy.

How Long Can a Dog Life with Diabetes Insipidus?

The answer to this question is tricky because it depends on several factors. The age of your dog, underlying health conditions, and the type of diabetes insipidus he/she has all play a role in the general lifespan of your dog. Remember, this disease is treatable. Trust your instincts if you think anything is wrong, especially after you read the signs and symptoms further into this post.

There are two types of diabetes insipidus and one is treated more easily than the other.

Central (Neurogenic) Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs

This condition is caused by the lack of hormone known as vasopressin. Vasopressin is secreted by the pituitary gland located in the brain. It actually regulates how well the body retains water. When the body can’t hold water long enough to nourish and hydrate it sends being secreted pretty quickly. No matter how much your dog drinks, he/she just can’t seem to get enough. That’s because the water is literally going in one end and coming out the other.

The result of this vicious cycle begins with severe dehydration. Signs of severe dehydration in dogs include:

  • The skin doesn’t bounce back after you pinch it. Gently pull a little skin on the back of the neck and let it go. It should bounce right back.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting with or without diarrhea.
  • Fatigue
  • Heavy Panting.
  • Sunken eyes
  • Dry nose
  • Sticky gums

Central or neurogenic diabetes insipidus in dogs must be treated with a hormonal substitute known as ADH (antidiuretic hormone). Veterinarians call this type of diabetes “idiopathic” which means there is no known or obvious cause.

Diabetes Insipidus in dogs is a rare disorder that causes excessive drinking and urinating.
Diabetes Insipidus can happen to any dog although it is a rare condition.

Causes of Central or Neurogenic Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs

This condition can be caused by head trauma or a tumor in the pituitary gland. In some cases, it’s simply considered idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause.

It’s important to remember that increased thirst (known as polydipsia) and excessive urination (known as polyuria) can be caused by a number of things. There’s another type of diabetes completely unrelated to diabetes insipidus known as diabetes mellitus.

Other conditions that can mimic the signs and symptoms of central diabetes insipidus include:

Lifespan of a Dog with Central Diabetes Insipidus

With appropriate treatment, dogs with central diabetes insipidus can go on to lead otherwise normal and healthy lives. Treatment involves administering a synthetic hormone to replace the lack of vasopressin being excreted from the pituitary gland. The antidiuretic hormone replacement used is called desmopressin (also known as DDAVP). It is administered as eye drops or by injection under the skin.

How Long Does it Take for Desmopressin to Work in Dogs?

Desmopressin for dogs will start to work within 1 to 2 hours of administration. It then reaches maximum efficiency after about 2 to 8 hours from the time it is administered. That effect can last up to 24 hours in some dogs.

What Are the Side Effects of Desmopressin in Dogs?

Side-effects are rare in dogs taking Desmopressin; however, some dogs may experience eye irritation. As usual, if your dog experiences a very rare side-effect and develops hives, facial swelling, or difficulty breathing, make sure he/she gets veterinarian assessment ASAP.

Under normal circumstances, however, most dogs do not experience severe side-effects. Veterinarians must weight the benefits of a medication against the disease they are up against. The risks of not administering medication to a dog with diabetes insipidus are high. Untreated diabetes insipidus in dogs will lead to severe dehydration and death.

Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs

This condition tends to be a little more complicated than central diabetes insipidus. It’s caused by the kidneys inability to respond appropriately to the release of vasopressin. The pituitary gland does it’s job, but the body won’t pick up the command to work with it. In this case, synthetic hormones will not work.

You should take heart in knowing that this particular type of diabetes is very rare.

Causes of Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs

Please remember that this condition is extremely rare. In some cases, it’s thought to be genetic. Sometimes there is no known cause (idiopathic) and, in some cases, there is a secondary condition that triggers the disease. Secondary conditions include things like:

  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • Cushing’s disease
  • hypokalemia (low blood potassium levels)
  • pyometra (infection of the uterus)
  • rarely – drug side-effects
  • rarely – hyperthyroidism

Lifespan of a Dog with Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus

Unfortunately, the lifespan of a dog with this condition is guarded. The reason for this is because there are limited ways to treat a dog with nephrogenic diabetes. That’s not to say that the disease is a death sentence, but it will require frequent monitoring and an entire lifestyle change that involves:

  • making sure the dog has access to water at all times
  • taking the dog out to urinate much more frequently without hesitation
  • sometimes treatment with a low dose of hydrochlorothiazide
  • a specialized low-sodium diet as directed by the veterinarian.
Diabetes insipidus in dogs causes extreme thirst and excessive urination.
Diabetes insipidus causes extreme thirst and excessive urination.

No-Salt Diets for Dogs – Be Careful!

If the veterinarian recommends a low salt (or no salt) diet, make sure to ask for suggestions that fit your budget. When shopping online or in store, beware of ingredients that also mean “salt”. The American Heart Association has a list of many different ingredients to be wary of. Read: 21 Ingredients That Mean Sodium to Watch on the Label.

Good Sources of Salt-Free Food

If you’re struggling to find good quality food without salt that fits within your budget, consider:

Trudog all natural Food

ALL NEW: Honest Kitchen Dog Food

When choosing retail store dog food brands be sure to double-check with the veterinarian to make sure it’s a safe and healthy choice for your dog.

5 Critical Signs of Dehydration in Dogs That You Should Know

If your dog has diabetes insipidus the first tell-tale sign will probably be the amount of water he/she is drinking along with increased need to urinate. Our dogs might drink more on a hot day or after a period of exercise, but if it happens all the time, every day, it’s probably time for a visit to the veterinarian.

Ironically, all that extra water your dog is drinking doesn’t actually hydrate your dog. Instead, it all gets peed out. This vicious cycle causes severe dehydration which is fatal if not treated. If this is something you’re worried about, pay close attention to the following signs:

The normal water intake in dogs and cats varies from 20 to 70 ml/kg/day, and the normal urine output varies between 20 and 45 ml/kg/day.2 Animals are considered polydipsic if water consumption is greater than 100 ml/kg/day and polyuric if urine production is greater than 50 ml/kg/day.4 

Internal Medicine (Vetfolio)
January 2008 (Vol 30, No 1)
Tracey A. Rossi , DVM ,
Linda A. Ross , DVM , MS , DACVIM (Small Animal Internal Medicine)

#1) Parched Skin

Without adequate water, the skin will dry out. It’s common for some dogs to have dry skin during certain times of the year. That usually involves itching, white flakes that look like dandruff, and dull fur.

If your dog is suffering from diabetes insipidus, he/she may be experiencing a much more severe form of dehydration that can be detected with a simple test you can do at home.

Gently pinch the skin between your dog’s shoulder blades and let it go. The skin should bounce back pretty quickly. If your dog is dehydrated it will take longer to bounce back. You might even notice that the skin feels almost crunchy because of the lack of water.

#2) Pale, Sticky Gums

Normal, healthy gums should be pink and shiny. You should be able to see the sheen of saliva on your dog’s gums and tongue. If your dog is suffering from severe dehydration, however, his/her gums might feel very dry and sticky to the touch. You can test for capillary refill time (the time it takes for blood to re-enter the cells) by gently pressing your finger into your dog’s gums. Doing this temporarily restricts blood flow to the capillaries and turns the skin white where your finger was.

In a healthy dog, that area should quickly return to the color pink. In a dehydrated dog, it may take much longer for the skin to return to its normal color.

#3) Inappetance (Lack of Appetite)

Dogs love to eat and most dogs will do just about anything for treats. If your dog suddenly isn’t hungry and doesn’t respond to treats, there might be something wrong. Remember that dogs sometimes have upset stomachs or get finicky about what they eat. These things may occur from time to time. What you’re looking for is compilation of all of these signs that occur consistently over a few days.

Dehydration is serious and needs to be treated. If you suspect your dog is seriously dehydrated, a trip to the veterinarian’s clinic is highly advised.

#4) Panting

Panting on its own is a normal part of dog behaviour. They use this as a way to cool themselves on a hot day or to cool themselves on a hot day. Sometimes, however, panting is a sign that something is wrong, especially if the behaviour occurs during times he/she wouldn’t normally need to pant. In this case, panting may be a sign of distress. Combined with any of the signs mentioned above, it could point to a number of things – including dehydration – that should be checked out by a vet.

#5) Fatigue

A dehydrated dog is going to look worn out. His/her eyes might appear sunken, the dog will pant more, and will generally not appear himself. If you’ve ever had a day where you haven’t had enough water, you might recognize the feeling of fatigue, headache, and just not feeling yourself.

Diagnosis of Diabetes Insipidus in Dogs

The process of diagnosing a dog with diabetes insipidus takes some time and patience. It may mean an overnight hospital stay to give the clinician time to measure urine concentration. However, the first thing a veterinarian will do is try to eliminate other causes of the excessive drinking and urinating.

This involves requesting various laboratory tests including:

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Ordering a complete blood count is common because it provides a baseline of white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets. When a doctor orders this, he/she is looking for any signs of elevated white blood cells which could signify inflammation or an infection somewhere in the body.

Blood Chemistry Panel

Blood chemistry panels are used to detect signs of disease in the liver, kidneys, or pancreas. In addition, it measures blood proteins and electrolytes.


The veterinarian can determine a lot from a urinalysis. He/she will examine the color and appearance for signs of blood in the urine, cloudy urine, etc. In addition, the urinalysis can be examined under a microscope for a closer evaluation.

Urinalysis can also help detect sugar in the urine which is a sign of diabetes mellitus, kidney disease and other disorders. The doctor will look for increases in protein and bilirubin along with signs of protein by-products which could indicate the development of ketoacidosis.

If no evidence of an underlying condition can be found, the veterinarian may want to perform a urine specific gravity test. This is an important test because it can detect signs of dehydration.

Modified Water Deprivation Test

The modified water deprivation test can only be performed under a doctor’s care in an appropriate setting. Unfortunately, this can be a lengthy and uncomfortable test for the dog. In a sense, the test is a bit of trial and error to determine exactly how much water your dog is drinking in a 24 hour period. For this, the veterinarian will reduce the dog’s water consumption to what would be considered normal intake. A series of measurements are then taken to assess urine concentration.


If the veterinarian still cannot determine the cause of the dog’s excessive thirst and urination, he/she may order a CT Scan to look for signs of a tumor on the pituitary gland.


9 Warning Signs of Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs

Diabetic Dog Life Expectancy – Your 5 Point Management Plan

Summing it Up: Trust Your Instincts!

At the end of the day, we just want our dogs to be happy and healthy. It’s easy to overlook the little things but if your dog doesn’t seem to be himself, make an appointment to see a veterinarian. Remember that diabetes insipidus is a rare condition. Drinking and urinating too much can lead to severe dehydration over time.

If you ever sense that something isn’t quite right with your dog, don’t hesitate to contact a veterinarian. Remember, this post is meant to inform not diagnose or treat. Always seek the advice and care your dog needs from a licensed veterinarian.

I hope you were able to learn something from this post. If you enjoyed the read, please share and follow Your Dog’s Health Matters on social media. Your contribution helps keep this blog up and running and I appreciate the support.

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Your expertise and corrections are always welcome. Our posts are well researched but we don’t pretend to be medical professionals. Please offer your comments and constructive criticism at: [email protected]

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