Insulin, a hormone produced in a dog’s pancreas, regulates blood sugar, or glucose, transferring it to tissues and using it for energy production. When the dog’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the dog’s organs and cells do not receive adequate glucose and the level of sugar in the dog’s blood rises. Early signs of diabetes in a dog include excessive thirst, frequent urination and unexplained weight loss. If your dog exhibits symptoms of diabetes, call your veterinarian right away. Dogs with insulin-dependent diabetes require careful monitoring, insulin injections and special diet considerations.
Your veterinarian will explain how to record your dog’s urine glucose level daily and how much insulin to administer. Giving too much insulin is more dangerous than giving too little and it can trigger hypoglycemia or insulin shock. Dr. Chris C. Pinney, author of “The Complete Home Veterinary Guide,” advises dog owners to keep a bottle of honey or pancake syrup on hand for hypoglycemia emergencies. If your dog shows signs of hypoglycemia, which include weakness, disorientation, trembling or falling, Dr. Pinney recommends feeding the dog 2 tablespoons, or more, of honey or syrup. Ask your vet for the correct amount for your dog’s weight.
Fiber and Protein
Dog foods that are high in fiber content digest slowly, so glucose releases gradually into the dog’s bloodstream. Dr. Pinney advises dog owners to feed their dogs a diet high in fiber and lean protein. If your dog is thin, however, your vet might not recommend a high fiber diet, which fills up the dog’s stomach so he eats fewer calories.
Obesity is a contributing and aggravating factor in the development of canine diabetes. If your dog is already overweight, your veterinarian will probably suggest a weight reduction diet that limits fats. Because insulin is required for processing fats, low insulin levels can lead to accumulated fat deposits in the liver, which in turn put the dog at increased risk of developing liver disease.
Carbohydrates and Dry Dog Food
Inexpensive dry dog foods can contain high quantities of simple carbohydrates and sugars in the form of "fillers" that can cause a dog’s blood sugar to spike, which requires more insulin. Dog food labels don’t always list carbohydrate counts, but ingredients are listed by the amount used in the dog food. Cheap dog foods that list corn, white rice, barley or any type of “meal” within the first three ingredients are probably too high in simple carbs and unsuitable for a diabetic dog’s diet. Complex carbs are less likely to trigger blood sugar spikes. Examples of complex carbs in dry dog food include brown rice, whole grains and legumes. Because different dog foods may contain other ingredients unsuitable for diabetic dogs, feed only the brand your veterinarian recommends.
Homemade Food Options
If you want to play a greater role in your dog’s health, you can prepare his food at home from natural ingredients. The same rules that apply to choosing a commercial dog food apply to making your dog’s food. Because feeding different food combinations will alter your dog’s blood sugar level, once you find a vet-approved recipe, stick to it and don’t change it without notifying your veterinarian. Healthy dog food combinations include one or more sources of lean protein, such as eggs, skinless chicken, lean beef, lentils, tofu or soybeans, combined with one or more complex carbohydrates, such as brown rice, cooked peas or legumes or cooked potatoes. Do not add salt, sugar or other flavorings.
When you feed your dog is as important as what you feed your dog. Even with high quality food, your dog’s blood sugar level will increase gradually after eating. Timing the dog’s feeding schedule in accordance with insulin injections will reduce major blood sugar fluctuations. Your vet will recommend a feeding and injection schedule based on the results of lab tests and urine test records. Merck Animal Health offers a sample feeding schedule that includes feeding one-third of your dog’s daily food allotment at the same time you administer a single daily insulin dose. The dog then eats the rest of his food about six to eight hours later. For dogs that need two daily insulin injections, your vet might recommend feeding the dog every 12 hours and administering an injection at each feeding.
- The Complete Home Veterinary Guide (Third Edition); Chris C. Pinney, DVM
- Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook; Debra M. Eldredge, DVM
- Washington State University Vet MD: Pet Health Topics – Diabetes Mellitus
- Merck Animal Health: Insulin Injections and Meal Times
- Born Free USA: Sample Diets for Dogs and Cats
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