Feeding Your Diabetic Dog

This is a guest post by veterinarian and writer Dr. Jennifer Coates.

Diabetes Blue Circle SymbolDiabetes mellitus is one of the most common hormonal diseases affecting dogs.  Diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed in most canine patients, providing them with a good quality of life for an extended period of time.

To effectively manage diabetes, dog owners need to understand the physiology behind the disease.  Most dogs have what is called type 1 or insulin dependent diabetes, meaning that the pancreas no longer makes enough insulin to keep blood sugar or glucose levels down in the normal range.  Insulin binds to glucose and moves it into cells where it can be used as a source of energy or converted and stored for later use.  Without sufficient amounts of insulin, blood sugar levels rise while the body essentially starves.

The Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus

Most diabetic dogs develop some or all of the following clinical signs:

  • increased thirst and urination
  • weight loss
  • a good or even ravenous appetite
  • weakness
  • recurring infections
  • cataracts

Left untreated, severe diabetes can cause electrolyte disturbances, extreme dehydration, seizures, and death.

Treating Diabetes Mellitus

Successfully treating a dog with diabetes is a balancing act.  So many things affect blood sugar levels:  the amount and type of food eaten, exercise, stress, hormones, and more.  A healthy pancreas makes fine adjustments to the amount of insulin it secretes on a minute to minute basis.  When we give insulin injections to dogs, and most diabetic dogs do require twice daily injections to survive, we cannot make these types of minute adjustments. 

Therefore consistency is vital:

  • A diabetic dog should be fed the same amount of the same type of food at the same time each day.
  • Insulin injections should be given immediately after a dog eats so doses can be lowered if he doesn’t take in a full meal.
  • Dogs should be exercised in the same way at the same time each day.
  • Stressful situations should be avoided.

A veterinarian will design a treatment and monitoring plan that best fits a dog’s and owner’s needs.  Never alter your dog’s regime without first talking to your vet.

Feeding Diabetic Dogs

Consistency is never more important for diabetic dogs than when dealing with their diets. 

The food needs to be appealing enough that a dog will eat it readily, but it should also be relatively high in fiber and low in simple sugars and fat. 

Unfortunately, this combination may not be very appealing to finicky eaters, so finding the right food can be difficult.

Commercially Available Prescription Diets

Royal Canin Diabetic HFMost veterinarians recommend a prescription food that meets the aforementioned criteria for diabetic dogs.  Hill’s Prescription Diet w/d or Royal Canin Diabetic HF are good examples.  These types of foods have the benefit of being produced in a strictly controlled manner so that they are essentially identical from bag to bag.  The downside is that they are only available from veterinarians or with a veterinarian’s prescription and are relatively expensive.  But, if a high-quality food helps keep a diabetic dog’s condition stable, it is well worth the money and probably makes managing the disease cheaper in the long run.

Commercially Available Over-the-Counter Foods

If a dog refuses to eat one of the prescription foods that are available, over-the-counter diets should be considered.  High quality foods that are designed for weight loss are usually the best option since they tend to be higher in fiber and lower in fat and simple sugars than other options.  Brands to consider include:

Keep in mind that when necessary, almost any high quality canned or dry dog food can be matched with an appropriate insulin dose to manage a dog’s diabetes.

Homemade Foods

Feeding a diabetic dog a diet based on table scraps is never appropriate, but cooking well-balanced and consistent homemade meals is a viable option for dedicated owners.

The best way to design an appropriated food for a diabetic dog is to use the services of a veterinary nutritionist.  Most veterinary colleges have nutritionists on staff, or your veterinarian can set up a consultation on either BalanceIt.com or Petdiets.com. Owners can use the sites on their own for healthy pets, but veterinarians need to be involved when an animal is sick.  Never make unapproved ingredient substitutions or stop using the recommended vitamin and mineral supplements when cooking for your dog.  This can result in a very imbalanced and unhealthy diet.

Sample Recipes

The following two recipes are examples of high-fiber, low-fat diets appropriate for diabetic dogs that were modified from Home-prepared Dog & Cat Diets, A Healthful Alternative, Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PhD, Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa, 1999.  Homemade food can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Version 1

1 ¼ cups oatmeal or rolled oats
3 ½ ounces (¼ cup) canned kidney beans
1 large hard-boiled egg
1 cup mixed vegetables

600 milligrams calcium carbonate

1 multiple vitamin-mineral tablet

Cook oatmeal.  Cook and drain vegetables.  Let cool.  Crush calcium carbonate and vitamin-mineral tablets.  Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix thoroughly.

Provides 452 kilocalories, 24.5 grams protein, 8.9 grams fat.

Supports caloric needs of a 12 to 13 pound dog.

Version 2

⅓ pound deboned poultry breast (raw weight)
2 cups diced potato with skin
yolk of 1 large hard-boiled egg
½ cup mixed vegetables
30 grams (1 ounce) wheat bran
800 milligrams calcium carbonate (e.g., 1⅓ of a 600 milligram tablet)

1 multiple vitamin-mineral tablet

Cook meat thoroughly.  Cook potatoes.  Cook and drain vegetables.  Let cool.  Crush calcium carbonate and vitamin-mineral tablets.  Place all ingredients in food processor or blender and mix thoroughly.

Provides 512 kilocalories, 45.8 grams protein, 10.2 grams fat.

Supports caloric needs of a 14 to 15 pound dog.

In conclusion, finding a high-quality food that a diabetic dog looks forward to eating is vital to his well-being.  Thankfully, owners have many options from which to pick.