DIABETES IN DOGS: OVERVIEW
1. Know the symptoms of diabetes in dogs (described below). If your dog shows any signs of canine diabetes, seek veterinary care at once.
2. Work with your vet to determine the right type of diabetic insulin for your individual dog, and the right dosage.
3. Take your diabetic dog for frequent veterinary checkups and check your dog’s blood sugar regularly.
4. Learn how to give your dog insulin injections and reward him generously for accepting them.
5. Consistently feed your diabetic dog the same type of food at the same time of day.
6. Report any unusual symptoms or reactions your dog has to medications or diet to your vet.
For years public health officials have reported a diabetes epidemic among America’s children and adults. At the same time, the rate of canine diabetes in America has more than tripled since 1970, so that today it affects about 1 in every 160 dogs. But while many human cases are caused and can be treated by diet, diabetes in dogs is a lifelong condition that requires careful blood sugar monitoring and daily insulin injections.
The medical term for the illness is diabetes mellitus (mellitus is a Latin term that means “honey sweet,” reflecting the elevated sugar levels the condition produces in urine and blood). Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce sufficient insulin to metabolize food for energy, or when the body’s cells fail to utilize insulin properly.
The pancreas’s inability to produce insulin is known in humans as type 1 (formerly called juvenile or insulin-dependent) diabetes. Type 1 diabetes affects virtually all dogs with the condition. Dogs can also develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Type 2 (formerly adult onset) diabetes, which is the result of insulin resistance often linked to diet and obesity, is the most common form of diabetes in humans. Most diabetic cats have type 2 diabetes, but there is no evidence that Type 2 diabetes occurs in dogs.
Signs of Diabetes in Dogs
The classic symptoms of diabetes in dogs are excessive thirst, increased urination, and weight loss despite normal or increased food consumption. Acute-onset blindness resulting from cataracts can also be a sign.
The diagnosis is easy to confirm with simple tests for glucose (sugar) in the blood and urine.
Other test results linked to diabetes include ketones in the urine, increased liver enzymes, hyperlipidemia (elevated cholesterol and/or triglycerides), an enlarged liver, protein in the urine, elevated white blood cells due to secondary infections, increased urine specific gravity resulting from dehydration, and low blood phosphorus levels.
Canine diabetes may be complicated or uncomplicated. Complicated cases, in which the patient is ill, not eating, or vomiting, require hospital care. Fortunately, most cases are uncomplicated and can be treated at home.
Dogs at Highest Risk for Diabetes
What causes diabetes in dogs? Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine diseases affecting middle-aged and senior dogs, with 70 percent of patients older than seven at the time of diagnosis. Diabetes in puppies hardly exists – diabetes rarely occurs in dogs younger than one year of age, and it is more common in females and neutered males than in intact males.
Keeshonds, Pulis, Cairn Terriers, Miniature Pinschers, Poodles, Samoyeds, Australian Terriers, Schnauzers, Spitz, Fox Terriers, Bichon Frise, and Siberian Huskies may be at higher risk. Because of these breed connections, researchers speculate that the development of diabetes may have a genetic component.
An estimated 50 percent of canine diabetes cases are likely linked to pancreatic damage caused by autoimmune disorders. These disorders have many possible causes, including genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Many holistic veterinarians speculate that they may be linked to overstimulation of the immune system from multiple vaccinations, processed foods, and other environmental insults.
Extensive pancreatic damage resulting from chronic pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) may contribute to diabetes in 30 percent of canine cases. Pancreatic disease can also cause exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, resulting in a deficiency of digestive enzymes. When a dog develops both EPI and diabetes, the diabetes typically appears several months before symptoms of EPI.
An estimated 20 percent of canine patients develop insulin resistance from other conditions, such as Cushing’s disease and acromegaly (too much growth hormone), or from the long-term use of steroid drugs, such as prednisone. In females, insulin resistance may accompany the heat cycle, or gestational diabetes may occur during pregnancy. In these cases, symptoms may disappear when the heat cycle or pregnancy ends. Diabetes may also resolve when steroids are discontinued or Cushing’s disease is treated.
Though many people assume otherwise, there is actually no clear evidence that obesity causes diabetes in dogs. However, obesity can contribute to insulin resistance, making it more difficult to regulate overweight dogs with diabetes. Obesity is also a risk factor for pancreatitis, which can lead to diabetes.
Cataracts in Dogs Due to Diabetes
Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye. Diabetic cataracts are a leading cause of blindness in humans, and the same is true for dogs. The majority of canine patients with diabetes develop cataracts within six months of diagnosis, and 80 percent do so within 16 months. The risk of cataract development appears to increase with age regardless of blood sugar levels, so that even well controlled diabetic dogs can develop cataracts.
Surgery has saved the sight of many dogs. Cataracts treated in the early immature stage have the highest success rate and fewest surgical complications.
Hypermature cataracts create inflammation (uveitis), causing pain, eye redness, and pupil constriction. When uveitis is seen prior to surgery, the success rate for pain-free vision six months later is only 50 percent, as opposed to 95 percent for those with no pre-surgical uveitis.
Phacoemulsification to remove the lens is the preferred surgical method for diabetic dogs. After surgery, an artificial lens is installed for optimal post-operative vision. Although cataracts typically affect both eyes, treating just one can reduce costs (estimated between $1,500 to $3,000 per eye) and still restore vision.
Other potential complications from diabetes include decreased corneal sensitivity, and keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye).
Common Complications for Diabetic Dogs
Concurrent disorders that can make diabetes more difficult to control include hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), infections, hypothyroidism, renal and liver insufficiency, cardiac insufficiency, chronic inflammation (especially pancreatitis), Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, severe obesity, hyperlipidemia, and cancer.
Complication risks of diabetes for humans are similar.
Diabetic nephropathy, a kidney problem, occurs in 40 percent of human patients and takes many years to develop. The percentage of canine patients with diabetic nephropathy is unknown (it’s more common in cats), but its earliest sign is hyperalbuminuria (high albumin levels in urine) followed by an increase in the urine protein-to-creatinine (UPC) ratio and hypertension (high blood pressure), which may contribute to kidney damage. Early changes may be reversed if blood sugar levels improve.
Infections – especially urinary tract infections (UTIs) – are common among dogs with diabetes because sugar in urine makes the bladder an ideal incubator for bacteria. In one study, half of the diabetic dogs tested had occult or hidden urinary tract infections that were not detected by urinalysis. The possibility of UTIs in dogs with diabetes is so great that their urine should be cultured periodically to detect infections. A long course of antibiotics (lasting six to eight weeks) can be administered if needed. Follow-up cultures and frequent retesting are recommended.
Dogs with diabetes are also susceptible to infections of the mouth and gums. Diabetic pets should have their teeth checked regularly and cleaned if necessary. Dental tartar seeds the body with bacteria, and when blood sugar levels run high, infections in important organs can take root. The kidneys and heart are particularly vulnerable. Brushing your dog’s teeth daily or at least twice a week helps to prevent and detect early signs of dental disease.
Liver (hepatic) disease is another common problem, resulting from altered fat metabolism caused by diabetes. In one survey of 221 dogs with diabetes, over 70 percent had elevated liver enzymes. Ultrasound tests and biopsies help differentiate between primary hepatic disease and secondary complications of diabetes.
Pancreatitis affects an estimated 40 percent of dogs with diabetes. See “Dog Pancreatitis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment,” for information on this disorder.
Hyperadrenocorticism, or Cushing’s disease, is another complication. In one study, 23 percent of dogs with diabetes tested positive for Cushing’s. Most canine patients with both disorders develop Cushing’s disease before the onset of diabetes. About 10 percent of dogs with Cushing’s are also diabetic.
Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) may coincide with diabetes. In the study mentioned above, 9 percent of diabetic canines were hypothyroid. While the glucose intolerance caused by hypothyroidism could lead to the development of diabetes, it’s unlikely to be a major factor because the two don’t often occur together. However, thyroid hormone deficiency can result in insulin resistance, complicating glycemic control. Thyroid hormone replacement should be instituted gradually in dogs with diabetes since their insulin requirements will decrease and, without dosage adjustments, severe hypoglycemia may occur.
It makes sense to test diabetic dogs for hypothyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, but only after their diabetes is controlled. Otherwise, the diabetes will affect test results.
Hyperlipidemia usually improves as blood sugar levels are controlled. Persistently elevated triglycerides may be linked to Cushing’s disease and can increase the risk of developing acute pancreatitis. Reducing fat in the diet can help to lower triglyceride levels. Elevated cholesterol is often linked to hypothyroidism.
Insulin resistance can be caused by hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, infections, pancreatitis, drug therapy (corticosteroids), obesity, acromegaly, estrus (heat cycle), and anti-insulin antibodies. Insulin resistance should be investigated in patients who need doses of 1 unit or more of insulin per pound of body weight.
The Life Expectancy of Dogs with Diabetes
The life expectancy of a diabetic dog can be the same as a healthy dog’s with proper care. With proper treatment, diabetic dogs have survival rates very similar to those of non-diabetic dogs of the same age and gender, though their risk is greatest during the first six months of treatment, when insulin therapy is introduced and glucose levels are being regulated. Diabetic dogs are more likely to die of kidney disease, infections, or liver/pancreatic disorders than of diabetes itself. But once their condition stabilizes, diabetic dogs can lead happy, healthy lives.
Consider Buster, a 13-year-old Maltese belonging to Mary Butler in Northern California. Buster was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago after suddenly going blind due to cataracts.
“He had lens implants within a month and has had perfect vision ever since,” says Butler. “My little guy has been stable ever since his diagnosis. He has lots of energy, his coat is thick and shiny, his stools are formed and regular, and his teeth sparkle. I do brush his teeth three times a week, which I am sure helps.”
Dog Diabetes Treatment
What Kind of Insulin is Best for Diabetic Dogs?
Your veterinarian is your best advisor when it comes to medication. There are many different insulin products, and individual responses vary. Finding the right insulin for your dog may require experimentation.
Insulin varies in terms of onset, peak, and duration of action. Most dogs do well with intermediate-acting insulin, such as Humulin N, though some do better with long-acting insulin or mixtures that combine different types. It’s important to use only fresh insulin, switching to a new bottle every 6 to 8 weeks, and to use the correct syringe, which will vary depending on the type of insulin.
Alise Shatoff of San Diego, California, adopted her dog Gryffin five years ago at age four, when he was surrendered after developing diabetes. She feeds a commercial raw diet and says, “We have found that Gryffin does best on Humulin N. This one works really well for dogs on a raw diet. Gryffin has been nice and stable on the Humulin N for four years now.”
Porcine (derived from pigs) and recombinant human insulin most closely resemble insulin produced by dogs, so they usually work best. Although beef insulin was successfully used before the advent of other choices, it is no longer recommended for dogs because it may result in the production of anti-insulin antibodies, leading to poor glucose control.
Diane Di Salvo of Madison, Wisconsin, whose dog, Scout, developed diabetes two years ago, notes that, “Walmart sells Humulin insulin for way less than vets and other pharmacies. It is the exact same insulin that Eli Lilly makes for all pharmacies, but it is packaged for Walmart under their ReliOn brand.”
Insulin is typically administered twice a day, immediately before or after a meal. Feeding just before giving insulin may be safer, to be sure that the dog eats, because without food the insulin’s effect would be dangerous. Assuming your dog is a chow hound, feeding her after administering insulin can be a reward for submitting to the injection.
However, most dogs don’t mind the injections, which are done with very thin needles. Carol Albert of Kensington, Maryland, has a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Henry, who developed diabetes four years ago. “Henry gets insulin shots twice daily after meals,” says Albert. “He knows he will get a treat after the injection so he comes looking for me after he eats to get his shot.”
It is important to give insulin injections properly. One of the most common reasons for problems in achieving regulation is that the owner doesn’t inject the dog correctly. If possible, have your veterinarian observe you giving insulin to your dog.
When a dog is first diagnosed, frequent monitoring, such as every one to two weeks, may be required until the patient is stable and doing well. After that, monitoring every three to six months (veterinary exam, blood test, urinalysis, and urine culture) is recommended.
Measuring fructosamine (glycated serum protein) is a helpful way to monitor glucose control. If it’s not possible to run glucose curves, this test would be the next best option. Blood glucose fluctuations leave a metabolic mark that lasts a week or two, and fructosamine reflects the average blood glucose over that time span. Because fructosamine looks at averages, it will not distinguish excellent control from wide swings of high to low glucose readings, but even with this limitation, fructosamine is worth including in periodic monitoring tests.
Ketones are water-soluble compounds produced as by-products when fatty acids are broken down for energy in the liver and kidneys. Dangerously high levels of ketones, called ketoacidosis, can lead to diabetic coma or death. Symptoms include nausea, lack of appetite, and lethargy. Ketoacidosis is often linked to concurrent pancreatitis, urinary tract infection, Cushing’s disease, or other types of infection or inflammation.
Ketostix are used to detect ketones in urine and can be obtained at any pharmacy. Finding ketones occasionally is not a problem, but a positive dipstick three days in a row requires a veterinary visit.
Food for Diabetic Dogs: Choosing the Best Diabetic Dog Food
In humans and felines with type 2 diabetes, diet is a major component of the illness’s cause and treatment. Because the culprits are carbohydrates and obesity, weight loss and a high-protein, low-carb diet are sometimes all the treatment that is needed.
But for dogs with type 1 diabetes, there is no single recommended diet. The most important factor is that the dog likes the food and eats it willingly. Most diabetic dogs can be well managed with an adult maintenance diet. A prescription diet is not required. If the dog has another illness, feed a diet appropriate for that illness.
Try to feed the same amount of the same type of food at the same time each day, ideally in two meals 12 hours apart. Any change in carbohydrates will affect the amount of insulin needed. Some dogs may need a snack between meals to keep glucose levels from falling too low.
Fiber and carbohydrates are controversial topics in diabetes treatment, and recommendations are changing. Only a few nutritional studies have been done on dogs with diabetes. Different dogs respond differently to varying amounts of fiber and carbohydrates, and dietary needs vary depending on whether a dog is underweight or overweight, so there is no best dog food for diabetic dogs.
Diabetic dogs may not need a low-fat diet unless they have concurrent pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, elevated triglycerides, elevated cholesterol, or lipemia (fatty blood). However, since the majority of diabetic dogs do have one or more of these concurrent diseases, and since pancreatitis can occur at any time (and chronic pancreatitis may cause problems before it is diagnosed), the majority of diabetic dogs will do better on a diet that is moderately low in fat. To be safe, avoid feeding high-fat diets.
The amount of protein in the diet should be normal or increased, especially for overweight dogs and for underweight dogs with muscle wasting or EPI. Protein should be increased when fat is decreased, to avoid feeding too many carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate Levels in Diabetic Dog Food
Carbohydrates are responsible for the greatest changes in postprandial (after-eating) blood sugar levels. There is a strong association between the insulin dosage requirement and the carbohydrate content of the meal, regardless of carbohydrate source or type. Keeping the amount of carbohydrates in the diet steady is the best way to keep insulin needs stable.
The glycemic index measures the effects of carbohydrates in food on blood sugar levels. It estimates how much each gram of available carbohydrate (total carbohydrate minus fiber) in a food raises blood glucose level following consumption of the food, relative to consumption of glucose. Glycemic index charts that list hundreds of human foods are widely published.
Low-glycemic foods release glucose slowly and steadily, while high-glycemic foods can cause a more rapid rise in blood glucose levels. Low-glycemic foods include most fruits and vegetables, legumes, some whole grains, and fructose. Medium-glycemic foods include whole wheat products, brown rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, sugar (sucrose), and honey. High-glycemic foods include white rice, white or wheat bread, and glucose.
Simple carbohydrates (sugars, such as corn syrup or propylene glycol, which is found in semi-moist foods) should be avoided, as they cause rapid glucose spikes.
Complex carbohydrates (starches) are digested more slowly so that the rise in glucose is spread out and there are no quick spikes. Processing can affect how quickly carbohydrates are digested.
Carbohydrates are digested faster than fats and proteins, and they have the most effect on postprandial glycemic response and insulin needs. Depending on when the insulin effect peaks, it may be important to include a certain amount of carbohydrates in meals so that the peak effect of injected insulin will coincide with the rise in glucose and not contribute to hypoglycemia.
Highly digestible diets designed for dogs with sensitive stomachs can contribute to higher blood glucose levels after eating, which is not the best thing for a diabetic dog.
Here is how to provide and manage a proper diet for diabetic dogs.
Fiber and Canine Diabetes
Dietary fiber or roughage is the indigestible portion of plant foods. Fiber slows gastric emptying and the digestion of carbohydrates, which also slows the release of glucose, blunting its postprandial rise (blood sugar increases less after meals). Diabetic dogs do not necessarily need more fiber than healthy dogs, and most do well with moderate amounts of fiber. Dogs with poor glycemic control may benefit from increased fiber, but some diabetic dogs do better with less.
There are two types of fiber. Soluble (also called viscous) fiber ferments in the colon, creating gases. Insoluble fiber is metabolically inert, absorbing water as it moves through the digestive tract. Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber does not produce intestinal gas.
Examples of soluble fiber include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), pectins, guar gum, lactulose, and psyllium. Most soluble fiber, with the exception of psyllium, is also fermentable. Beet pulp provides mixed soluble and insoluble, moderately fermentable fiber.
Prebiotics are fibers that are both soluble and fermentable. Prebiotics feed probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive tract and make up an important part of the body’s immune defenses. As it ferments, soluble fiber also produces beneficial short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
Too much soluble fiber can cause diarrhea and gas, and can actually speed postprandial glucose absorption. Gas is most likely to develop when the fiber is first introduced or when the dose is suddenly increased. To help prevent this side effect, start with small doses and increase gradually.
Insoluble fiber, such as cellulose and bran, regulates intestinal transit time, speeding it during constipation and slowing it during diarrhea. Insoluble fiber increases stool volume, is generally well tolerated even in high doses, and may help with glucose control.
However, in large quantities, insoluble fiber can decrease the diet’s nutrient value by binding minerals. Other side effects associated with diets high in insoluble fiber include weight loss, a lack of interest in food, poor coat quality, vomiting, voluminous feces, flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation. Increased fiber is not recommended for underweight dogs, dogs who refuse to eat because of the fiber’s taste or texture, or dogs who experience adverse side effects.
It is important to provide ample fluids when adding fiber because they pull water from the body, which can lead to constipation and other problems if fluid intake is insufficient.
Examples of products that contain soluble fiber include Benefiber (wheat dextrin) and Hydrocil (psyllium). Citrucel is an example of a product that contains insoluble fiber (methylcellulose).
General Guidelines for Managing Diabetes in Dogs
The amount of starch in the diet is not as important as making sure it’s consistent and properly balanced with insulin. Dogs fed diets containing more starch may need more insulin or a different type of insulin than dogs fed a low-carb diet.
Limiting carbohydrates may reduce postprandial hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), but if the dog continues to have wide glucose level swings throughout the day on a low-carb diet, he might do better with more carbohydrates. If dietary protein is reduced for any reason, carbohydrates will usually increase, especially if fat is restricted. Dogs with gestational diabetes may benefit from a diet that is high in protein with restricted carbohydrates and fats, as long as their nutritional needs are met.
If a thin dog fails to gain weight once there is good glycemic control and the food intake is adequate (and not too high in fiber), concurrent EPI may be interfering with digestion. Overweight dogs who fail to lose weight once their diabetes is controlled may be getting too much insulin.
“We know that in both dogs and cats, obesity in general is a problem,” says David Bruyette, DVM, DACVIM, medical director at VCA West Lost Angeles Medical Hospital, “and obese dogs and cats tend to be resistant to the effects of insulin, so we want to have animals at an ideal body weight. If they are too heavy, they can develop insulin resistance, and if they are too thin, they can develop ketoacidosis.”
- The most important factor is that your dog likes his food and eats it willingly every time.
- Most diabetic dogs can eat a typical moderate-fiber maintenance diet. They don’t need a high-fiber prescription food.
- It is fine to feed a high-protein diet, but that is not a requirement.
- The diet must be consistent, particularly in the amount of carbohydrates, and should be fed in the same quantities at the same time each day.
- Not every diabetic dog requires a low-fat diet, but because of the disease’s strong links to pancreatitis and other fat disorders, a diet moderately low in fat may be safest, even for dogs who have not been diagnosed with pancreatitis, Cushing’s disease, or hyperlipidemia.
Exercise and Activity for Diabetic Dogs
Exercise has a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels. In humans with type 2 diabetes, exercise reduces blood sugar so effectively that patients who walk or jog reduce their need for added insulin.
But for those with type 1 diabetes, including dogs, exercise can be both a blessing and a complication. Exercise can reduce insulin resistance in obese diabetics, but too much exercise can lead to hypoglycemia.
Exercise should be consistent in terms of the type of activity and time of day, avoiding intermittent or unplanned strenuous exercise. One good approach is to exercise the dog for 20 to 30 minutes before the evening meal and its administration of insulin. Additional exercise can be added to the day’s activities if the insulin dose is adjusted. For example, if a strenuous hike is planned, the morning insulin might be skipped or only half of the usual insulin administered in order to avoid exercise-induced hypoglycemia.
Choosing the Right Diabetes Supplements for Your Dog
Some supplements may help your diabetic dog while others should be added with caution or not at all. Anything that helps lower blood glucose levels may change insulin needs.
When using human supplements, give the full human dose to large dogs, half that much to medium-sized dogs, and ¼ the adult human dose to small dogs. Tiny dogs require even smaller doses.
L-Carnitine, a conditionally essential amino acid, plays a pivotal role in fatty acid metabolism. It may help control diabetes, improve fat metabolism, maintain lean body mass, and protect muscles from catabolism during weight loss. As little as 50 milligrams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of dry food may make a beneficial difference. Note that beef is a particularly good source of l‑carnitine, with about 80 mg per 3-ounce portion.
Chromium supplements are often recommended for human diabetes patients (especially those with type 2 diabetes), but don’t seem to benefit a dog’s type 1 diabetes. This supplement is recommended only for dogs with a chromium deficiency.
Zinc is an important mineral for diabetic patients, but it’s toxic to dogs if too much is given. Supplementation should be limited to a standard human or canine vitamin-mineral supplement daily.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA may help to reduce blood lipid levels (hyperlipidemia) and inflammation as well as regulate the immune system. Human studies show, however, that too much may reduce glycemic control in some patients. EPA and DHA are found in fish, most fish oils, and some algae supplements. An appropriate dose might be 300 mg combined EPA and DHA per 20 to 30 pounds of body weight daily (or per 10 pounds of body weight for hyperlipidemia or kidney disease), preferably split between meals.
Probiotics and cranberry extract can help to prevent urinary tract infections. D-mannose works the same way as cranberry, by preventing bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall, but it is a sugar and some research has found that it may make blood sugar levels harder to control in humans with diabetes.
Digestive enzymes may be helpful for some dogs, particularly those who have had pancreatitis (dogs with EPI need prescription-strength enzymes).
Some products affect blood sugar levels and so should be avoided or used with caution. Licorice can elevate blood sugar, while devil’s claw, ginger, and marshmallow can lower it. Amitraz, the active ingredient in Preventic collars, Certifect (new flea and tick control product), and Mitaban (used to treat demodex), can cause elevated blood sugar and should not be used in diabetic dogs.
Glucosamine, on the other hand, should be safe for diabetic dogs. Early research suggested it might raise blood sugar, but more recent and reliable studies refuted those findings. Monitor blood sugar levels after starting to be sure.
The Best Treats for Diabetic Dogs
Between-meal treats are important, whether they’re training tools, blood sugar stabilizers, afternoon snacks, or rewards for submitting to blood tests and insulin injections.
Avoid treats that are high in carbohydrates or sugar, including all semi-moist commercial foods and treats that use propylene glycol or similar ingredients.
Dehydrated meats make excellent treats, but be sure to avoid those made in China. Chicken jerky treats (also called tenders or strips) manufactured in China have been linked to kidney failure in dogs. Check package labels carefully.
Because dried meat or poultry treats made in the U.S. can be expensive, many pet owners make their own. Simply cut meat or poultry into thin slices for drying in a food dehydrator or baking in a slow oven (250 to 300 degrees F) until they reach your dog’s preferred state of crunchiness.
Other safe between-meal diabetic dog treats include green beans – raw, cooked, canned, or frozen – or fresh, crunchy snap peas or carrot sticks; sardines or tuna packed in water; small amounts of canned pumpkin (plain, not the pie mix); freeze-dried liver; dried salmon; hard-boiled eggs; cheese (be careful of too much fat); bully sticks; dried beef tendons; chicken feet; and most low-carb treats formulated for dogs or cats.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed by the Diagnosis
Caring for a dog with diabetes can be time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. In fact, the initial diagnosis can be overwhelming.
According to Dr. Bruyette, “Several studies have shown that euthanasia is a common cause of death in diabetic dogs and cats mainly as a result of the owners’ concerns, real or perceived, regarding the care of pets with diabetes. It is very important that we emphasize to pet owners that while diabetes is a chronic disease, it can be well controlled with minimal disruption of their lives while maintaining their pet’s quality of life.”
Sheila Laing of Lansing, Michigan, cared for her Lab/Shepherd-mix, Zachary, for four years after he was diagnosed with diabetes at age 11. “Zachy was my soulmate and my teacher,” she says. “I am so lucky that I was able to help him lead a healthy normal life in his senior years in spite of the diabetes. People need to know that diabetes doesn’t have to be a death sentence. It can be managed!”
CJ Puotinen lives in Montana. She is the author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care and other books, and a frequent contributor to WDJ. Mary Straus is the owner of DogAware.com.
Thanks for letting me know that fish oils and some algae supplements can be used for kidney disease and diabetes for dogs. My 6-year-old dog has been diagnosed with kidney trouble and diabetes. I think I will start to find a vet clinic who has supplies for algae and fish oil supplements or treats for my dog. Thanks for the info.
Thank you for a detailed overview & holistic approach.
My 7 y/o Miniature Golden Doodle (a certified Service Dog) came down with DM ~ 3.5 mos ago. It has been ‘extremely challenging’ and we are in 5th insulin protocol / regimen. That he weighs 8.8 kg / 19.8 lbs (originally 25lbs) make dosing, particularly difficult, and he’s visited the animal ER 3X for life threatening, hypoglycemic events.
We are ‘getting there’ (I think) with a basil – bolus approach – insulin glargine / Lantus (long lasting – ‘nadirless’ curve) combined with Humalog (short acting insulin applied during / after meals)
Though being technical / medically literate, could not imagine one who has a full time job or without ‘best’ insurance, to be able to support a dog with Diabetes mellitus.
He has been ‘thousands’ (a thousand just last week) and we are using the Freelance Libre system (on body sensors with a touchless meter) that few Type 1 human diabetics even have access. The sensors alone are $100 each and unlike the 14 days human are expected to obtain, his last ~ 5 days and so ~ $600 / month – just for sensors. Add the insulins, ER visits, food, and healthcare from specialists, and my insurance is ‘best’ where I live (Vancouver, Canada) as I receive 90% coverage (less taxes and exam fees)
My boy has arthritis in hind joints and an acquaintance suggested / delivered a Glucosomine supplement, yet to deliver as the science regarding effect on glycemic control is illusive to my investigations.
If any should has some advice about treatment(s) I would be much obliged, as there seems little info to guide ‘us’ on the trip of our lifetimes.
Bestest tidings to all who have read and relate to my note. You really have to ‘live it’ to ‘get it’. Right?
My lab is also using the libre sensors. I pay $30 for a 14 day sensor. I get them at Walmart and they have a coupon in their system. I use the Good Rx app for an additional discount bringing it to $30.
Hopefully, you can find similar in Canada but try that app if nothing else!
Get a (rewards) card at Walgreens for your dog. Mine is also using the Freestyle Libre sensors and I am paying $37.99 (about half) each with the discount.
Thank you for the advice and info! My 11 year old terrier mix is in the doggie hospital right now. Took him in after a week of treatment for a cough and he started to become lethargic. They did blood test and found out his blood sugar was over 700! So right now they are trying to stabilize his sugars with insulin and then worry about his kidneys (creat. of 3.3) and his enlarged heart/murmur (which we knew about) Good luck to everyone!!!
Great advice here.
My 9 year old pit is diabetic & suffering from kidney failure.
After reading this full post , I got some idea about my mistakes.
Will rectify them
Three months ago, i found out that my 15 year old terrier mix is diabetic. I lost weight faster than her worrying about her health, lol. Though it is very hard for me to do all the suggestions , as i live alone and no one to depend on except myself, I am trying my best to give her the right treatment. Thank you for the extra information you provided. BTW, she has kidney problem too.
Do they have pill form
Gosh my mini poodle Bam Bam was diagnosed with cushings disease, couldn’t even get a grasp on that and then we had to rush him to the vet because he was falling over . They said he had diabetes and we are using the long 12hr type of insulin it is not working! They thought he was dying . They have only been able to get him down to 38 and said they don’t use the fast acting ! Only emergency clinic uses it . We’ve put out so much money doing curve at the vet , the money is running low . Bam is 12.6 yrs old . We live in Canada . Any advice would be great ty
Get yourself a pet blood glucose monitor. You will be able to see the effects of the insulin and food instantly and do curves at home saving money. I test my dog before every injection and often midafternoon to make sure his glucose hasn’t dropped too low.
hi rachel. where on your dog have you had the most success testing BG? do you have any tips? macey is a cavalier, so super furry, and its difficult to do. Do you reward your dog after getting the blood sample? Thanks! Marie
Hi Diane, Im so sorry about Bam Bam. I hope he is doing better now.
I use the Alpha Trak2 blood glucose monitoring kit calibrated for dogs and cats (a different setting for each). It is available on Amazon. Its the same one that our vet uses.
My dog coconut was diagnosed this last Friday I feel so guilty that I didn’t see it before then. I will never put her down I’d rather live under a bridge than do that. Its scary there a lot of things she was used to but we can’t do some of those things she is my angel
I was overwhelmed at first, but it gets easier giving shots twice a day. You can do it. Find a good vet and find the amount of insulin needed by doing checkups with your vet. My vet started low dose and worked our way up. It’s a lot of work but this is my best friend, I’ll do anything for her. I get my insulin at Walmart for like 25$ it’s human insulin but my vet nailed the amount. Find a good reliable trust worthy vet. I went to 4 vets before I found one I was confident in. I was paying through the nose for my other vet and he was an idiot.
My dog right now feel lot of apetite he is currently eating lot of diet although he was not like that. .and he is drinking lot of water and peeing also . So, is this a sign of diabetes ??
Thank you for the excellent article! My 12 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Macey, has been diagnosed with diabetes as of this past saturday. Four visits to the vet and 1000.00 later, we are still trying to stabilize her BG. Today we are conducting a BG curve over 12 hours, to see when her level is the lowest. When diagnosed, Macey’s BG was 708! This morning before insulin and breakfast it was 308. Currently she is on a dry diet of salmon and sweet potato (natures domain), but I would like to slowly switch her to a raw or dehydrated diet which is low in carbs, high in fiber, and rich in protein and other good essentials, of course while carefully monitoring her BG for lows. Does anyone have a great fresh or delivered raw diet they recommend for diabetic dogs? I am considering Dr. Harvey’s Paradigm formula, where you add your own fresh protein to the prepared veggie mix (hot water is added to reconstitute it). Im overwhelmed with it all. Also we are still having trouble obtaining blood pricks for BG monitoring at home. I use the Alpha Trak 2 monitor. Help?
I also use the Alpha Trak 2 monitor and I get the best results pricking the inside of my Schnauzer’s lip. I just curl back his lip and prick. I feed him Hills Prescription diet (Multi-benefit w/d), but i cook up some lean ground beef, turkey or chicken and mix that in with his dry dog food. You can look on You Tube and search for home made dog food recipes. I tried Dr Harvey’s but my dog didn’t like it. Good Luck
Our Daisy was diagnosed a couple of weeks ago, truly a roller coaster with testing blood, etc. We use the Alpha Trak 2 monitor. To do a prick test, we had been getting a sample from under her ear, which seemed a bit painful for her. I came across a wonderful product a few days ago called Genteel (mygenteel.com) to do prick testing. It has a vacuum type mechanism that helps to get a good sample, and no pain! I’ve shaved a small area on her hind quarters to test. I follow these steps: apply a small amount of Vaseline on the contact tip, lightly rub the area where you are taking the sample to create blood flow, hold down the button until you see a blood drop. There is a video of how to do this test on their website too. It has been worth the cost to feel I’m getting good samples throughout the day and definitely helps to lower my stress level.
Our Kokomo was diagnosed five months ago with diabetes. He’s 11 years old Pomeranian. We noticed he was drinking a lot of water. His blood glucose was over 500. Our vet recommended Hills prescription diet and vetsulin injection. The hills food worked well, he lost the over weight of 5 lbs. But we can’t do the blood glucose curves. We found a doctor that does the urine strip test by color of strip from urine corrected. We use Diastix which has colors on bottle and percentage. If color matches 2% add 3 units, 1% add 2 units, 1/2% add 1 units, 1/10 and 1/4 repeat same amount, negative read go down 2 units. So far it’s working for us, Kokomo’s doing well even he’s gone blind two months after diagnosed. By the way baseline of dosage comes from last dose given. With our love for him and strong emotional support he’s learning his new life better everyday…mel.
Well described! Thanks for sharing such a useful information with us.
I am having a dilemma here. My 3 y/o Chihuahua Pomeranian mix was diagnosed diabetic just yesterday. He was having the basic symptoms of diabetes i.e. drinking water excessive, having to go out frequently, and having a couple of accidents in the house, and he lost a couple of pounds since June this year. He is now 19.5lbs. and he is a bit obese but not overweight in my view. This just started happening a few days ago and before this he was having no issues. When the vet told me that he was diabetic my heart sank and I have been on an emotional roller coaster. Vet told me that his glucose was over 300 but she said is not bad and no bladder infection. I was told to give him 2 units of insulin every 12hrs. and I have changed his food to the Science Hill W/D. Have given him his insulin 12hrs apart. But now i am questioning the diagnose. Walked him this morning and I found worms in his stool. I researched this and now I am thinking that this is the reason he was dehydrated (drinking a lot of water) and of course having to go out to pee and could explain his weight loss. I have been doing more research and noticed that most insulin shots for a 20lbs dog are usually 5 units. Why is she instructing me to give him 2 units instead? and the 300 glucose I have seen so far is sometimes due to pet being stressed out during exams. He is a 3 y/o and I mostly see that usually dogs become diabetic after 5 or 7 y/o I am worried that if he was misdiagnosed and I give him insulin as instructed this will cause him to actually be diabetic? He is no longer as thirsty and he has actually been sleeping through the night but I am now worried. I didn’t get a printout of his lab results due to covid19 restrictions but I am definitely getting them tomorrow. I am to go to the vet tomorrow for my other chihuahua and I am going to give them the stool sample.
Is it possible that my gut instincts are right? Wife thinks I might be in denial but I don’t know.
I’m having trouble regulating my dogs sugars. He’s always high around 25 and sometimes as low as 5. I have the sensor and can check the curves. He’s getting caninsulin (vetsulin) twice a day with his two meals.
He’s on a steroid budesonide for protein wasting enteropathy. He’s losing a lot of weight because his sugar is mostly high. I’m desperate at this point. I can share curves if I have an email to send to.
Does anyone have any tips or any advice.
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thank you so much for some more info. my parents teenage cairn mix was diagnosed this last yr, and after starting shots, seemed back to her old self. i hadn’t seen her for 2 months though, and now she is nearly blind and uncontrollably peeing in the house… read they can lose theor sight quicky, but wondering what the possibly sudden onset of incontinence means, if just uncontrolled symptoms or is it just inevitable and unreversable. i know her vet/s and while they r great ppl i have disagreed w some of their suggestions for various animal treatments or lack thereof in the past. thank u again!
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After searching the internet for days and days, I came across this article. What a relief and a breath of fresh air to my overwhelmed mind. My 11 year old Bichon was diagnosed yesterday with diabetes. I have always raw fed her, but now I’m charged with the task of developing a forever meal that covers everything nutritionally and that is best for her. This article is the only thing I’ve read that gives me some firm guidelines, and while I’m still overwhelmed, I can see how to move forward. Thank you so much 🙂
very informative article about diabetes in dogs. Much obliged to you for a point by point outline and comprehensive methodology.
i hadn’t seen her for 2 months though, and now she is nearly blind and uncontrollably peeing in the house… read they can lose theor sight quicky, but wondering what the possibly sudden onset of incontinence means.
Great article. Thanks for the info.
My Bixby, a now ten year old terrier mix, almost died during a nasty bout with pancreatitis & ketoacidosis this past October. He was in ICU for a week. When I finally got to take him home he was 12 lbs lighter and acting like a puppy, running & jumping like I hadn’t seen in years.
We initially had some issues with the two daily injections, a power struggle I suppose, but we had a “come to Jesus meeting” in which I boldly reiterated that I was the Alpha of this pack & if He didn’t take the shots, he’d die and that was LAST I wanted or needed. Most people would say I could’ve been having a conversation with a cactus, but some how, I know I got to him. He immediately understood that he gets no food without a shot & then that’s followed a small low carb treat and a walk near the creek by our house where every critter in Central Texas leaves it’s scent. This is probably more of a prime example of good ol’ Pavlovian conditioning, but it works.
I make his food. .I boil small chicken pieces, stew meat, fresh spinach, ground turkey, green beans, yams and a few times a week, I add low fat cottage cheese, a few water packed sardines, & small pieces of apple or blueberries.
By his second glucose curve he regulated. His vet asked me what I was doing—based on how deathly I’ll he was, he didn’t expect him to regulate until late Feb or March. But he regulated in early November just after a weeks of being on this special diet (which he loves) & finally determining nine units of Vetsilin was the magic number. He’s gained four pounds since hospitalization and is now holding steady at 24 lbs, give or take an ounce or two, but it’s the perfect weight.
My vet is a miracle worker and I thank goodness, we have a deep freeze that and a large extended family, which has justified buying in bulk for the last few years. With the exception of some of the ingredients, we pull most everything from a well stocked freezer.
Very interesting read, keep up the good work.
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