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Nutrition Nuggets is the newest offshoot of petMD's Dog Nutrition Center. Each week Dr. Coates will use her expertise and wisdom to blog about the intricacies of dog nutrition.

Feeding Dogs with Diabetes

August 10, 2012 / (3) comments

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common hormonal diseases affecting dogs. Most affected dogs have Type 1 diabetes, meaning that their condition is not caused by a poor diet or being overweight, but usually by an abnormal autoimmune response that destroys the pancreatic cells responsible for manufacturing insulin.


Insulin moves glucose, a type of sugar, out of the bloodstream and into cells where it can be used for energy. Without enough insulin in the body, blood sugar levels rise to dangerous heights while cells essentially starve. Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed in most canine patients with twice daily insulin injections paired with an appropriate diet and lifestyle.


Treating a dog with diabetes is a balancing act. Many things affect blood sugar levels, including the amount and type of food eaten, exercise, stress, hormonal fluctuations, and more. A healthy pancreas can alter the amount of insulin it secretes from one minute to the next, but when we give insulin injections to dogs we cannot make these types of fine adjustments. Therefore, a consistent routine is vital to keeping diabetic dogs healthy. Here are things to keep in mind:


  • Dog should be fed the same amount and type of food roughly every 12 hours.
  • Insulin injections should be given immediately after meals so the dog’s dose can be lowered if he eats less than normal.
  • Dogs should be exercised in the same way at the same time each day.
  • Stressful situations should be avoided.
  • Intact female dogs should be spayed to prevent the hormonal changes associated with the reproductive cycle.


Close communication between veterinarian and owner is essential to designing a protocol that is convenient enough to be followed day in and day out while still meeting the dog’s medical needs. Never alter your dog’s regimen without first talking to your vet.


Dogs with Type 1 diabetes should eat foods that are relatively high in fiber and low in simple sugars. This reduces the chances that their blood sugar levels will swing wildly up and down throughout the day. Prescription dog foods that meet these criteria are manufactured under strictly controlled conditions so that one bag is essentially identical to the next. This helps maintain the consistency that is so important for diabetes management.


If a dog refuses to eat one of the available prescription foods, over-the-counter diets can also be considered. High quality foods that are designed for weight loss are a good option since they tend to be higher in fiber and lower in simple sugars than other options. Keep in mind that, when necessary, almost any high quality dog food can be matched with an appropriate insulin dose to manage a dog’s diabetes.


A diagnosis of diabetes is not a death sentence for dogs. With appropriate treatment, many canine diabetics enjoy a good quality of life and normal life expectancy.



Dr. Jennifer Coates



Image: leungchopan / via Shutterstock

Comments  3

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  • Managing Diabetes
    08/13/2012 11:18am

    Learning to manage diabetes in critters can be challenging, but can be done.

    Medical oversight, common sense and commitment goes a long way!

  • Diabetic dog
    08/14/2012 07:39pm

    Gage is my 13 yr. old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He has been diabetic since age six. He had diabetic ketone acidosis and almost died. He then developed cataracts which he had surgery at Purdue University to correct. It has taken a strong commitment, patience & time along with a lot of money to manage his diabetes. He has an outstanding vet who partners with me and my husband to keep Gage healthy. We consistently make adjustments to his insulin due to changes in exercise and food intake. He currently gets 22 units twice daily but it has flexed from 19 to 29 units throughout his lifetime. Our schedule is set to ensure one of us can feed him every 12 hours. He has had seizures due to his blood sugar dropping too rapidly. It is very challenging at times, but all in all he has led a mostly normal life. He has been a real trooper through it all. He is slowing down now nd has some weakness in his hind legs. He also has gotten frequent ear and urinary tract infections. But he still loves to go on frequent walks and he plays with my other 3 big dogs (Newfie, Golden & Berner)! For me there was never a choice but to do whatever was needed for him. It has been worth every bit. He is my sweet boy and I love him dearly!

  • 02/21/2014 04:54pm

    I have a 8 year old mix breed that has had diabetes since he was about 5. We have done everything to make his life as comfortable as we can. He gets 3 units twice a day and mine and my husbands life basically revolve around when he has to eat and get his shot. During the summer he loves to go to g'mas and swim...he even has his own raft to float on. He does have cataracts but he still seems to be doing fine...I would do whatever it takes to keep him around as long as possible. He has a big fuzzy sister (Collie) and a little mini-me which is actually a cat but looks just like him and they all play well together. Love my Oreo cookie boy to the moon and back.