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