What To Know About Feeding Dogs With Diabetes

Published Jan. 20, 2023
beagle sitting by a dog food bowl

Just like humans, dogs with diabetes require special care to avoid dramatic changes in their blood sugar. This is done through regular insulin injections, but a dog’s diet is equally important in managing this condition.

The proper feeding of diabetic dogs includes more than just what you feed them. The type of food is important, but the timing of meals is important, too. Here’s how to feed a dog with diabetes to help them live longer, happier lives.

What Is Canine Diabetes?

Similar to type 1 diabetes in humans, dogs with diabetes mellitus have high blood sugar caused by low insulin production. This causes increased thirst and weight loss—despite an increased appetite.

Treatment is all about controlling blood sugar levels through insulin injections and changes in diet. Continuous high blood sugar, and the deficiency of insulin causing it, can cause organ damage and eventually, without treatment, death.

Diabetes mellitus in dogs requires treatment with insulin injections. This may be once or twice a day, depending on the type of insulin your veterinarian prescribes. Diabetic dogs have specific feeding requirements to help balance and control the condition. 

What Is the Best Diabetic Dog Food?

The most important factors of diabetic dog food are the amount of fiber, starch, and protein present.

Starch is carbohydrates rapidly digested and absorbed as glucose. High-starch diets cause a rapid increase of glucose into the bloodstream, creating high glucose in the blood when eating. Diabetic dogs need low starch, so each meal doesn’t produce a large spike in glucose levels.

Protein maintains and builds muscle in the body. Diabetic animals don’t have insulin to allow cells to use glucose for sugar, so the body will break down fat and muscle for energy. By feeding your dog a diet high in protein, they can maintain their muscles and body weight better.

Fiber is used to slow digestion and allow slow absorption of glucose. The fiber binds up the starch, keeping it from being absorbed right away when eating. Slow absorption means the glucose enters the blood more slowly, making less of a spike in blood glucose after eating.

It’s also important to make sure that the diabetic dog’s food has the necessary vitamins and minerals they need.

The simplest way to meet all the dietary requirements for diabetic dogs is to feed them a prescription diet. These diets are designed by veterinarians and tested through clinical trials to determine effectiveness at helping to control a diabetic dog’s blood sugar. Diets frequently prescribed for diabetic dogs include Royal Canin’s GlycobalanceHill’s w/d, and Hill’s Metabolic Diet.

Tips For Feeding a Diabetic Dog

Stick to a Feeding Schedule

Simply feeding your dog the correct food isn’t enough; diabetic dogs should be kept on a regular feeding schedule.

Eating causes a spike in the blood glucose; in normal dogs, insulin is released to keep that glucose from getting too high. Diabetic dogs can’t make insulin, so they need to receive their insulin injection at the same time they are fed. Because insulin should be given at the same time every day, your dog must be fed at the same time every day to match the insulin dose.

Dogs with diabetes should be fed two meals a day, 12 hours apart. Do not give them any food between these mealtimes, as this will cause another increase in blood glucose. Glucose is best kept at a consistent level, so spikes in glucose—apart from insulin injections—need to be avoided.

Monitor your Dog’s Weight

Weight loss is common in diabetic dogs before they are diagnosed. Your dog should be weighed every 2-3 weeks after their initial diagnosis of diabetes. They should gain weight, or at least maintain their weight, when the diabetes is under control.

If your dog is losing weight, their diabetes is not well controlled. It’s important to weigh your dog every 2-3 months once your dog’s diabetes has been stable for some time. Weight loss indicates your dog’s diabetes is not being managed properly. Weight management is important for diabetic pups because more weight may mean your pet requires more insulin.

A dog with diabetes needs to see a veterinarian every 3-6 months for routine follow ups, and the vet will always weigh your pet at appointments.

Manage Insulin Injections

It’s important to pair insulin injections with mealtimes so the insulin can counteract the spike in blood glucose. The insulin injection is best given after your dog finishes eating. Most dogs tolerate insulin injections well, but if you are having difficulty administering insulin, contact your veterinarian for assistance.

Sometimes diabetic dogs don’t eat their full meal, so you will need to adjust the amount of insulin you give. If your pet eats less than half of their meal, you need to give them half of the insulin. Even if your pet doesn’t eat anything, they should receive a half dose of insulin to help combat elevated blood glucose. Do not give the full dose of insulin, as this can cause their blood glucose to drop too low, causing hypoglycemia.

Signs of hypoglycemia are disorientation, loss of balance or coordination, collapse, or loss of consciousness. If you notice any of these signs, give your dog canned food if they can eat. Give them honey or Karo syrup if they won’t eat or are unable to eat. This will reverse the low blood sugar. 

If your dog experiences hypoglycemia or is not eating consistently, contact your veterinarian.

Featured Image: iStock/Sadeugra

Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM


Emily A. Fassbaugh, DVM


Dr. Emily Fassbaugh grew up in San Diego. She attended the University of California, Davis for both her undergraduate studies in Animal...

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